Entitlement syndrome

Pratibha Devi Singh Patil (excuse me, but shouldn’t that be Pratibha Patil Devi Singh, unless Mr. Devi Singh has accepted his wife’s surname?) until elevated to the presidency of the country five years ago by reason of the ruling Congress Party’s internal calculations of interests, was a small time Maharashtra politician. For her retirement, however, she desires a manor she was not born to, that too in the quiet of the military zone in Khadki  near Pune. No law has been left unviolated by an indulgent Manmohan Singh government to accommodate her, including the one expressly stipulating the residential covered square-footage (not acreage) a pensioner president can be allotted legally. Once the story made headlines, minions of the President scrambled for a justification, coming up lamely with the view that such an allotment was entirely Patil’s due, by what stretch of the imagination, they didn’t say.

Besides the spectacular imperial capital erected in Delhi, the departing British in 1947 bequeathed us a colonial system of “entitlement” so insidious, injurious, and expensive, it may well have ensured that India will remain perennially poor.

What was the entitlement system about? After the shock of 1857 and the British Crown assuming responsibility for governing India, Britons wishing to do an honest day of Queen’s work were selected for Indian service. Their job of running the empire was based on the tripartite principle that they were engaged in a mission to civilize the brown man, inculcate liberal values in an alien society, that as rulers they needed to maintain their distance from those they ruled, and that to maintain that distance and generally for  their troubles, they were housed and looked after by the State in a manner that deliberately exaggerated the gap between them and the natives. So all those involved in up-keeping the British dispensation in India – from the Crown-appointed Viceroys, “competition-wallahs” of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), to engineers running the railways, to personnel manning the telegraph and postal services, and the military-men in barracks down to the hordes of clerks, were coddled, housed in government-owned quarters whose grandeur (or lack of it) matched the official grade of the occupant.

These residences were located in clearly demarcated government colonies and military cantonments, which were a thing apart from the jumble of the “native quarters”. The system of strictly stratified perquisites as per rank – with emoluments, residential accommodation, and slate of perquisites to match in the imperial capital, first in Calcutta and later New Delhi, had exact parallels operating in the other cities and districts towns, and was at the heart of the entitlement system.

At independence, the incoming government of free India had the option of doing away with this system but didn’t. Jawaharlal Nehru was contemptuous of the Indian members of the ICS, considering them collaborators of the foreign power and was all for disbanding that cadre and starting anew. The conservative instincts of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, however, prevailed and the service and the colonial administrative structure was retained, with the IAS succeeding the ICS and the new rulers – the politicians — taking the place in the highest echelon once filled by colonial bigwigs. Appropriately, Nehru moved into the palatial residence of the Commander-in-Chief, India. And the system of gross separation of rulers from the masses continued. It has resulted in a republic divided between two Indias – one of the stately lines and ample greens of Lutyens’ Delhi and the other of dirt, disorder, and decay. This divided order, as per colonial design, is replicated, as earlier mentioned, in smaller sets and subsets across this vast country.

Had Nehru succeeded in ridding the country of the wretched colonial caboodle, refused to index salaries and pensions of ICS members to the British Sterling, and replaced the sahibgiri with an indigenous, less parasitic, administrative system and ethos, India would not be in the awful state it is today. Political leaders and government officers alike, shorn of official quarters in posh surroundings, would have been compelled to live where, and as, the average citizen does.

A provision in the Representation of the People Act, requiring all elected politicians to live within their constituencies, and carry out their legislative tasks in Delhi or state capitals with only a per diem stipend to meet the living costs, would have put a damper on their excesses. Further, ministers in the central and state cabinets, including the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers, would have had to scramble for living quarters in Delhi, with official premises, such as Hyderabad House in Delhi, being provided strictly for official entertaining.  This is the norm everywhere in the developed world. Political leaders residing in the inner city and outlier colonies will ensure that they daily experienced the aggravations and the grind of life in high-density population milieus, complete with water and power shortages, and the inherent dangers of negotiating decrepit public spaces – the result of a non-functioning government apparatus they preside over. It will incentivise these pooh-bahs to take matters into their hands, shake up the system, and begin delivering on development and good infrastructure. The politicians and administrators, thus motivated to improve the surroundings and the quality of life of the aam admi they routinely swear by, will seek innovative administrative, technological, and political solutions for the miseries faced by the people, if only to ease the quotidian difficulties in their own lives.

In no other country are politicians and bureaucrats pampered with houses, retinue of servants, cars, and other benefits at the taxpayer’s expense and, therefore, no other major country is as badly off as India in terms of rude bureaucrats and insensitive government. Consider this, were the real estate on which the political class and government servants at all levels of town, city, state and central governments, the railway staff, and military personnel are housed – usually in the most desirable parts of cities and towns, to be monetised it would wipe out trillions of rupees of national debt. India will be a nicer place to live in. Surely, it is not too late to do away with the entitlement system.

[Published in the ‘New Indian Express’, Friday, April 20, 2012 at http://expressbuzz.com/opinion/op-ed/entitlement-syndrome/383826.html ]


About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in civil-military relations, Indian Politics, Internal Security. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Entitlement syndrome

  1. Jagdish says:

    You read my mind 🙂 I call this the original sin. This sin is not just restricted to the entitlement system. It starts with the very core foundations of the modern republic, which is our very constitution itself. Ask the question, what was the “design intent” of the constitution, which was 85% identical to the 1935 constitution as per Subhash Kashyap.

    This sense of a deracinated elite, alienated from our own people has been the bane of many of our core issues.

    I was so glad, when we met that you touched upon your core beliefs a little. Once the mind can see clearly, WHY we are struggling, the many positions you take actually are quite middle of the road and not extreme at all. However, one has to have a common shared vision of who we are, why we are a nation. Once these questions are answered, then it is easy to determine, where we ought to go. Then the debate can rightly move on if it appropriate to take the left step or the right step first – and not a debate on, let the world move around our feet, but we shall not move!

    I feel Deng Xiaoping in China understood this well. A statue of Confusious stands in the great square, Mao would be rolling in his grave 🙂

    • Much is fundamentally wrong with the Indian system. But those who, under the present Constitutional dispensation, have to correct it are also its chief beneficiaries. Unnatural to expect then they will be the harbingers of change.

      • Jagdish says:

        True. They will use every rule in the book and many not in the book to save the existing system. This system has to be brought down to its knees from the inside. The ABV NDA government understood this and hence appointed Arun Shoure as the disinvestment minister. No assets for the government, no ministry to manage. Ofcourse, he met with resistance both inside and out but there are people and parties willing to move in that direction. Another thing is the Anna Hazare Lok Pal type of bills can put a severe dent too. For some reason, Shri Pratap Bhanu Mehta did not catch on to the power of the street initially. Being the constructive constitutionalist that he is, the bill from his perspective sounded like anarchy – which from a view point it is. But, I think he has come around now and understands that dire situations need dire remedies.

        One person to watch is Laloo Prasad Yadav. We all know his antecedents in the field of probity. But even he is useful, for he smells threats to the existing system from a mile away. Hence if he is opposed to something, it probably is a safe bet to support that person. Gen: VK Singh and Anna Hazare are some recent examples. He was the first one to oppose them.

        But yes, we need some game changers in the current electoral, caste ridden and minority appeasement broken polity. One hopeful message is regional satraps taking control of their affairs, such as Modi, Nitish, Mamta and even Jayalalitha to an extent.

  2. Sivaraman says:

    I wonder whether the title “Hyper entitlement syndrome” would have been more appropriate because the author has pointed out Mrs Prathiba Patil is going to get more acreage than stipulated by law.(Is this not almost like flats for Kargil victims scam?).Is there a scope for filinig a PIL petition to restrain authorities from going ahead?I have been an eyewitness to similar unreasonable demands by relatively junior IAS officers in mofussil.I am a retired Government servant.Here are some of the misuse of powers that i have personal knowledge
    1.One IAS officer laid a tennis court at Government expense for use exclusively by IAS officers and their chamchas though it was shown in Govt documents as belonging to Education department.The same officer turned down a proposal for building compound wall for a doctor’s quarters giving the rreason “CPWD code does not permit building compund walls”
    2.The quarters meant for medical superintendent was converted as a quarter for a subcollector.Even when it fell vacant the authorities refused to hand it back to medical superintendent
    3.Altough the same IAS officer was eligible for 1 or 2 orderlies for his residence he had 4.They were drawing pay from the department of agriculture,police,municipality.

    • With your vast administrative experience, you may have a legion of other such stories. As to Pratiba Patil’s situation — it was brought to light because of a PIL by a retired Army Colonel also, ironically, surnamed Patil! Hope the Courts rule that this sort of thing is justiciable, and take steps to prevent the rampant misuse of govt funds and personnel by govt officers.

      • Ravi says:

        One outrageous fact is the manner in which elite special forces like the SPG are misused by so-called VIP’s. I believe the number of special forces involved in protection of these VIP’s is at brigade strength at the very least. These should be removed and re-assigned to active military duty. The misuse of these security forces by VIP’s to do tasks other than their brief is well known. This has in many instances led to the loss of their skills and purpose/focus. Let the politicians be protected instead by the likes of the Delhi police, or private security paid for by themselves. After all, if the electorate can barely count on any security, why should a bunch of criminals and domestic servants be protected by special forces? Day by day, the Manmohan Singh led UPA govt. is looking more akin to the Ceaușescu regime in Romania.

      • But SPG precisely defines their inflated sense of self-worth, reason why politicians and retired babus are so loath to give up Z category protection.

  3. Jagdish says:

    President Patibha Patil to forego the allotment. The protests worked!

    • Sivaraman says:

      Alas the hope that the protests have worked iis short lived.Now comes the news that the President has taken her grand kids to Seychells and the hospitality is borne by the host countries.Does this not llower tthe dignity of our country?

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