Administration, specifically speaking, public administration, is one of the most visible parts of the government. And the government in a democracy works on the philosophy of the Constitution. As far as the Constitution of India is concerned, this document, as the Constituent Assembly had on November 26, 1949, in general was an outcome of almost a century-long struggle against the British, and in particular, of the Objective Resolution drafted and moved by Jawaharlal Nehru and adopted by the Constituent Assembly. Later, providence favoured Nehru and he, as the first Prime Minister of independent India, was at the helm of all politico-administrative affairs.
The Constitution was adopted, and enacted with the seal of “We, the People of India”. Nehru always visualised free India as “popular” union of self-governing masses where nothing but the People would have the primacy. Speaking to the Congress colleagues in Jhansi (October 27, 1928), he said:
“Our very method of referring to masses betrays that we think ourselves something apart from the masses. By virtue of our intellects and our material possession we consider ourselves something apart from the masses. It is the way of hypocrisy…”
Inception of the Union
At the outset, a well-deserved criticism can surely be put here that why Nehru with such a pro-people orientation allowed the whole exploitative bureaucratic machinery of British India be incorporated in the free India. This would be a sweeping generalisation if proper attention is not paid to the erstwhile national and international scenario of the World Wars, Partition of India, post-independence communal clashes, accommodating refugees from the other side of the border, poverty, diseases, squalor, hunger and so on.
Today, the ruling creed in the power echelons is trying hard to undermine the legacy of Nehru and in previous years had made various attempts at “idolising” Sardar Patel, thereby portraying the relationship between the two leaders as obnoxious and incompatible and it is where the roots of administrative inefficiency are being located by them. On the contrary, Sardar Patel — who is hailed as the Lauhpurush of India, credited with one, the merger of princely states to turn free India in to a larger “Union of States”, and two, with the inception of the steel-frame of the bureaucracy —worked with Nehru in fine cohesion and coordination. The States Department inaugurated on July 5, 1947 succeeded the Political Department of British India and was an outcome of Nehru’s great toil for the socialist democracy. The department was later handed over to Patel which was followed by negotiation and integration chores by him with expert assistance of VP Menon.
Threadbare on the eve of Independence
One may frown upon the compatibility of democracy with bureaucracy, particularly one that was inherited from the British police state. For the bureaucracy, in the Marxian parlance, is another form of exploitative instrument of the state. India rechristened Indian Civil Services (ICS) and Indian Police as Indian Administrative Services (IAS) and Indian Police Services (IPS) respectively. Nehru was still doubtful if it could serve the purpose of apro-people democracy. But Patel somehow made it to embark upon the journey with the meagre manpower and diminutive resources available at that time.
After independence, out of about 1,200 senior-most officers, more than 600 moved to Britain and about 100 migrated to Pakistan. Moreover, there was no personnel recruitment in post-War period for the last two years. With mountains of problems like integration of States coupled with the paucity of manpower and resources, India was on the verge of a huge collapse. Nehru wrote to the Premiers of the Provinces (dated May 5, 1948):
“One of the great dangers to the Indian states…is the administrative vacuum that has been created since the 15th August. So long as the paramount power was in existence a certain rather low standard of administration was maintained. With the lapse of paramountcy and the unleashing of popular forces, it is of utmost importance to create in the states an administrative apparatus that will deal efficiently and sympathetically with the urgent needs of population.”
Such were the exigencies of the hour that India had to start with the existing structure and its piecemeal democratisation instead of replacing and restarting it anew.
Global developments and Nehru’s progressive politics
Nehru was not in oblivion with the global developments in the theory and practices of the Public Administration, the discipline that emerged in the USA as an academic enquiry in 1887 with the publication of The Study of Administration by Woodrow Wilson. Nehru was very critical of administrative terminologies like neutrality, hierarchy etc., that the global literature on Public Administration was replete with. Nehru held that the concept of civil service neutrality should have no relevance in Indian scenario; for how could public servants afford to be “neutral” to the popular needs and aspirations of masses.
Nehru sought that public servants should have organic relation with the political executive to serve the popular expectations. For Nehru, hierarchies and excessive file notings promoted delays in the public administration and delays, in turn, promoted corruption in the administration. He made references to the Appleby Report (1953) that the old rules were not in line with democratic setup of India, they were meant for leisurely times and not for a five-year development plan to be worked out with speed.
Balancing Russian and American elements
Although the portfolio of public administration rested formally with Sardar Patel, Nehru showed excessive interest in it. Nehru’s zeal for planning and its docking with the public administration and the people, is a testimony to the fact. Nehru did not believe in ideological compartmentalisation of things. Though highly inspired by the Soviet model of planning, Nehru in his presidential address at Indian Institute of Public Administration (March 26, 1954) found Communism “as rigid as a religion”. Nehru believed in “administrative realism”; he planned for a planned development of independent India right after his visit to the Soviet in the British days but invited specialists like Paul H Appleby and Albert Meyer from the United States for evaluation and formative tasks in independent India.
Paul Appleby on Nehru’s request visited India thrice and submitted his reports strongly criticising the administrative machinery ailing with casteism, class-feeling, archaic rules, and compartmentalised nature of working of government departments. In his last report, when Appleby presented a scathing takedown of the Indian administration service, a furore erupted in the Lok Sabha. Nehru pacified the political leaders and emphasised that he wanted criticism by Professor Appleby to be as strong as possible.
Criticism and not self-glorification
In Nehru’s “New India”, there were seldom the incidents of “self-glorification”especially when compared to today’s “New India”. With Nehru, there was nothing like I, Me, My, Mine as we find with the apex leadership of India today. Nehru was very balmy to the criticisms towards himself. Up to the third five-year plan, administration was principal focus of Nehru, as the plans contained detailed chapters/sections on reforms, integrity, efficiency, economy and public cooperation in the administration. Nehru had a substantially open outlook.
Now a serious and genuine criticism can be put with regard to the prospects of administrative machinery in independent India and that criticism would not be applicable only to Nehru, but also to the whole leadership of nationalist movement. Why the nationalist leadership did not have any blueprint of an alternative administrative system suiting both scientific and democratic needs in the would-be free India? If there was no such system devised during the struggle days by the nationalist leadership, for what was the struggle being pursued by our leaders?
Should Nehru be criticised for administrative inefficiency or not? As far as the Nehru-bashing by the current NDA government is concerned, this is politically motivated. Declaring the Congress as a product of a sick outlook and targeting Nehru is more an emotional outbreak than a rational reality with a basis in history. Nehru stood for many things that still have a bearing on the people of India. In fact, the very grand victory of NDA in 2014 Lok Sabha elections is a testimony to the fact that Nehru stood for democracy based on peaceful means and not the violence and hatred.
It is now the prerogative of this generation to decide on how to preserve democracy. Nehru said in the Lok Sabha on December 15, 1952:
“Of course, you and I cannot lay down what will happen or what the next generation might do. You and I cannot say even say what the next generation will be like… For the present, we have to deal with the facts as they are.”