Kingdoms Vs. Nation-States
I grew up in Delhi, considered ‘North India’ by a large section of ‘South Indians’. And now I work in Bangalore, considered ‘South India’ by another large section of ‘North Indians’. People refuse to believe that I can belong to both. You know, it’s quite surprising that we managed to form a single nation-state called India.
The Biggest Problem
May I present, India. A motley concoction of a billion people who have nothing in common. There are jarring differences in every corner you see. A heavenly abode that’s just a cat’s-paw away from absolute hell.
Exactly how are our public administrators taking care of this diversity? If you ask me, it’s a pretty complex task, one that requires the best brains of our country to comprehend and execute the right steps to a harmonious nation.
That brings me to what I’m going to talk about today – public administration in the past and present. A lot has changed, you know.
Kingdoms: The Ruler and the Rulee
Let’s zap back to around 500 years ago. India was then a part of the Mughal dynasty, a multi-ethnic empire, a monarchy ruled by one emperor. Even though the population was diverse and spoke many languages, the empire was dominated by one ethnic group, and their language was the language of public administration.
This empire consisted of smaller kingdoms, ruled by a king. Some such monarchies even had an idea of divine rule, to the extent that rulers were considered God (think Pharaohs of the Egyptian Civilization). To aid in running his kingdom, the king got together a noble court consisting of a few select men.
And what a court! This noble court consisted of a rare breed of men. They all were from families of high standing, rich and powerful, and had access to unthinkable luxuries right from their childhood. Politics of that day was closely tied to hereditary lineage, and a hierarchy of class was closely maintained. Everyone aspired to be born a nobleman.
So let’s summarize. Your job in the top echelons of the public administration was guaranteed the moment you were born. You already had a large palace, great political connections, and your coffers were full. (All lavish gifts you got were given ‘over’ the table). Most importantly, you were smarter than the average bloke because you had access to high quality education given to those who would later become leaders of the day.
Nation-states of Today: The Creme Brulee
Fast-forward to today. Holy Peanut Butter!
The nation-state, a political entity that serves a sovereign territorial state, is the modern avatar of the noble court of a kingdom. The concept of a nation-state was popularized by England and France, as major nationalistic campaigns ran across their lands unifying different factions into one entity.
Just look at the public administration of our country! In a measly 500 years, we’ve taken a complete U-turn. The IAS (Indian Administrative Service) is now accessible to all (and with reservation), albeit after a cruel one-and-a-half-year journey from the first exam to the final admit. That’s the good part.
But what about politicians, the leaders of these administrative services? Everyone’s invited, including criminals.
Most politicians weren’t rich from before, nor did they belong to blue-blood royal families. Many grew up in humble households, leading a tough and grueling life. Politics has changed too. It’s now a game of out-maneuvering your opponent, a game of wits and hard cash. The web of political connections is bought into, not born into. You still get lavish gifts, but now ‘under’ the table.
Becoming a leader of the administrative services is about looking out for yourself, not the people.
So Let’s Compare
The noble gentry of kingdoms came from rich and powerful families. The hierarchical class system guaranteed them their job in the public administration on the basis of their birth. These men were educated in the best schools of the day, that taught values and respect more than anything.
The politicians of today’s nation-state are a different breed. They’ve struggled hard to rise from their humble beginnings. Even after facing innumerable adversities, they have not been denied a chance to run the nation.
Just that they can’t run the nation!
But This is a Better World!
It has to be. We’ve become more inclusive, and are building a world based on meritocracy rather than aristocracy. (I’m not saying we’ve reached that place yet).
The cost is that the best brains are no longer running the government. Democracy has sucked it off all its elitism. The best brains are now running hedge funds and / or depriving Third World countries of their oil and bauxite ores. There’s much more money and social credo to be made in that!
Isn’t it funny? The government opened its doors for almost anyone to enter, and instead their best brains ran out!