RE: Kingdoms, India and Hope
Nice to be part of a blogersation, I say. Blogersation, you ask? Blogersation = Blog + Conversation! If you think I made this baqwaas (crap) up, just do a Google search and see that I’m amongst the first 350 to use it.
(I wanted to hide the fact that if you search for Bloggersation instead, I’m one of the first 3420. Shucks. I’ll stick with the one that gives me better credo).
Anyways, it’s with fellow theme-mate Vishal and especially his post Kingdoms, India and Hope, which he wrote in reply to my post Kingdoms Vs. Nation-States. His article is wonderfully written, with subtle jabs at just about everything (he’s derided the US and poked at Raj Thackeray, atta boy!). Just like an IM chat that you swoop in on, I suggest you read up his post before you continue. 🙂
I get it. You’re good at your history. You gave us a little revision of the grand empires that ruled parts of India (the Mauryans, Guptas and Mughals, in order) and talked a bit more about their administrative systems:
… all three largely appointed the most talented individuals to the top echelons of administrative hierarchy. Wisdom and skill were widely applauded and rewarded.
They had an administration that was so strong that some empires (the Guptas) lasted more than 500 years. Compare that to India’s existence as a nation-state for a measly 63 years, and you get to understand the gravity of the problem they solved.
Was it all rosy then? Probably not. The definition of “fair” changed often, and laws could be easily amended for the benefit of one person. I’ll take the caste system as a good example of how a system can eventually do more harm.
(On a separate note, Gurcharan Das thinks that the caste system helped generations and generations of traders build up a keen instinct of money-making and risk-taking, something that has helped Indians in this globalized world. More on his NY Times article: The Next World Order.)
Are We Better Now?
Clearly, we have a more meritocratic system (I’m not saying that it’s complete). I really like the way you summarized this:
Top Indian bureaucrats are recruited by an independent agency. And they really are close to the best brains the country has. … But, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Even the best fall prey to the dark side (Star Wars reference 🙂 ). We can’t restrict this to the government alone – it’s equally prevalent in the corporate world. (After hearing stories from a friend, a sales rep in a pharmaceutical company, my jaws dropped to below the sea level.)
On the other hand, you’ve managed to convince me that there still are enough of the best willing to join the government. I presumed they all joined investment banks or law firms. (This opinion was entirely formed by watching movies). The entrance exam to the Indian government (UPSC) is brutal: a phenomenal amount of preparation is required to gain access to the doors of the IAS (Indian Administrative Service).
That is a good thing.
What About Tomorrow?
Can we get better at what we’re doing? Can we eliminate the hiccups on our way to become a grand nation?
For that you answered with a mind-blowing reference to the normal distribution. We are getting better, and there’s more of getting better in the future. After a point, we’ll reach an equilibrium, a peak, but would be followed by a period of decline.
The question isn’t about elitism in the administrative system, whether in the past or even today, but about adjusting and re-adjusting as we grow towards the equilibrium. For that we need smart people, but are not hopeless without all of them. Our goal would be to fasten that wait for (as well as elongate) the equilibrium period.
The period that our history books describe the empires of yester-years with – “the Golden Age of India.”
Photo Credit: Rohit Markande