Sunday, 24 August 2014


    I have for some time been convinced that Moses( of Old Testament fame) was THE original bureaucrat. The anecdotal evidence is pretty convincing. He offered to his peoples the Promised Land-and then made them wander around in the desert for forty years. If this is not classic bureaucratic strategem, then what is? There's more. He was adept at beating around the bush( till one of them caught fire and he called it an act of God!). He was wont to deliver sermons from raised areas which no one understood. And here's the clinching one--he framed the first set of Conduct Rules, which subsequently came to be known as the Ten Commandments. And a fine set of rules they are too, except perhaps for that one about not coveting thy neighbour's wife which contradicts a subsequent sub-rule which exhorts one to love thy neighbour, and we all know that the later rule supersedes the earlier one. There's also a slight problem with the one that says thou shalt not kill, considering that Mr. Netanyahu is doing precisely that at almost the exact spot near Mount Sinaii where Moses announced his Conduct Rules. But we can hardly blame the Old Bureaucrat with events occurring after his retirement, can we?
    The same exoneration cannot, however, be allowed to his successors-no, not the state of Israel, but the IAS. Now, an IAS officer is at his best when he is drafting all manner of rules-if they are incomprehensible he is happy, and if they are unimplementable then he is overjoyed to an almost orgasmic level. Id like to share a few I've had the good fortune to encounter during my career.
    Have you wondered why govt. servants, especially the more senior ones, are so short sighted? Its the rules, stupid! In the early eighties I was posted as a Joint Secretary in the Finance department at Shimla. Part of my duties involved approving claims for medical reimbursement. In those days contact lenses were deemed to be a cosmetic procedure and not a medical one: their expenses were not reimburseable, not even if your retinas were shredded to pieces! One day I received a claim from a High Court judge who had had contact lenses fixed, the better to see his litigants in the manner of the wolf in the fable about Red Riding Hood, perhaps. I promptly rejected the claim and took the file to the Finance Secretary. The FS looked at me with a cunning grin and said: " Approve it!".  I was aghast, just as Moses must have been when he saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. " But the rules, sir..." I blurted. And then the FS explained.
    " Avay," he told me patiently, " you must understand the rules which govern rules. The most important rule in government is the rule of precedents. A precedent, once set, is sacrosanct, notwithstanding all other rules. Once you allow something for one person you cannot deny it to others. So let this judge have his bloody contact lenses-after all, how can a lowly FS refuse a mighty High Court judge? And hereinafter all of us can also have contact lenses!" And that's how contact lenses are now reimburseable. We now have more IAS officers adorned with the lenses than starlets in Bollywood.
     Rule number two. In 2007, after years of subsisting on bread and water I finally built myself a cottage in Mashobra, intending to spend my dotage talking to the birds and bees, refreshing my knowledge of their activities. I applied for a gas connection from the HP Civil Supplies Corporation for the new house. It was refused on the grounds that two connections could not be given in the same name, and since I already had one in my (official) house in Shimla the rules did not permit one for Mashobra. Since the MD of the Corporation was my neighbour I pestered him till he came up with a solution: he informed me that he had checked his rules again and would be able to sanction a second connection if my wife gave an affidavit stating that she intended to divorce me and was living separately from me in Mashobra! The connection would obviously me in my wife's name. I was completely stumped. Firstly, we in the government cannot go around swearing affidavits with the same gay abandon that our MPs and MLAs do at election time. Secondly, I had no intention of separating from my wife, having hung on to her for dear life for thirty years. Thirdly, once she started living separately who knew what might happen? I'm told on good authority by IAS officers who go on central deputation leaving their wives behind that the latter very soon start enjoying their separate life and encourage them to stay on in Delhi till retirement! Since they have all the perks of being an IAS officer's wife, they don't really need the officer himself given his penchant for sleeping with files instead of them. Fourthly, Mashobra has a lot of retired defence services officers who spend all their time looking for lost golf balls and single women. No indeed, this was not a good idea at all, I told my wife. She asked for two days to consider the suggestion! Finally, of course, she agreed with me. She confided in me later that she was tempted by the idea but decided against it because then who'd make the bed tea in the morning, or take the dog for a walk?! So finally we didn't use that particular rule after all: instead I went and bought a cylinder and regulator on the black market in Lower Bazaar next day.
    I am convinced that most IAS officers have very high levels of schadenfreude, not just testosterone, and love nothing better than to see the proletariat squirm; nothing else can explain this last rule I'm about to share with you. One of the consequences of having a large government is that you also have a large number of pensioners who refuse to kick the bucket.( Why should they when they get almost as much as pension as they received as salaries; moreover, for govt. pensioners( as opposed to those from the private sector) the lack of any work after retirement is not traumatic at all since they never did any work when in service in the first place). Pension rules stipulate that every July a pensioner is required to submit a "life certificate" attesting to the fact that he is still alive( being brain dead is no disqualification for a govt. pensioner, on the assumption that most of them were in this condition in any case while in service). This life certificate can be attested by any gazetted officer or by the Bank manager of the bank where the pensioner has an account. The system worked very well till a few years ago when some bright Finance Secretary in Shimla decided that the attestation would have to be done by a Patwari instead! Bank managers, it was decreed, could not be trusted with a life certificate, though they could with hundreds of crores of our moneys.
    Now, a Patwari in the mountainous regions of Himachal is a mythical figure. Though there are reported to be about 700 of them, they are more difficult to spot than the snow leopard, of whom there are barely a dozen; its easier to track down a man-eater than to locate a Patwari. But rules are rules, and so now the mountain slopes are crawling with pensioners looking for their Patwaris, usually in vain. Some have taken to camping in caves hoping to way lay him one day, others organise havans hoping to be blessed with his presence, still  others seek out astrologers to predict the Patwari's movements. I learn that some pensioners have asked their children in the US to procure some drones which can be used to sight the Patwari from the air and then drop the life certificates for him to sign. But the astute Finance Secretary, I'm told, is a happy man: outgo of pensions has declined sharply, the mortality among pensioners has gone up to satisfying levels what with all the exertion now required of them, and the budget deficit is coming under control. I'm now thinking of starting a joint venture with my Patwari- for a fee( to be shared with the Patwari, naturally) - for providing this service to other pensioners. It will essentially be an out-sourcing service and should fit in very well with NDA-II's economic policies. And all pensioners shall live( or die, which is more likely) happily ever after, proving the wisdom of  William Ellery Channing who said: " The office of government is not to confer happiness but to give men opportunity to work out happiness for themselves."

Thursday, 7 August 2014


    It is a cruel irony of history that the Jewish government in Israel is doing to the Muslim residents of Gaza exactly what the Nazis did to them 70 years ago. In his epic of civil resistance against a barbarous oppressor, MILA-18, Leon Uris exhaustively documents how the Jews of Warsaw were herded into a ghetto by the Nazis, denied the basics of human existence, treated and exterminated like rats: more than 50% of the original residents of MILA-18( the name the Germans gave to this tiny ghetto) had died by the end of the siege. But the Jews rose against the Germans in an uprising of such heroic proportions that reading the book even today makes one's spine tingle. And they triumphed!
   Is anyone in Israel, or their sympathizers in America and the western world, reading this book today? Do they have a feeling of deja vu? They should, because history is repeating itself, not as farce but as another tragedy. Has the time come for Israel to pay back in blood and maimed corpses the injustices heaped on the Jews for centuries? Of course, they are products of the Old Testament, but should they take this treatise so literally- " an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"? Has Mr. Netanyahu learnt nothing from 70 years of blood soaked history and millions of deaths? Or will he, like another Old Testament figure from Gaza, in his suicidal anger, use his undoubted strength to bring down the whole edifice in an act of mutually assured destruction? At least the protagonist from the Bible had an excuse: he was blind. Mr. Netanyahu is not-but he still cannot see.
   Let us cut through Israel's pathetic smoke screen: this is not a war it is "fighting" in Gaza. A war is between two reasonably matched opponents: what we have here is the world's fifth mightiest  army shelling and bombarding from sea, air and land 3 million civilian residents imprisoned in a 250 area from which they are not even allowed to escape. This is pure and simple genocide, the massacre of a peoples based on their religious identity. The Israelis have butchered 1875 Palestinians so far, of whom 974% are civilians according to impartial observers; 400 hundred are children. Kill the mites so there will be fewer lice later, as one American had said in the context of their own genocide against the "redskins". 9065 have been injured, a large number of them maimed for life. One thousand of them are children. Israel has not even spared the UN- 11 of their officials have been killed. 450000 people have been displaced-40% of the population of Gaza. 275000 of them have taken shelter in 93 UN schools which are also being regularly bombed and shelled. Every international law, every canon of humanitarian obligation has been violated by Israel. Even the United Nations-its Secretary General, its Deputy Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, its High Commissioner for Refugees- has condemned Israel, even calling its action a war crime that must have accountability. Israel, however, remains brazenly defiant, saying it is defending itself against Hamas.
    Yes, Israel has every right -even a responsibility to its citizens- to defend itself, against Hamas or any other similar group. But even the limits of defense have to be respected, and the use of force has to be proportionate to the provocation, and carefully targeted. There has to be a distinction between military and civilian targets, between combatant and non combatant. Israel will concede none of this.
   Hamas has no artillery, no tanks, no planes, no warships, no missiles; just some rockets of unproven efficacy and power. Though hundreds of these have been fired into Israel( according to the Israelis) they have so far resulted in only three civilian deaths, of whom one is a foreigner! In retaliation the Israelis have slaughtered almost two thousand Palestinians in three weeks! How can this degree of force be justified? They have bombed and shelled dozens of schools, hospitals and UN shelters, claiming they harboured terrorists. These claims have been denied by the UN and international observers. In fact the UN has stated on record that they have repeatedly given the Israelis the GPS coordinates of all their schools and shelters-and yet they have been repeatedly targetted.
     This raises another pertinent question which is being asked now: even if these places had some terrorists or arms, is it permissible to target them when you know that hundreds of women and children are taking shelter there? Does "collateral damage" have no limits? Should the collateral damage not be proportionate to the potential harm that the terrorist can cause? The casualty figures speak for themselves. Furthermore, which international law gives Israel the right to invade Gaza with its troops, or shell its territory, just because some terrorists are located there? " Hot pursuit" across international borders is not sanctioned by law: if this were permissible, then Cuba would have had the right to fire into the USA in 1961 when the CIA was training and equipping Cuban exiles to invade Cuba to topple its govt. ( that attempt, we all know, ended in the Bay of Pigs fiasco).                                                                                                                                     Then again, Israel has completely obliterated the line between defense and aggression: it has occupied thousands of square kilometers of Palestinian lands, including Gaza, claiming it needs to do so in order to secure its safety!This is the behaviour of a rogue state, rabid in its arrogance, contemptuous of all international norms and opinion. By this logic India should have occupied huge swathes of Pakistan and erstwhile East Pakistan- we have had the opportunity to do so in the past- but as a responsible state we have always observed international covenants and boundaries, no matter what the success of the moment yielded, and have withdrawn to our own borders. By insisting on continuing to occupy Gaza and other Palestinian territory, Mr. Netanyahu is ensuring that there will never be a solution to this dispute.
   He is able to do so only because of the unstinted support he gets from the USA which, having unsettled the whole middle-east with its myopic and avaricious policies, sees Israel as its proxy in the region. If there is one country which could force Israel to rethink its blundering strategies it is the USA. But the latter is a comrade in arms of Israel , an unscrupulous practitioner of the same policies. The USA has always interpreted laws and facts to suit its own interests and has never been guided by what is legal, humanitarian or internationally accepted. It has a long history of doing exactly what Israel is doing today, invading the territories of other sovereign nations and using force to bolster its own interests, not that of the peoples of the country invaded or attacked. It is a long list of infamy and I shall mention just a few: annexation of Hawaii( 1893), occupation of Guam( 1898 and continuing), forcible occupation of the Dominican Republic for eight years(1916-1924), CIA's complete involvement in crushing the people's HUK rebellion( 1948-54) in the Phillipines, overthrow of the democratic govt. in Iran in order to install the Shah as dictator( 1953), the Bay of Pigs operation against Cuba by the CIA( 1961), the CIA organised coup in Iraq in 1963 that killed its President and brought the B'aath party and a man called Saddam Hussain to power, the CIA engineered coup by the Army in Indonesia in 1965 that killed millions, the sustained bombing of civilians in Cambodia between 1969-1975 that led to millions of deaths and the emergence of the brutal Khmer Rouge, the invasion of Panama in 1989, the unending interventions in the middle-east that have left it a volatile cauldron of fundamentalism, terrorism and instability- Lebanon( 1982-84),Libya( 1906),Iran( 1987-88),Iraq( 199-1991), Kuwait( 1991), Afghanistan( 2001 and continuing), Yemen( 2009), Libya( 2011), Syria( 2008).
         Wherever the USA has intervened militarily, rarely has it been in defence of democracy, humanitarian values or for the welfare of the local populations: it has almost always been either to prop up dictators or undemocratic regimes in furtherance of its own strategic interests. And when it has exited it has inevitably left behind a bigger mess than when it entered.
      Therefore, to expect the USA to rein in Israel is an opium dream. In fact, just last week the USA has approved financial assistance of another $225 million for Israel for purchase of mortars, grenades and other weapons! President Obama always votes with his money. And this blatant defiance of world opinion is in the face of the strongest criticism of Israel yet from the UN and the mild mannered Mr. Ban Ki Moon. At the special meeting of the UN General Assembly on 6th August EVERY UN Divisional head was unsparing in his or her condemnation of Israel. Mr. Moon described Israel's behaviour as " outrageous, unacceptable and unjustified", adding that it must be subject to " accountability and justice". The head of UNRA emphasised that the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel and " the illegal blockade of Gaza must end". The UN's Human Rights chief, Ms. Pillai told the delegates in no uncertain terms that " Israeli actions amount to war crimes" and that " life in Gaza has become unsustainable".
    A 72 hour " humanitarian" cease fire is holding as I write this, and negotiations have begun in Cairo. I see little hope for a lasting peace in the region unless Israel lifts the wholly illegal blockade of Gaza. It has already refused to do so and instead wants the Gaza strip to be " demilitarized" ! In other words it is okay for Israel to arm itself to the teeth but its neighbours cannot be permitted to do so!
   In just three weeks Israel has forever destroyed the international goodwill and respect it had built up over the decades as a resilient disciplined, industrious nation. It is now the face of a reinvented Nazism, an oppressor of the weak and helpless. But if Mr. Netanyahu can spare the time from choosing other helpless targets to bomb he should go back to the Old Testament and read another inspiring story- the one about David and Goliath............

Sunday, 3 August 2014


     Mr. Modi had promised us a strong and decisive government and it is heartening to observe that he is living up to the promise. He is redeeming his pledge in a number of areas but in this article one would like to deal with the wholly unnecessary " controversy" about the CSAT paper in the UPSC's exam for the Civil Services. The Govt. has shown a rare resolve( in the face of the usual populist demands in Parliament and agitations on the streets of Delhi) in refusing to either dilute the standard of this paper or to postpone the exam itself. ( This has not yet been officially announced but the statements of both, the Home Minister and the MOS[Personnel], indicate this quite clearly.) 
    Till just the other day it took just a few hundred lumpens on the roads for the govt. to develop policy diarrhoea and succumb to pressures, notwithstanding adverse effects on the public good. The present govt's stand, therefore, must be welcomed by all right thinking persons. Arnab Goswami rarely gets things right but he nailed it the other night when he observed ( actually, Arnab doesn't " observe" he " decrees") that our politicians, having already divided this country on caste and religious lines, are now seeking to create another fault line- that of language.
   The demand to abolish the English language component in the CSAT paper on the ground that it discriminates against non-English knowing students is thoroughly misconceived and is like demanding that maths be removed from the IIT entrance exams and biology from the Medical Entrance Test because it discriminates against students from the Humanities streams! It betrays gross ignorance not only of the requirements of the job in an All-India or Central service, but also a failure to grasp the nature of the flow of global information, the increasing need to engage internationally in all sectors of govt. activity, and the fact that English is the only idiom that binds this country linguistically ( other than YO YO HONEY SINGH, that is). It also disregards the fact that English is the second most widely understood language in India, after Hindi. But these are matters that have been, and will continue to be, debated by experts as long as the likes of Mr. Dina Nath Batra and his ilk continue to stalk this mortal coil, and I have no wish to dwell on them.
   The issue I would like to address here is that last argument of all losers- that they have to be given a "level playing field". Every political party( even the BJP, unfortunately, which is why Mr. Modi must be given even more credit for his stand) swears by it because it is the politically correct stance to have in a country whose educational standards are below those of even Srilanka and Bangladesh. But the truth must be stated and this beating around the bush must stop.
   The cruel fact is that there can never be a level playing field in any exam that is merit-based, nor should there be. The purpose of such exams- and the CSAT is just one of them- is to select the most meritorious candidate with reference to the job profile; the purpose is not to give representation to regions or religions or various  IQ levels. This becomes even more pertinent when the exam seeks to select the highest level of administrators for the country, in an era when the challenges to governance are most acute and intractable. Enough damage has already been done to this structure by all kinds of reservations and this should not be compounded  by further lowering the standards of the examination under the guise of a "level playing field."
   There is no such thing as a level playing field when it comes to competitive exams where one candidate can qualify only at the cost of another. The huge disparities in educational standards across states, income categories and individual abilities ensures this. The candidate from Delhi will always have an edge over the one from Jhumri Tillaya. The student from St. Stephen's College, Delhi will always be better placed than the one from Govt. College, Tehri Garwahl. The aspirant from a rich family who can afford multiple tuitions and coaching classes will have a better chance at cracking the exam than his counterpart from a rural area where there is a power cut for eight hours everyday and where the teacher is usually absent. The student with an IQ of 130 is more likely to succeed than the one with an IQ of 90.These are inevitable realities. To force a level playing field on this reality would mean reducing the standards to conform to the lowest denominator which would be an unmitigated disaster.
   At the end of the day the only real leveller is the individual ability to educate oneself, the hard work that is put in and the fire in the belly. Only this can explain why, in the CBSE Board exams, Govt. schools out-perform the elite private schools year after year; why more and more candidates from Tier 2 and 3 towns are making it to the IITs and Civil Services in greater numbers every year. My late father-in-law was educated in a govt. school in Ballia( perhaps the most backward district in UP then, and now) untouched by even a syllable of the English language, but made it to the first batch of the IAS. He taught himself English, and was still making notes on the language and the literature when he passed on in 1972! It is this kind of dedication and desire to improve oneself constantly that makes the field level and ensures success, not the degradation of standards that the current lot of agitators are demanding. In fact, these people, by clashing with the police and torching public property, have made it evident that they are not the kind of human material the civil services need. The Delhi police should identify these trouble makers, prepare their list and ensure that( in the unlikely circumstance of their clearing the exams) they are weeded out during the verification of their antecedents.
   There are no level playing fields in life. Perhaps there may be one in the after-life, but I doubt even that.