The title of this article chosen as theme for deliberations on National Good Governance Day 2017 by Swami Vivekananda Chair of Central University of Jammu is relevant for reasons more than one. The meaning of “seva” has changed from “selfless service” to “service of the self”. We live in times where the “net worth” of an individual is measured by his bank balance and assets rather than “selfless service” rendered. People in authority appear to believe that once the mandate is received, they are not accountable to anyone. It has become a matter of right to receive kickbacks from policy manipulations to enhance political fortunes of parties in power.
Governance is best explained as how a society or group of individuals, organize themselves to take decisions, for their well being. Governance rests on three important dimensions- authority, decision making and accountability. It is the interplay of these dimensions that determines the quality of Governance.
The authority in a democracy comes from the mandate received from the people. Is the mandate free and fair? Is there a level play field? How much is the mandate being influenced by muscle and money power?
Decision making has to be Citizen Centric. Are all pillars of democracy working for the betterment of the people? Is the decision making transparent, free of arbitrariness and misuse of discretionary powers?
Who is Government accountable to? Corporates, the business world and the underworld who fund the poll expenses or the citizens at large who have voted for them and whose hard earned money is being spent by the functionaries of the Government?
Answers to these questions provide a fair idea of Good, not so Good or bad Governance.
The phrase Seva param dharma” owes its origin to Bhagwat Gita- “Karmanevadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachina” (Your duty is action with no eye on the fruits it will bring). “Seva” is defined as service which is given without consideration of anything in return, at the right place and time to one that is qualified, with the feeling that it is one’s duty” (Bhagavad Gita 17.20). In ancient India “seva” was believed to help one’s spiritual growth and at the same time contribute to the improvement of the community. This was thought to be the art of giving with no need to receive, where the act itself is a gift to everyone involved.
So Seva has to be selfless, it entails spiritual growth as well as betterment of the community. And Service to fellow beings is service to God. Swami Vivekananda amplified the ingredients of “Seva” when he said,” “This is the gist of all worship- to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples”. All religions preach selfless service to fellow beings as service to God
Let us now try and use the ingredients of “Seva param dharma” to create a model for Good Governance.
Service to fellow citizens is the best form of worship. Governance therefore must be citizen centric. The citizen has to be the focal point of attention of all pillars of democracy- the legislature, the political executive, the Judiciary and the media. They all have to strive to improve the lot of the citizens. The nexus model of Governance where the political executive, Corporates, underworld and the media gang up to silence the common citizen must be dismantled.
Service has to be selfless. When Swami Vivekananda was explaining selfless service, one of his disciples asked, “Swami Ji, What will become of those, then, who depend on me?” Swami Ji gave a beautiful reply,” If you are ready to sacrifice your life for others, God will certainly provide some means for them. Have you not read in the Gita (VI. 40) the words of Shri Krishna, “never does a doer of good, O my beloved, come to grief”?
It is not to suggest that Public Servants need to turn ‘sanyasis’, work without emoluments and neglect their families. Those in public services are reasonably well paid and looked after. All that is expected of them is to live within their legitimate means. Those in public service must say no to ‘Nazrana’- the collusive corruption at the top echelons; ‘Shukrana’- the thanksgiving for contracts and other favours at the middle level; and ‘Jabraana’, the much talked about coercive corruption at the bottom of the corruption ladder. The corruption ladder can be effectively cleaned only from top downwards. The Government is a trustee of the public money which must not find its way to the pockets of public servants. That is the best test of Good Governance.
The challenge comes when those in public authority refuse to conform to this dictum of selfless service. There are both preventive and punitive remedies. Punitive vigilance is mostly individual centric and has little or no impact on the malady itself. It does put individuals to life long ordeal but due to prolonged legal battles the impact of such action is lost. The judgement on the 2G case is a case in point.
In the words of a former CVC Shri N Vittal, “in any organisation we can presume 10% will be Harish Chandras, 10% will be crooks and remaining 80% depend on the system”. While punitive correctional method need to be made speedier to discipline the “crooks”, focus must remain on preventive vigilance based on systemic changes to rid the system of corruption breeding practices.
There is a need for caution against overreach of punitive vigilance on extraneous considerations through gullible Investigating Agencies. The demon of “presumptive losses” had led to policy paralysis in UPA II. The current NDA Government has not been able to shake off this inertia. Bureaucracy has chosen to play safe. Not many are willing to stick their neck for fear of being investigated even if there is an error of judgement or a bonafide mistake in decision making. This fear needs to be suitably allayed.
Preventive vigilance begins with the lessons on moral education that a child receives at home and school. We need to change the mindset that the public money is meant to be looted. Instead the concept of selfless service has to be inculcated as part of our DNA. Moral education must begin as part of school curriculum to achieve such attitudinal transformation.
Preventive vigilance also entails systemic changes to eliminate corruption breeding practices. We must leverage technology in all facets of Governance to reduce the need for contact between the citizen and the public servant for receiving public services of various kinds.
Transparency in actions of the Government is another test of Good Governance. All information must be stored in digital form so that all actions of the Government can be voluntarily put in public domain. The Transparency law must be implemented in letter and spirit if we want to achieve the goal of Good Governance. Such e-Governance measures will also help rendering of service on merit irrespective of caste, creed, race or religion. Transparency will also make public servants more accountable bringing out in public their misdeeds hitherto shrouded in a misplaced sense of secrecy in Government decision making.
The suggested measures will go a long way in achieving the cherished goal of Good Governance through the Vedic philosophy of “Seva param dharma”.
There can be no greater selfless service than making the supreme sacrifice of life for the safety and security of fellow citizens. The Indian Defence Forces, PMFs and the Jammu and Kashmir Police have displayed this spirit of selfless service in ample measure. How appropriate, the insignia of the National Defence Academy, which trains officers for the three Defence Services, prominently carries the motto “Seva param dharma”.
(The author is a former Director General of Police)