ABSTRACT

History has shown that efforts have constantly been made to arrest systemic degradation. As the argument runs, systems are bound to falter for contextual reasons, while they are articulating their ideological priorities. What is thus needed is to evolve effective mechanisms to halt the debasement that a system suffers from time to time. This is a powerful lesson of history: it cannot be disputed, because the roots of the derailment of the system are too well entrenched to be eradicated easily. This is a view that also draws our attention to the wider socio-economic and political milieu in which the reasons for the systemic failure are located. Despite the fact that the dislocation of the system has its roots in the immediate context, the importance of the wider environment to which the system is organically linked cannot be ruled out. The processes leading to the deviation of the system from the fundamental canons of ethics in governance are complex. It is now accepted that a decline in any system is inevitable, since the environment in which the system is located is not perfect. So, the problem and its source have been identified. This is one part of the story. The other part – underlining the efforts against tendencies to undermine, if not derail, the system – is about those major serious attempts which seek to re-establish the values of ethics in governance as perhaps most useful in realizing the core beliefs of liberal democracy. What is fundamental here is that the challenges from the reduction of ethics in public life usually refuel the debate, which is always helpful in reconceptualizing the approaches and tools of analysis. As will be shown below, institutional decay and social degradation are dialectically connected: the former is as much a push-factor as an outcome of the processes, which are rooted in the wider social environment. This makes the situation far more complicated, because institutions contribute to significant changes by playing defining roles; similarly, society is a source of dramatic flux in institutions when it accommodates new demands, which are usually articulated by various types of social movement. As an ongoing process, governance is being constantly reinvented, sometime for internal reasons, sometime as a result of external pressure. The purpose is to uphold the publicness of public authority, which, if compromised, strikes at its foundation. Solutions must be found; otherwise, the edifice of governance crumbles. Given the contextual complexities in which governance

unfolds, there cannot be tailor-made solutions to the problems responsible for government derailment; this idea is supported by the failure of the so-called universal models of governance, sponsored by the World Bank, to arrest the decadence in governance in a large number of developing countries. What it reemphasizes is the fact that, since problems have clear contextual roots, solutions are to be identified by keeping in view the contextual peculiarities of the system, which can never be comprehended through derived wisdom. Historically speaking, there are two major ways in which governance loses its public character. On the one hand, corruption and malpractices, which are always hailed by vested interests as complementary to the gratification of partisan interests, continue to plague governance to a significant extent in most developing countries, including India. On the other hand, the slackening of governance is also due to the misuse of public authority through circumstances in which the political leadership conveniently bypasses even its constitutional obligations to pursue and fulfil private goals and objectives, at the cost of those of the governed. This is indicative of the decline in ethics in governance. Disheartened by the distortions in governance, S Radhakrishnan, who became India’s President in 1962, thus suggested in as early as 1947 that

unless we destroy corruption in high places, root out every trace of nepotism, love of power, profiteering and black marketing which have spoiled the good name of this great country in recent times, we will not be able to raise the standards of efficiency of administration as well as in the production and distribution of the necessary goods in life.1