Since this tendency is becoming more and more widespread with even the state governors being seen as “agents”, the need for restoring the sanctity of professionalism has never been more urgent. The attainment of this objective not only requires an across-the-board implementation of the concept in all segments of the bureaucracy but also in other spheres of the society, including politics. The dictionary meaning of professionalism is the “conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person”. These attributes constitute the cornerstone of rule-based governance free of the partisan and self-serving whims of politicians.

It is this separation of professionals from politicians which is absent in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. Unfortunately, India is skirting close to emulating these deplorable trends. They were noticeable in Indira Gandhi’s time when she spoke of the need for a “committed judiciary” during the Emergency (1975-77). But her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, set an unwanted precedent in 1951 under which subjects in the ninth schedule of the constitution were put outside the ambit of judicial scrutiny. The objective of the two measures was, first, to rob the judges of their professionalism by appointing those who were ideologically committed to the government, and, secondly, to circumscribe their authority on subjects which the government did not want them to examine.

Since then, the country has travelled further down the slippery slope by negating the so-called separation of powers, the hallmark of a democracy, by obliterating the distinction between the three “estates” of the constitutional system – legislature, executive and judiciary. The Supreme Court’s dubbing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a “caged parrot” of the government is a part of this process of eroding institutional autonomy. But the CBI is not the only victim. The police are the most widely recognized targets of this malady. As a result of the curtailment of their operational independence by self-serving politicians, the phenomenon of the police-politician-criminal nexus has grown in the country.

Probing this unholy linkage, a former Union home secretary, N.N. Vohra, said in his report in 1993 that the funds acquired through the forcible occupation by mafia dons of lands or buildings were used for developing contacts with bureaucrats and politicians. “The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country”, said the port, adding that “the existing criminal justice system, which was designed essentially to deal with individual offences/crimes, is unable to deal with the activities of the Mafia”. In course of time, instead of befriending politicians, the dons decided to enter politics themselves with the result that today’s state legislatures and parliament comprise a substantial number of MLAs and M.P.s who have a criminal background. What this means is that the very profession of politics has been contaminated. It is for this reason that few people hold politicians in high regard.

The declining ethical standards of politicians has infected the bureaucrats who are nowadays keen to follow their masters’ diktats even if their legal validity is doubtful rather than uphold the rule of law. However, these deviations from acceptable norms, especially by the police, are not going unnoticed in the outside world, bringing India on a par with communist and theocratic countries. A United Nations group has said, therefore, that the recent arrests of civil rights activists in India have sent a “chilling message” that criticism of the government is not tolerated.

The difficulty for authoritarian regimes in an integrated world is that arbitrary steps which curb personal liberties are questioned by various watchdog bodies which have been set up precisely for monitoring such violations of human rights. What would have been overlooked in an earlier age because of economic or diplomatic reasons will now come under the scanner and highlighted by an ever inquisitive media. Moreover, being in the spotlight for such unsavoury reasons is embarrassing for any country even if it brushes aside such unfavourable attention, as India has done, by describing it as uninformed. For instance, India has advised the UN high commission for human rights to “develop a better understanding before jumping to conclusions” on issues such as the new citizenship laws.

But such an arrogant rejection of criticism itself can be seen as the sign of a guilty mind in an atmosphere of custodial deaths and fake encounters. These cold-blooded killings by the police are as much the result of the criminalization of the force as the continuation of the feudal practice of meting out summary “justice” – a U.P politician is said to dump his adversaries in a pond with crocodiles – and the colonial-era disregard for accountability of the high and mighty. Only the restoration of professionalism in the government services by insulating the bureaucracy from politicians and the weeding out of politicians with a dubious record will mark the prevalence of the rule of law. (IPA Service)