Corruption and the manner in which it has permeated every aspect of the Indian polity has been in the limelight thanks to the determination of Anna Hazare and the dramatic manner in which his April 5 fast spread throughout the country.  For a few days, Hazare became the face of the anti-corruption fervor of the long-suffering Indian citizen – but this was short-lived. The issue has been muddied and politicized in a bitter manner and now the focus has weakened.
Yet there can be no denying the tragic reality that corruption and the dilution of institutional integrity have weakened India’s comprehensive national security and adherence to the democratic ethos that was enshrined in the freedom of August 1947. India may be the world’s largest democracy due to its sheer population – but it is also the most hypocritical and hollow nation in this comity – and the Hazare moment cannot be allowed to fade away. From the Raja spectrum case to the appointment of the CVC and the aspersions cast on the higher judiciary – the shadow of corrupt practices looms large in every walk of Indian life.

PM Manmohan Singh who has been under critical scrutiny and intense attack   for being either unable or unwilling to tackle the cancer of corruption  made yet another commitment on April 21 – the Civil Services Day.  The PM asserted that his government would introduce two bills on judicial accountability and protection for whistle blowers – and hoped that the Lokpal Bill would also be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament.

If these promises are kept and the legislature is actually able to conduct an objective debate on all these burning issues- and more – then the Hazare movement would have some value addition. However on current evidence, it is difficult not to be cynical. The current practice of Indian democracy has become distorted to such an extent that even recalling what is ‘normal’ and upright in public life is proving to be daunting. The murky electoral funding pattern and the brazen cash-for-votes syndrome which then translates into  political power being traded for personal profit has become so entrenched that short of a radical overhaul – nothing else will make a dent in the corruption that is India.

Here the civil services have a pivotal role and the PM who started his public life as a non-IAS civil servant knows the inside of the Indian government better than any of his peers. The IAS as a service is the most powerful cadre in India today and has also seen its own standards of probity falling rapidly. Some states like UP have a public listing of the most corrupt officials and  the scandal of  Arvind and Tinu  Joshi- an IAS couple who amassed Rs 360 crores in 25 years is symptomatic of  how high and deep the cancer of corruption has spread.

As part of the radical measures that need to be taken - revamping the IAS should be at the top of the PM’s list. Many upright civil servants are anguished at the current state of affairs and some among them are seeking reform. In a recent thought - provoking article, Srivatsa Krishna, a serving IAS officer opined: “The IAS urgently needs reform if it is not to become increasingly irrelevant to development or be co-opted by the corrupt.”
It is often asked as to how the British maintained a huge empire in the Indian sub-continent with a small number of their own ‘white’ citizens. The answer was the way in which the Indian bureaucracy was created with the ICS at the very top of the pyramid. And each district was administered by one Commissioner/Collector; a Judge and a Superintendent of Police. They in turn maintained the highest standard of probity expected from a colonial administration – and India was kept under reasonable control to serve the interests of London.
Today almost 64 years after independence, the Indian Civil Service – the so-called steel frame has become servile to the political master and committed to protecting its own interests. The much needed revamp of the Indian Civil Service would do well to internalize the essence of Chanakya - the symbol of equitable governance and administration in Magadh India of the BC period.

Most Indians are aware of the legendary tale about Chanakya and the thorn bush. When hurt by a thorn as he was walking, what Chanakya did was to remove it carefully – and then uproot the offending bush and boil the roots so that the next person who walked on that path would be unhurt. Thus addressing a problem or issue at the root should be the guiding tenet for the PM and his team and here the second Chanakyan principle is perhaps even more relevant.
As legend has it, when Chanakya had to receive a visitor from China - he took a few minutes to put out one oil lamp and then light another. When queried as to why he did this, Chanakya replied that his meeting with the visitor was a personal activity – and hence he could not use the Emperor’s oil – and was using his own oil and lamp. The visitor is alleged to have exclaimed that with such levels of integrity, how could India not but prosper?

It is this Chanakyan dharma that needs to be internalized and put into practice by the Indian civil servant and the elected political representative. It is instructive that during the Anna Hazare fervor, it was highlighted that many members of the political spectrum and the civil service had forgotten the central fact that they are ‘public servants’– and not rulers or masters. The PM who practices this core principle by his personal example needs to make this his central advocacy for the rest of his tenure at the helm of the Indian executive. Otherwise the cancer of corruption will spread – and the Indian variation of the jasmine revolution will soon be upon us.