Haloed Institutions?


Twitter surveys have serious limitations but the results still surprised me. It was a survey by me wherein the following question was asked:

According to you, which of the following institutions is carrying out its responsibilities in the best possible manner?

1. Civil Servants

2. Judiciary

3. Politicians

4. Media

Of more than 3000 participants, 65% voted in favor of Civil Servants, 22% for Judiciary, Politicians 9% and Media was last with 5%.

In the concluding chapter of my recently released book, “Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant”, I had quoted Gurcharan Das: “Today, our bureaucracy has become the single biggest obstacle to the country’s development. Indians think of the bureaucrats as self-servers, rent seekers, obstructive and corrupt”. This was a comment made by him in his book, “India Unbound” that was written more than a decade ago. Has the perception changed? It is a moot point. Even in the Twitter survey there were a number of comments against the civil servants. One of the hundreds of the comments was pretty damning : “ these saviors of nation have the most abhorrent and corrupt behavior. Civil servants are harassers. They are not facilitators”. Still the civil servants walked away with an overwhelming majority of “votes” that were polled. There were some kind comments as well, “I some time wonder what keeps them motivated inspite of a very difficult and irrational political class”. As mentioned earlier, the survey/poll has serious limitations both in terms of sample size and some inherent bias. Hence, the findings have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Moreover, this is just a comparison of the four institutions and not an endorsement of any “good” work. There is indeed a general cynicism against all the four institutions, the civil servants can perhaps only claim to be not as bad as the others.

There were a large number comments on incorporating an additional option of NOTA (None of the above) that couldn’t be added on account of the limitation imposed by Twitter on the number of choices that is restricted to four. All the institutions were condemned by a number of participants who couldn’t or didn’t vote as the NOTA option was not available. “All the institutions have declined” as one put it. One even went further, “all these failed us as a country but all have failed themselves as well”. Another one called all these institutions “rotten to the core”. This reflects fairly widespread cynicism regarding the institutions that are tasked with managing the country.” Given the general cynicism against all the four institutions, civil servants can perhaps only claim to be not as bad as the others.

One could understand politicians being berated because they are the whipping boys almost always though there were some stray positive comments in their case as well. In one of the comments, it was stated that “only politicians are doing their job effectively and efficiently”. What was really surprising was how the media was perceived. It seems to have taken serious beating in the recent past and it gets reflected in this survey. In fact, there were some caustic comments as well, “Really wondering who have voted for media” and another one questioning, “Someone voted for media?”. In another survey carried out on Twitter, I had quoted the celebrated journalist, Mark Tully from his book “India’s Unending Journey”, “The media which takes its cue from the West, seems to think its role is to promote aggression and not discussion, and conflict not conversation” and asked, “Is media adding to the narrative of hatred and playing a divisive role?”. 94% of the respondents answered in the affirmative. The credibility of media has indeed taken a serious beating and that perhaps is the reason why it lies at the bottom of the shack

The biggest surprise was the response in the context of Judiciary, normally considered to be the most revered institution in the country and ultimate savior of democracy. Polling only 22% was least expected. Perhaps the Justice Gogoi episode impacted this survey. Is there a change in perception about this vaunted institution? The answer perhaps lies in another survey carried out on Twitter a few days before this one. In that survey, I had used a quote of a well-known author, Edward Luce who in his book, “Inspite of Gods” had observed, “India’s judicial system is supposedly blind, but it often has eyes for rich and powerful”. In the poll it was asked whether the respondent agreed or not. It brought forth very startling results. 83% percent of the respondents agreed that the judiciary has “eyes for rich and powerful”

There were some other very interesting and probably inexplicable findings in the survey. A number of aspirants for civil service also commented that they would opt for NOTA and also condemned the performance of the civil service. The question still to be answered is why were they joining the civil service if they thought that civil service was making no contribution? Was it on account of their desire to correct it if they managed to become a civil servant or, are they following the dictum, can’t beat them so join them? Perhaps they would know the answer

Whatever be the case, the message from this survey is loud and clear. One institution may be doing better that the other. One may have undergone a decline and the other may have apparently improved on account of greater decline of others. It is no cause to celebrate. Each institution needs to deeply introspect as there is enormous cynicism on account of their perceived or real indifference. Whether one agrees with this poll or not, there is scope for huge improvement in the functioning of each of these institutions tasked with serving the country.