The 75th Year of Independence: Some Institutional Reflections

The 75th Year of Independence: Some Institutional Reflections
The 75th year of independence, amongst other things, needs to be an occasion to look forward, go from strength to strength, and eliminate weakness that may exist.

The Diamond Jubilee of a nation’s independence is not a huge span of time, given a nation’s existence, in terms of years. It becomes a huge span of time if one thinks in generational terms.

75 years of active life for an individual is a rarity at its best; it could encapsulate two generations. By itself, it becomes a significant span of time for evaluation and assessment even for an institution or a nation. In India,the occasion has been rightly taken as an opportunity for self-evaluation.

We have done well on many dimensions. The Indian governance structures of panchayat, legislative assembly, and parliament have endured the test of time. Given the inherent diversity of sub-cultures in a unifying culture that is India, it is amazing how the framework has stood the test of time.

Illustratively, the Legislative Assembly of Meghalaya or Mizoram has a composition so uniquely representative of the place that there is little to compare them with the operations of the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh. Yet the institutional framework of these places has shown an equal maturity of administration and smoothness of transition from one concern to another. It is a living example of a people’s maturity.

The Indian Election Commission is known for its fairness and vigour. The courts are, by and large, respected. Our major chains of academic institutions like IIMs, IITs, AIIMs, agricultural universities, central universities, and many state universities are known for their standards and integrity. Aberrations have been there, but they are quickly set right. The corrections effectively stand out. This defines an approach to development that is unique to India.

The above elaboration is not to say that everything is hunky-dory. Nothing is ever perfect. Extremism of one variety or another in adomain or another remains a demand to respond it. Consider this threat of bigotry. It does not strengthen faith in a system in which decision-making is overtaken by religious considerations. Every religion has a right to exist, but manoeuvring for expansion of its dominion on the basis of religious compactness poses a risk. It could break many institutional safe guards. India has, so far, successfully handled this threat.

Similarly, probity and fairness in decision-making cannot be a matter of debate. If there are financial transactions going on covering the decisions, so-called administrative legitimisation does not hide the fact that, in actual operational terms, there should be fair play and no bias. Clearly, India as a community has many areas to work on, to sustain and enhance its maturity.
The 75th year of independence, amongst other things, needs to be an occasion to look forward, go from strength to strength, and eliminate weakness that may exist.

From this point of view, perhaps an area that merits far greater attention than what it has received so far is the maturity of our institutional framework.

A country as diverse as India has a bewilderingly large number of institutions. In popular parlance, there is reference to central government institutions, state government institutions, local institutions, public institutions, private institutions, corporations, and of course other institutional typologies depending upon the nature of the holdings. Anyone familiar with organisation studies will know that institutions are brought into existence formally for a given purpose. Moreover, more often than not, they have to be recognised in the framework of governance.

The above is not to say that all institutions are necessarily formal institutions. There are informal institutions, especially in a social sense, that have become institutionalised through practise. These institutions govern many set-ups, including social structures that manage institutions of birth and death, not to mention institutions relating to rituals. This would be subject matter in its own right and require a detailed discussion. However, given the limitations of space, a limited focus on formal institutions may serve as the starting point for more thought and reflection. The attempt will be to talk of institutions that are formally recognised by law or are operating in a given structured form.

In this category would come societies, federations, foundations, and self-governing institutions. Indeed, any institution formed by people for a given objective. The health of such institutions is a must for the overall health of bigger institutions of governance like local self-government, state legislative bodies, and central operational institutions.

A lot of them are doing good work and this shows the resilience in a given society. Danger is apparent when a large number of such institutions become places of comfort, as it were, for personal advancement and glory. To take over these institutions, the modus operandi of the argument is that majority must rule. Majority rule, when backed by an approximation of arguments, can be used to do away with things that may be necessary to an institution’s interest. This is the risk that needs to be addressed.

Institutions, big or small, cannot be allowed to become havens of self-aggrandisement, self-perpetrators, and more. This aspiration can be a challenge to meet. This would be necessary to meet, because to keep such institutions on the righteous path of probity and institutional welfare will have to be ensured.

This will have to be done at the level of creating a larger culture where institutional conscience is sensitive and norms are established to walk the narrow path to correctness and propriety. It takes time, but it can be done.

Institutional effort at self-correction is to be made an essential part of organisational operations. A possible way could be to make it a part of the Governing Body meetings and the General Body agenda to discuss the challenges that is well worth meeting.

Dr. Vinayshil Gautam

Internationally acclaimed management expert. Chairman, DKIF

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