Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - Polity needs Varna ethic - Sandhya Jain


Polity needs Varna ethic 
Sandhya Jain

In a powerful acknowledgement of the national mood towards the questionable accumulation of wealth by persons in high posts, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has suggested President Pratibha Patil consider if she would like to make her assets and those of her family members public, in the manner in which the Prime Minister did for himself and his cabinet in May 2009. Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi feels this would “set a good example in transparency”, though he lacks the authority to insist on the matter.


At stake for the nation is the issue of the exercise of power without a moral dimension and public good. Amidst growing concerns about corruption in high office, the Prime Minister has moved from demanding annual declaration of assets by cabinet ministers to asking them to dissociate from businesses doing commerce with Government.


In this respect, Dr Manmohan Singh has drawn upon one of the most powerful concepts of Indian civilization, viz. that rulers must maintain a distinction from the commercial classes, and not merge with them to the detriment of society and nation. The ancient Hindu Varna system is not an intrinsic social hierarchy (like the British class system) but a hierarchy of values. It commands the intellectual class to pursue and preserve knowledge for the social good, and not misuse monopoly over knowledge to accrue undue profit for itself.


In like manner, the ruling class (politicians, bureaucrats) is mandated not to (mis)use the power of the State to acquire wealth that would not accrue to it but for the possession of power. In other words, those desirous of acquiring material wealth must pursue it legitimately in trade, industry or the professions. Politics is about regulating the society and protecting the state; it cannot be used to pervert the polity and/or the economy in favour of a chosen few.




A welcome aspect of the Prime Minister’s new initiative is the demand for information about the employment of any family member(s) of any minister with a foreign government in India or abroad, or any foreign organization. Given the oblique manner in which foreign agencies make inroads into strategic households in third world countries, this inquiry should cover foreign NGOs like Amnesty International (founded by an MI6 official). The Prime Minister’s missive is explicit that in cases where a wife or dependent is employed with a foreign establishment prior to the person becoming a minister, the PM shall decide whether or not the employment should continue. The general rule, it is stressed, is that there should be total prohibition on employment with a foreign mission.


This is unexceptionable, but the rule should immediately cover IAS officers as well, as over the past two decades many have set up lucrative NGOs in the names of their spouses, which are recipients of generous Western funding.



The author is Editor,