(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Exam: Ethics & Integrity: Changing Administrative Values in India V. Subramaniam

(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Examination

Ethics & Integrity: Changing Administrative Values in India V. Subramaniam


The Term value denotes one’s deep basic preferences, belief and general assumptions about what is good or beneficial and these are expected to govern one’s decision and behaviour. But while it is easy enough to connect one’s aversion to tobacco as value with actual non-smoking as behaviour, the connecting line between very general values and mundane practical behaviour as a civil servant can be very fuzzy. Quite often non-Indian academics have tried to work out involved chains leading from belief in Karma or cyclical yugas to Indian administrative behaviour and the result is far fetched. The chain is rarely straight and more often there are a hundred intervening variables. Nevertheless, a study of the value of a society and specific administration-oriented values is an important contribution to the understanding of public administration in that society. We interpret administrative values to mean not only the value held by the administrators but also those held by society in regard to administration as these are interactive.

India’s Inheritance of Politico-Administrative Values

Hindu Values: Kautilya’s “Arthashastra”

There is much misunderstanding about the administrative heritage of the Hindu period among Western as well as Indian scholars. Earlier Western scholarship based mostly on arrogant presumptions tended to deny any political achievement to ancient Hindus and refused initially to recognize the discoveries (even from Greek source) about republican organisations in ancient India and the authenticity of Kautilya’s Arthashastra years after its discovery. Some Indian scholars reacted to this not unnaturally by treating Kautilya’s work as an actual ‘description’ of public administration over the centuries instead of being ‘prescriptive’ for his contemporary Mauryan empire. This interpretation was later accepted by several Western scholars.

Impact of Muslim Rule

The first such consequence wad dilution effects of Muslim conquest and ruler on Indian society. The early conquests by the Arab armies more or less wiped out the Zoroastrian religion and culture in Persia and Christian culture in North Africa, mainly because culture, religion and State were so closely integrated that the defeat of the State’s armies meant the end of the politico-cultural complex. In India, the earlier Islamic victories did not affect the religious and socio-cultural realms except marginally through some conversions and interchange of ideas. Soon after the isolated cultural realm activated local resistance, keeping Muslim political domination at bay with Hindu militarism.

The net result of all these developments in terms of politico-administrative values was both negative and positive. The Indian scholars’ conditional service to the Hindu State was replaced under Muslim rule by people’s alienation from the State and a self-sustaining socio-cultural realm and onto an inward looking self- sufficient villagism. The attitude which has lasted well into the post-independence years has produced its own reactions on the part of administrators, who have generally assumed public apathy as natural. On the positive side, the Hindu literary castes which formulated and preserved the cultural realm were ready to take part in the evolution of the new middle class. Their partial exclusion from the military Mansabdari field administration of the Moghul empire was a blessing in disguise. They were able to absorb the new merging modern values of administration under British rule without inhibitions.


The period of British rule generated most of the structural and behavioural values of Indian administrations not by imitation but through a dialectical interaction.

Field Administration and Bureaucratic System

There was no organised field administration in Britain except the voluntary services of the country squire. But India had developed the all-purpose district overlord during the Mauryan imperial period itself, though the institution was militarised under the Moghuls and was decadent and corrupt as a land revenue collecting instrument in the 18th Century. The office was reinvented without its psychological accretions and endowed again with all administrative responsibility by the successive Governor-Generals of the East India Company. The British contribution, however, was not just this reinventing and refurbishing but rationalizing and modernising it. This was done by: (a) the stiff open competitive examination for recruitment, and (b) building the administrative process on the new rational legal system by Macaulay’s codes.

The other British input was the gentleman-amateur ethic and its adaptation into administrative behaviour. When a central bureaucratic organisation was established in Britain itself, following the Northcote-Trevelyan Report, it took on five main characteristics through adapting Weberian continental bureaucracy to British elitist democracy and the gentleman-ethic, namely: (i) direct recruitment to the top rungs, i.e., the Administrative class; (ii) Treasury control of expenditure as well as Establishment or Personnel; (iii) the dominance of the generalist administrator over the specialist; (iv) committee system; and (v) civil service anonymity and neutrality. These were not ‘transferred’ as an ongoing thing to the successor administrative system of India but through a dialectic with the Indian derivative middle class.


It is difficult to evaluate another more ancient legacy-namely paternalism in administration. The idea of the King as spiritual father and mother to the subjects is found in most Dharmasastras and in the Ramayana. It is asserted forcefully in Kalidas’s Raghuvamsa in describing King Dilip as the father of all his subject? The idea was taken up by Akbar at least as a facade, and Abul Fazl used that concept in Akbarnama. The British administrators took it up as well and were proud to be called Mai-Bap Sarkar. But their attitude was ambivalent; they wanted to keep aloof from religion and social customs and stick to law and order on the one hand but, at the same time they liked to wear the mantle of paternalism, partly as a counter to the nationalist movement. It is still somewhere in the background as an anti-democratic element sustaining casteism and clientelism.

Administrative Values since Independence

Indian administrative values at the dawn of independence were thus inherited from three sources: (a) some persistent continuing values of Hindu society, on the Dharmic control of the State and politics; (b) some relative alienation from the State on the part of the people; and (c) a whole baggage of administrative values for an elitist democracy drawn from a dialectical interaction between the British Indian government and Indian nationalism. They have continued to hold sway with some modification.

Minister-Civil Servant Relations

The attitude of most educated Indians to Minister-civil servants relations and civil servant’s political neutrality was naive to start with but has later turned into unrealistic moral indignation and cynicism. India inherited it as part of the British tradition without understanding its socio-historical base.

Phase of Complete Cooperation

Developments in Independent India went through two or three stages. In the first stage, there was both complete cooperation between ministers and civil servants and serious misunderstanding in a few cases. The latter was exaggerated out of all proportion in the Gorwala report.

Phase of ‘Commitment’

But the situation changed very fast both at the Centre and the states by the 1960s for several reasons. The change at the Centre began with Indira Gandhi’s assumption of power and more sharply with the split in the Congress in 1969 and threats to her dominance-perceived, imagined and real. Her assumption of leadership happened after a strong undercurrent of national frustration developed after the 1962 border debacle, along with dissatisfaction with the then manipulative Congress syndicate leadership and her own perception of threats from all sides, including col1eagues. The result was that she wanted total personal loyalty from her immediate political and bureaucratic colleagues and ‘commitment’ from the civil service. Her visible sucess in controlling the kitchen cabinet, her thumping success in creating Bangladesh and her return to power, after the Janata interlude, more or less established the ‘legtimacy’ of this idea of ‘commitment’ as against ‘neutrality’. There is nothing in law or in civil service regulations on commitment and Desai as Prime Minister condemned it but the idea has stayed on.

Erosion of Neutrality

To say the least, civil service neutrality is at best indefinable now or at worst non-existent. But the current situation must be viewed more realistically. It is no help for some academics and journalists to build up righteous indignation as a possible ‘cure’ for the situation. For comparisons, we may add that civil services are more politicised in Africa and some other Third World countries. There are also safety values in India against extremes in the development of private enterprise as alternative employment and the fast growth of the middle class with a stake in professional independence. These influences work slowly but surely. It will also be more practical to identify the top echelons close to politics and policy and declare them as political appointments as in the USA. This will reduce hypocrisy and increase political accountability at that level. Field level politics in implementation can also be contained by making it more open.

New Managerialism

A newly developing value, not yet firmed in, is the American theme of new managerialism or public management. This has developed mainly during the last two decades when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were in power and Friedman’s ‘supply side’ economics ruled the roost. After a long period of State-owned enterprises and Welfarism in Europe, the tide turned in favour of privatisation, a slimmer civil service and adoption of private managerial ideas and practices in government. On the whole, it has been successful in Western Europe and North America, but it seems to have reached the end of its usefulness. Already, the tide is turning with new left-of-centre governments coming to power. The real lesson of these developments in the West is that these States were able to get the best out of State-owned enterprise and Welfarism in terms of basic infrastructures and a stable society and changed direction only when that became counter productive. Again, their adoption of privatisation and new managerialism was on prictical grounds up to a point. In short, they have coordinated the change with socio-historical trends and fine-tuned their movements.

The new managerialism/public management ethic has been explained with differing emphasis and content by its proponents-like Vincent Ostrom, Oswald and Gaebler and Owen Hughes-and it may be briefly summed up thus. The Weberian classical type of civil service with its centralisation, strict hierarchy, rules, regulations and impersonal relations in no longer a useful model for public or private administration. It has outlived its usefulness after establishing some norms of order, predictability and division of labour in organisations and society at large. In the present fast changing world, the emphasis is on entrepreneurialism and flexibility (instead of a rigidly stated policy) mission-driven and customer-driven procedures and performance orientation. This total package of new managerialism is expected to replace older ideas of organised centralised departments, codes, rules and budget allocations.

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