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Ethical Dimensions Of Governance - D.P. Agarwal

Chairman, UPSC

The topic 'Ethical dimensions of governance' allows most of us to consider the issue the way we think they are right. Since we belong to a country which is multi-cultural, geographically very different, the aspirations of people are also very different. Therefore, many a time, whenever the word 'ethics' has appeared, we have tried to draw inspiration more from religion and the religious books. We must have heard and deliberated many definitions of ethics. I shall make two quotations, one for ethics and the other for governance. Bertrand Russell said "Without civic morality, communities perish; without personal morality, their survival has no value." This is as far as the issue related to ethics is concerned. It leaves us a very vast field; it is not as narrow as one looks at it. But when we look at the governance, I could find nothing better than what Gandhi Ji thought, that is, Swaraj. He said that the governance takes care of people who are the last in the line. And most famously he said, "If we could remove the tears from the eyes of the people, we have done our job".

This was said by Nehru in his speech on Tryst with Destiny while quoting Gandhi Ji. This still remains the beacon for all of us. Therefore, for me, good governance is nothing but ensuring that the quality of life is delivered to the people of this country without differentiation of caste, creed, knowledge base, and area which he belongs to.

Since I also belong to academic area, I spent my time in the IIT, Delhi. I had a chance to look at a curriculum when I was heading Indian Institute of Information Technology at Gwalior, and I was at a loss to look at what would be a curriculum to be taught to students as far as ethics is concerned. I called a team of people. They came down and said that there could be two or three areas which we can dwell upon. And you would not believe that all of them happened to come from such areas as you draw from best of the religion, do's and don'ts, you take the best of what the luminaries have said and lived in their lives, and that should be the curriculum. I do not know whether it is a right approach for a curriculum. But looking the way a curriculum should be, and since college is involved in terms of doing this exercise, my belief would be that any curriculum you design for ethical dimensions, whether it is for governance of corporates, or for any other purpose, should be so open which stimulates the mind of the people to say frankly and fearlessly what they wish to say. Don't try to narrow down the whole gamut of ethics.

There was an Administrative Reforms Commission-II and there is one volume especially on ethics in governance. So, it will be naive to go in for more details than what has been given there. To quote what they have tried to define as far as the ethics in governance is concerned, it says: "Ethics is a set of standards that society places on itself and which help guide behaviour, choices in actions". They kept on saying that the Commission is painfully aware that the standards do not by themselves ensure ethical behaviour that requires a robust culture of integrity.

When you look at this issue in the way they had gone through, it is an eye-opener that how the gamut could be so large. It could cover political way of life, the politics; it could cover the people who are ready to receive the fruits of governance, the public at large. Whenever we look at this ethical issue it appears that you are too paranoid with the effect on corruption, and whenever this word is spoken, we all get too charged up and say that we all are unethical today.

I need not remind that any time in history there have been people who were good and there were people who were evil. And it is the balance between good and evil which has made societies to grow. I do not, therefore, perceive that we today are so different than what we were.

It is only the perception through which individual looks at and, therefore, it is said that ethics can be universal truth, can be universal objectives, but ethics can be personal too. The issue only comes up when the personal ethical dimensions do not match with the objectives of the larger interests of the public at large. For example, somebody says that this man has committed a crime, so I have a right to beat him. He is so charged up because somebody has made a mistake, and he has made such a grave mistake that I cannot hold myself to beat him up. But in the eyes of the law, both, the one who made a mistake and the one who is beating are culprits. Is this ethical issue? Should one be supported by ethical dimensions or not is really very confusing. Therefore, the point I am trying to make is that we must tread a very cautious path when we look at the culmination of ethical dimensions with the governance.

For example, somebody has committed a crime, inquiry is still on, but some of the people have already started making noise that this and this punishment must be given to him. You must have heard this happening every day that inaction has been done as part of reaction, but the way people try to sell today that suddenly a group would emerge and become supporter of somebody who, at the first level, appeared to be harmed.

To me, the best may not be the right and, therefore, my perceptional behaviour cannot guarantee an ethical behaviour of a group of people. For me, it could be very nice that I am a leader of the team and I say that whatever my team has done is correct and because of the team, therefore, I get the glory. But there is nothing wrong if the member of the team who actually has done something says that I have done this job. Now, you may look at the dimension both ways, I, as a leader, ensure that the credit goes to whomsoever it should, but there could be some person who would say, no, since I was the leader of the team, the team has done the best. So, these are the kind of problems one faces almost every day. Let us look at when it comes to the governance. In the Conference of the Chief
Ministers, which was held in 2003, the Prime Minister had laid down three points for agenda.

1.    A comprehensive legal framework that is defended and enforced by an impartial and competent judicial system.
2.    A transparent executive decision-making apparatus. So, we have looked at the judiciary, now we want the Executive, the so-called bureaucracy.
3.     A system coupled with capable, efficient, people friendly bureaucracy and strong civil society.

That was the agenda which the Prime Minister put to the Conference of the Chief Ministers. I shall now quote what the Chief Ministers said in conclusion. They said that if these objectives are to be met, the quality of governance has to be there. They put down three points:

1. Making administration accountable and people friendly. So, can this become a rule?

2. Ensuring transparency in Right to Information.

3. Improving the performance and integrity of the civil services.

Now, kindly look at it here that while making these kinds of suggestions, we have totally forgotten two very important pillars on which ethical dimensions would impinge-
(1) Society at large and
(2) The person himself who is being governed.

We had a number of changes. We are very happy when politicians are asked by the Election Commission of declare their wealth. Can you understand the background by which this disclosure issue has evolved? You remember the Watergate incident in U.S. when President Nixon had to resign, because there existed rules. We still have conduct rules in this country. But this is not sufficient. What was then done was that under a crisis, some rules and regulations were made and they were considered to be in ethical frame.

Can you understand that an ethical frame which is based on a crisis may not give you the kind of situation which may stand the test to the time? Therefore, this has to be a little more than the set of the rules and regulations which may govern the people who are in the bureaucracy.

We have to do a lot of research. For example, in Government there is a tool to look at the performance of persons who are working, what is called, confidential report. I think all of you are aware that this is an instrument by which my superior looks at my work, and without telling me what he has looked in me, writes something which I never know. That means I have no faith in trying to tell somebody who is working with me and convince him that look this is what you were supposed to do, this is what you were supposed to deliver, and this is what I perceived that you have done.

Similarly, if I sit down in a selection committee, a candidate is a gold-medalist, suddenly he comes in front of the committee, the committee members are not happy and they dispose him off in ten minutes time. This gentleman goes back and thinks "I have been a topper of a great university and they did not find me useful to be a lecturer". This dilemma has to be faced so many times. It becomes so difficult for a young person to accept that a system through which I have come, that the people who are now sitting on other side were my teachers and through them I got my gold medal, and now they do not find me worthy of teaching and they find worthy of teaching somebody who is much inferior on records than me. Don't you think it is an ethical damage?

Therefore, ethical dimension does not end there; it ends with the way of life. It is not a religion but it is about doing things right. It is not only doing things right by your standards, it must be doing things right by what society perceives and the history perceives you to do. For example, Aurangzeb in his own time must have done what he thought was the best, but history does not perceive him like that. So, your actions today may be perceived to be something different after some time. You, therefore, have to be very careful in doing and thinking what you want to do. Let us look at what U.S. has done after Watergate.

They said we impinge on all of you a few things. As a government servant, as people in public life, you will make financial disclosures, and I think you all know now the way the financial disclosures are made in this country. What is not written in the Conduct Rules, which additionally we should do? It was written in the Watergate that even gifts of food, lodging, transportation and entertainment have to be declared. That means if ethics are to be brought in by policing, I am sorry that does not work. Ethics work through compassion, ethics work within you, what you have and your desire to do the best for people at large. That is what the dream of the Father of the Nation was and that is what Gandhiji said.
I shall conclude by referring just one study, again taken from an institution from America, called Josephson Institution of Ethics. There are a number of studies conducted by them. I am only bringing one purely because we should understand where the malaise lies. The study is done by a teacher in a college. People think that by the time the child goes to university, he is incorrigible and therefore, this study was down in a high school, which is like our 11th and 12th. The teacher had given six questions to be answered in yes or no.

1. In relationships honesty and trust are essential to me.

2. It is important for me that people trust me.

3. It is important for me that I am a person of good character.

4. I have cheated at least once during the past year.

5. I know someone who has cheated at least once during this year.

6. In the real world, successful people do what they have to do in order to win, even if others consider it cheating.

Students overwhelmingly reported yes to first three questions and the support was 97 per cent, and 96 per cent-no ambiguity. However, almost 60 per cent admitted to have cheated at least once-an overwhelming majority and that is the danger. 93 per cent knew someone was cheating but still kept silent. Everybody knew he was cheating, but nothing was said. The most difficult part is the last question and that is "In the real world, successful people do what they have to do in order to win even if others consider it cheating"-atrociously high number!

Therefore, all that remains is to win, whether you do by hook or crook. You get your gold medal, you become successful, you cheat, you copy, and you do whatever you want. All that matters is to win. I think all of us have to hit that one issue. We want to win but we want to win so that people remember us. I close by quoting Gandhiji. He said in 1930 for the teachers that "Your role is not to teach. Nobody can be taught. You have to facilitate a young man to become a responsible citizen of this country."
Ethics in Governance –edited by T K Mishra & S P Aggarwal

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