Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Manipur Police at a parade

A Bureaucracy’s Allegiance Must Remain With ‘Law’ and Service ‘Rules’ But it Must also be Gifted with a Heart for the Public

In Max Weber depiction of bureaucracy, the official serving the bureaucracy and their loyalty is to the “rule” or the “constitution” and there is no personal loyalty to the “ministers” or “president” or “prime ministers. The member of the bureaucracy or bureaucrats’ is supposed to act with an attitude of “formalistic impersonality” where personal idiosyncrasies, like or dislike or preference must be kept aside.”
The basis of legitimacy lies in “rational rule” or “laws” which Weber referred to as “legal-rational authority” or laws which are rational. Rational laws are deliberately created after assessing different types of means and choosing the most efficient means to attain a particular goal. As long as the person holding the position of authority acts in accordance with “rational rule” and issues commands based on these “rational rules”, these commands are considered legitimate and are obeyed by people. Even the person holding the office of authority is bound and governed by rational laws. Or in other words “nobody is above law”. And arbitrariness and discretion are at their minimum. And this is what we call the “rule of law”.
Weber constructed an ideal type model of “legal-rational authority” and this is what he called bureaucracy. He defined bureaucracy as a “large scale hierarchical organization rationally designed to coordinate the activities of many individuals in the pursuits of large-scale administrative tasks and organizational goals”. Or simply put, bureaucracy is the institutionalization of rational action. Therefore when the “goal-rational action” gets institutionalized and regulates and dominates day to day activities then the resulting organization is bureaucracy.
Therefore with modern industrialization, “goal-rational action” predominates and “rational laws” come to regulate social conduct. And in such a situation the basis of legitimacy also lies in the conformity to these rational rules. But in actual operation, the situation seems to deviate far away from Weber’s original imagination.
Recently in one press briefing on the rise of pre-poll violence in Manipur, Chief Minister N Biren Singh told the media that ….“Democracy ni, vote lonna lonna pinagadabani.. mamangda fongna namnagadaba natte……Changba yaroi hairishi karigino…changba yani hairishi karigino…si democracygi wahanthok leite”- “It is democracy, the vote has to be given on the secret ballot… impeding the election campaign is undemocratic” (elite TV 11th Sept. 2021)
But regrettably, the same law seems to lose its command and spirit in public space if it does not serve the interest of the ruling party. This instance was witnessed recently while Mrs. Th. Brinda who is an ex-bureaucrat organized a public rally as part of her election campaign but officials of the government stop and didn’t grant the permission for the rally on the ground of flouting COVID rule and disruption it may pose to VVIPs movements along the route. And the officer in charge who resisted the rally seemed to work like a “machine” in the hands of his superiors, depriving his own conscience and without the independent examination of the issue. And the so-called duties of the official appear to serve the interest of the politicians but the officers in charge still do not hesitate to masquerade as a loyal servant of the law. It seems to be a cowardice disguised as virtue. Jung would probably term such a condition as “inflation of persona” where the person’s “ego” comes to over-identify with the “persona” rather than with the person’s true nature. And in the process, the person deceives others and himself.
The public had witnessed many election related activities and campaigns carried forward by various intending candidates next to Brinda’s own constituency. But the officer in charge seemed to pretend as he was oblivious of the situation in the videos that are now available on public platforms. It yet again reminds me of the idea which Jung pointed out that a “conformist society” consisting of people who over-identified with their “persona” are easy prey for the rise of an oppressive government. And to reiterate once again, the loyalty of the official member of the bureaucracy is to the “rule” or “law” and there is no personal loyalty to particular ministers or elected representatives.
There seems to be a natural tendency among us where we seem to display our valour to people who are less likely to retaliate. Besides the official members of the bureaucracy/politicians, we also witness such manifestation of false courage among the public every so often while in moral policing and public shaming.
The police person will use all of his or her might to shame or punish the mugger, the petty thief, the pusher, the pimp and the prostitute. But they seem to become impotent while facing the while collar crime and even if detected, are rarely prosecuted. When it comes to higher income brackets, business people, corporator or politicians who have more effective means at their disposal to grab a larger share of the cake that may cost more in terms of money and lives than street crimes, they seem to shy away from the situation and become a spineless coward. Let us not assume or appropriate such behaviour giving the label of a duty.
Some people opined that many individuals who work in the bureaucracy are often culture persons but after having been exposed to the deviant organizational culture, their characters change. This may be true in some sense which I personally differ. It is unlikely for those who are genuinely honest and serve their profession as if it were a “calling” will move one inch from the ethical path. Perhaps it may be the case that earlier the deviant tendencies lie dormant in the “unconscious” waiting for a crisis, opportunity or weakness in the “ego” so they can gain control.
In Manipur, execution of social obligation seems to be one thing while dancing to the tune of politicians is another. It appears that most of the official members of the bureaucracy act “mechanically” to the dictates of their political masters, depriving their own conscience even if the command they receive is not in accordance with the “law” as it might soon find themselves in trouble.
Politicians can use various overt and covert means of coercion to make the officials members of the bureaucracy fearful and passive. These can include use of transfer, promotion, supersession and invocation of “compulsory retirement” rules 56(j) from service if deemed to be corrupt or ineffective by elected representatives as a means to silence the voices of dissent.
The case may also work the other way round where bureaucrats can use political influence or co-opt with the politicians to brighten their own career prospects. They also can take advantage of the amateur politicians and exploit his or her weakness in a fluid political situation which is equally a grim scenario leading to organizational imbalance and policy paralysis.
The subordination of bureaucracy under the political heads seems to turn out as an advantage for many politicians to serve their vested interests. But Weber suggested such a relationship only to serve the interest of the public.
In bureaucracy, the officials become a “specialist” without a “spirit” because they are supposed to act in an “impersonal” attitude. They have no fellow feeling or compassion but mechanically implement or follow the rule. And hence it destroys spontaneity, creativity or individual initiative among the officials. Hence it becomes dysfunctional for society in those situations where people are seeking concern and sympathy such as in hospitals when nurses or doctors behave in an impersonal way, the patient feels miserable.
American sociologist Robert K Merton in his critique of bureaucracy pointed out that the attitudes of impersonality adopted by bureaucrats makes them unsympathetic to the public in places like hospitals, police stations or places where people seek employment etc. But the sympathy and concern on the parts of the officials is expected by the public. But when the bureaucrats are trained to be impersonal then they tend to become unsympathetic to the public and the bureaucracy therefore fails to fulfil the needs of the public. And such business-like impersonal treatment received by people is abrupt and even arrogant. Hence it becomes dysfunctional. Therefore, there is a need for judicious mix of formal and informal relations within the bureaucratic organization which many research has also revealed to be fruitful which I will not discuss in this article.
Therefore rule bound systems have an inherent limitation and bureaucrats are trained not to think originally but only to act according to the rule. And if a new situation develops for which there are no rules then the bureaucrats have no way of handling such a situation. They become preoccupied with order and uniformity. In Weber’s mind, this attitude of “impersonality” on the part of bureaucrats tends to create what he calls as “metaphysical pathos” or “sense of meaninglessness” as they have to suppress their natural tendencies, concerns, feelings or preferences.
Weber also pointed out that bureaucrats also tend to develop a kind of commitment to the dominant section of society or capitalist and serve the interest of the dominant class rather than public interest. And it is for this reason Weber suggested a solution that bureaucrats must be subordinated to elected representatives of the people or the political heads of the department.
Politicians are public figures and open to public scrutiny and criticisms of the opposition parties and they have to seek public election and vote from the people. Therefore they are more sensitive to public interest and are likely to control bureaucracy in the interest of the public at large. And this will help open the bureaucracy to public view and reveal any activities that work behind the scene and dealing between bureaucrats and powerful interests. This is how Weber suggested that the problem of bureaucracy, particularly the lack of commitment to public cause on the part of the bureaucrats can be handled.
But the question is, are politicians in Manipur sensitive enough to the needs and hardships of people? If we draw inference from Weber’s suggestion then probably politicians must possess qualities that can feel and soak up the pain of people and realize their needs and aspirations.
Nearly a month ago, BJP leader Uma Bharti’s make a controversial remark on bureaucracy which went viral on social media. She remark “Bureaucracy is nothing. Bureaucracy is there to pick up chappals( slippers). It picks up our slippers. …. It’s all nonsense that bureaucracy controls the politicians….What is their standing?…We are giving them salary, we are giving them postings, we are giving them promotion and demotion?-What can they do? The truth is we use them for our politics” ( source: Hindustan time , 20 sept.2021)
What if we have such politicians? If elected public representatives voted by the people began to think of themselves as VVIPs then probably it is a serious cautionary bell ring to the public. People need to remind the politicians that they are “servants” and not the “masters”. And if we go on feeding the “ego requirement” of such politicians by voting them over and over again then it is perhaps natural for any human to imagine themselves as if they were a demi-god. The beauty of democracy will perhaps manifest on its own when the voters grow wise enough in his or her judgement to terminate an old outdated face in each periodical election and replace it with the deserving new faces.
Ideally in a situation where politicians misuse their powers, the media is probably the foremost player to check and expose the excesses and mishandling of power by politicians. And the institution of media is responsible to monitor and act as a “watchdog” and highlights any misuse of power by politicians. But it seems most of the mainstream Indian media has become just a “joke” where certain so-called reputed media houses and their renowned anchors seem to turn out as a propaganda “mouthpiece” of certain political parties. A healthy functioning democracy depends heavily on the voters making rational and informed decisions and this in turn depends on the quality of the information they receive.
Of course, every consumer or audience cannot be clubbed flatly under one category. Audiences who are ideologically biased and have political affiliation may perhaps want to read or watch those channels that match their interest. But it become problematic when innocent viewers who are free from prejudices and are not committed to any political party become susceptible to influence unaware of the biases
There is an idea of separation of church and state and I personally believe that similar principle or logic must be applied between the relation of state and media houses where the line of demarcation is visibly and concretely drawn. If this is not the case, then people will start losing faith and trust in media houses. Or even if the media is state owned or funded or affiliated to certain political parties then the publisher must be honest enough to admit the fact and the choice must be left to the public.
If we go by Gramsci, the state can obviously be co-opted with media houses to establish their hegemony. And media houses can perhaps use and misuse and manipulate the masses to mobilize or seek public attention to pursue the favour of their narrow interest. I hope the media in Manipur will observe their ethics and continue to “speak truth to power”.

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