Colombo Telegraph

“What Matters Is The First Five Minutes” – Nehru

By S.Sivathasan


In the very early years after India’s Independence, an important issue needed resolution. Nehru was of a strong opinion while the higher echelons of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) had a different view. The latter delegated KPS Menon a much respected member and a confidant of Nehru to present their views. As the discussion proceeded, it became clear that Nehru was in no mood to change his mind. He told Menon, KPS you have done horse riding, in that what matters is the first five minutes. Either you decide or the horse decides for you. Diplomatically, convincingly and yet obliquely Nehru conveyed that in the initial phase of decision making he has to be swift, decisive, unwavering, and firm.

The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is in place with the Chief Minister formally elected and is poised to assume office. It is at this moment that a myriad views will begin to float around. In the last two months, he has shown his capacity for independent thought and action. His ability to chart an unconventional course is becoming clear. Detractors have seen their negative wishes pulverized by the discerning voter. In a Province where elected institutions have ceased to be functional for far too long and where military rule was getting increasingly riveted, the need has become all the more insistent to initiate a fresh process of governance. In such a circumstance, it seems likely that not a minute will be allowed to be lost. Taking the cue from Nehru, the CM Elect will give no pace for the horse to gallop about. Who calls the shots will come to be known all too soon. The decisiveness of the mandate is making for vaulting expectations in the country and outside, which can leave no rest for the Chief Minister and his lieutenants.

What has welled up for long will now seek to burst its banks. The water has to be shored up and purposefully canalized. How? Through sound policy and spirited execution. By whom? The former by those elected, having a sense of power through the mandate and a feel of people’s pulse. The latter by the permanent bureaucracy with legitimate authority flowing from the central and provincial apparatus and with a sense for the practicable. Policy thus is never formulated in the void but is jointly forged, for which effort study and analysis are basic. The bureaucracy has to gain its competence not by age but through intellectual equipment and experience.

In this context may be seen the value of the Civil Service. The British built it first in their home country and then transmitted it to the colonies. Lloyd George one time Prime Minister of UK, called the ICS the steel frame of the British Empire. Patel, Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said that without it India will go to pieces. Today IAS with selection on merit, fills its cadres through open competitive examination held unfalteringly annually. The officers put through the paces by the world class Administrative Training Institute, Ahmedabad and imbued with super abundant confidence, assume responsibility as a cut above the rest. They are buttressed with the same authority as prior to independence if not more and account for India’s forward movement. The same holds for Malaysia and Singapore. Ceylon also had it till 30th April 1963 and on May 1st this year, celebrated the 50th anniversary of tearing it to smithereens.

Now the Northern Province is in dire need of Administrative Service officers to occupy strategic positions. At all levels down the line a robust officialdom has to be built. A partially frayed system needs a thorough revamping. The NPC is not a social service league to employ unemployables. It has to build a lean bureaucracy, shorn of fat, possessed of an athletic physique, agile and alert at the same time and fully committed to delivering to a population seventy times its own size. All these cannot be done with Platonic Love. Uncompromising steadfastness to the principle of merit selection and promotion banished ‘preferment, patronage and purchase’ in the British Civil Service after 1850. It was said that thereafter, ‘dunces’ were denied access and people reaped the benefits. So be it with the NPC. In the FIRST FIVE MINUTES this is not a choice but a compulsion.

Where do we see the origin of reform and change? Always from the leadership. When a boulder is thrown into a river, water cleaves and flows. A pebble is washed away. We hear often of pressure being brought to bear. A total untruth. What do we read in Julius Caesar – “Not that he (Julius Caesar) is a lion but that we are sheep”. It is only the sheep types that get blown over. The polity should fortify the measures that the CM takes to remove the cancer. This is the starting point of change from the pernicious canker of back door entry which has permeated the country pervasively.

While we think of the first five minutes, the government has its own First Two Minutes. Abrogate land powers in the first and police powers in the next. This is the inglorious way in which the government seeks to extend its hand of cooperation. The NPC not to be disheartened by it, needs to exploit the space spared for it. If it wants a field of labour it can find it anywhere. Like Deng Ziao Ping, let the CM and the Council prepare for it. In the meantime, people can be made to see a spectacularly clean and efficient administration which can prepare the platform for worthwhile launches of the future.

We are very much in an undeniable pitiable pass which we ourselves have brought upon us. ‘Boycott Politics’ which had unchallenged run from State Council election of 1931 to Presidential election of 2006, for no less than 75 years has had its inevitable impact. It did not confine itself to elections alone but made its foray into all offers from 45/55 of DS to GGP as a compromise, to Oslo Proposals of 2003 with a viable federal arrangement. We had gone through all the malefic effects and yet almost tripped into its magical trap in 2013. We were salvaged by the pragmatism of TNA. In every aspect of governance, we were moving fast into the pastoral age when the slide has been arrested by the recent election. But the marks of the toll are unmistakable.

A fresh beginning is unavoidable. 1931 is where we Tamils have to get back to. Partial self-rule, preparatory to independence was the substance of Donoughmore Reforms. So it was in India with Montagu – Chemsford Reforms of 1921. Looked at through the political prism only, it might have seemed a move by the British to stall progress towards independence. When the perspective is widened to include governance and administration, it is seen as a necessary induction to the art and science of self – government. It is in such a stage that the North is placed as of now.

How correct am I when I say this? To many Ceylonese, the   Indian independence movement was the very epitome of struggle and sacrifice. Nehru in an interview in mid-fifties, to Ms Zinikin a foreign journalist and author said, “Independence came too early to India. We didn’t struggle hard enough for it. We never had a Long March as in China”. Preparation too was inadequate both in India and in Ceylon. Well educated politicians with hands on experience in governance are required in the North. Administrative capacity and technical competence among officials are very much needed. Professionals in several fields have to grow up. The Council requires power, responsibility, finances and ever widening opportunities to develop them all.

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