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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 14, March 28, 2015

Public Hero — Paying for Honesty

Monday 30 March 2015, by Sudhir Vombatkere

There is a joke doing the rounds, on failure of the pillars of the Constitution. Gandhiji in heaven asks Chitragupta as to how the three monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) are doing in India. Chitragupta replies that all three are doing well—andha bandar kanoon ban gaya; behera bandar sarkar ban gaya; aur goonga bandar vidhayak ban gaya. The desperate helplessness and frustration of people in political jokes precedes anarchic violence.

The recent untimely death of IAS officer D.K. Ravi is only the latest in a string of persons who have taken upon themselves the burden of duty according to the Constitution and the laws that flow from it. Whether Ravi’s death is by suicide, or murder made to appear as suicide, will hopefully be known after an honest post-mortem examination. But whatever the cause of his death, the general public appears convinced that D.K. Ravi was targetted because of his utter honesty in his official functioning, just like many others before him. His immense popularity among ordinary people in Kolar no doubt speaks for his dedication to duty, but it speaks louder of the immense and growing disgust of ordinary people with the corruption which is widespread in all aspects of life, especially among government officials.

There is no question that honest work by a public official is difficult. The reason is that with today’s rampant dishonesty and political, economic and professional corruption, “In a time of universal deceit, exposing the truth becomes a revolutionary act”, to slightly misquote George Orwell. And revolutionaries, whether they are that microscopic number of honest bureaucrats or policemen, RTI activists and whistleblowers, or upright persons like Narendra Dabholkar or Govind Pansare, are hated by corrupt persons in power. That is typical when money speaks louder than values, and the politician-bureaucrat-mafia nexus trumps democracy. Having any individual killed is a matter of a simple and amazingly cheap supari.

Deaths like Ravi’s may not demoralise officials, as some people may imagine. On the other hand, young people focus on what Ravi and similar people’s heroes did, and gain courage from that. The faint-hearted in any case do nothing, and fail to stand up for what is right even when they are at the receiving end of injustice. But sacrifices such as Ravi’s motivates young persons who are still idealistic, and as yet unaffected by the compromises of pragmatism.

The question as to how honest officials can be protected occupies centre-stage today. A law to protect whistleblowers will certainly help, but one needs to understand that laws can be rendered toothless just like is being done to the RTI Act. Therefore, the only real protection for honest officials is actually the general public, and the officials’ own openness and the power of their honesty.

One hopes that Ravi’s death will trigger a wave of honest officials and public-spirited citizens who will support each other in the best interest of the people of our sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch. With over 400 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.