In recent times Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been lamenting the non-existence of what he is pleased to call an ?Establishment? in India. According to the Compact Oxford Dictionary, an establishment ?is a group in a society who have power and influence in matters of policy or opinion and who oppose change?.
Has there ever been an establishment in India? One believes that during the colonial days it was the Viceroy who made policy and presumably he listened to the advice of his senior civil servants?Britishers, primarily?and may occasionally have listened to members of his Council.
Was there any establishment within the Congress during the struggle for freedom? Not that one is aware of. The policy was primarily formulated by Gandhiji and ably prosecuted by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, his right hand man for all practical purposes, though matters might have been discussed at length in the Congress Working Committee.
When Independence came who did Jawaharlal Nehru who became Prime Minister listen to when, for example, a decision had to be taken regarding the Jammu and Kashmir issue or the Security Council? Was Lord Louis Mountbatten a one-man establishment ? Did Nehru listen to Sardar Patel? There was hardly any intellectual establishment of any kind then in existence to guide the Prime Minister. Nehru was a law unto himself. Sardar Patel listened to his secretaries?the bureaucrats. One day he asked his Law Secretary Shavax A. Lal to give him his opinion on an issue raised by Lord Mountbatten. Lal wasn´t sure that his opinion would be palatable to Sardar Patel and wondered whether he should give his ?honest opinion? in the matter or not. Sardar Patel was visibly angry and flaring up said: ?Does Government pay you Rs 4,000 a month for your dishonest opinion? It is your duty to give an honest opinion and it is for me to accept it or not.? As Sardar Patel told the secretary: ?Between my own knowledge and what you are able to me, I may be able to get a balanced picture.? In effect there was no establishment as such functioning in the country to give meaningful advice at the highest level.
During Indira Gandhi´s time there was a ?kitchen cabinet? which reportedly gave her inputs to take firm decisions on various matters. And many believed that among her top advisers was P.N.Haksar. But Haksar was, at least for some time, to be displaced by Sanjay Gandhi who was to be responsible for the enforcement of Emergency.
After Indira Gandhi there have been over half a dozen Prime Ministers but was there ever an establishment as such? None, unless one gives credit to the bureaucracy or a caucus of shady figures functioning in the background, and certainly during the Indira Gandhi regime one heard of at least a few such.
What is the position today? Who, in the final analysis, makes policy? Sonia Gandhi? The caucus around her? Nobody knows and if one does, it is unlikely one would spill names to the Press. But word of their existence is known to go the rounds. How is it like, say, in the United States which boasts of being a democracy?
According to V.G.Kiernan (America, The New Imperialism) ?implementing, and even designing, strategy has been to a remarkable extent left to one of the most astonishing organisations in political history, the CIA.? This had been set up in 1941. Later ?leading figures from the armed forces? took ?a prominent part of the country´s power elite?. An example, no doubt, that Pakistan has copied. During State Secretary John Foster Dulles´ time it was again a one man show. Today, if the US President wants some inputs while making policy he can depend upon a whole range of think-tanks such as the American Foreign Policy Council, the Baker Institute of Public Policy, Bookings Institution, Carter Centre, Cato Institute, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Centre for Responsive Politics, Commonwealth Institute, Economic Policy Institute, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institute on War, Peace and Revolution, Heritage Foundation, Kennedy School of Government, Nelson Rockefeller Institute of Government, Rand Corporation, Russel Sage Foundation, Twentieth Century Fund, United States Institute of Peace, Milken Institute and a whole slew of such institutions.
How many such Institutes do we have in India which prides itself of being the world´s largest democracy? Who helps to makes policy? Bureaucrats? The coterie surrounding Sonia Gandhi? Invitees to the Prime Minister´s breakfast table? We have a fabulous amount of talent in the country, men and women who have travelled extensively all over the world, who have studied abroad, who know their country from tip to toe and who can be considered intellectually alert and sophisticated. We have bodies like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Centre for Security Analysis, and a few others representing industry, theatre, culture and other fields of knowledge. How often are they, if ever, consulted? Should foreign policy be totally the preserve of the Ministry of External Affairs? Or the making of economic policy the sole right of the Finance Ministry? Importantly, is there a truly Indian establishment? One wonders.
What needs to be pointed out in this connection is that for far too long all government policies, under whichever political party or coalition, have largely been made by bureaucrats. There has been little indication that any outsider has been listened to. Had Jawaharlal Nehru a chance to listen to ?outsiders´ he might have saved us from the two disasters, one over Jammu and Kashmir and another over India´s attitude towards China.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at least has shown that he is aware of the lacuna in the country. That is a good beginning. But then where do we go from here? Our political parties have no larger vision except how to capture power through the exploitation of caste. Which of our political parties have exclusive intellectual cells to formulate policies? It is not enough to have think-tanks. They must be built on solid foundation of knowledge and intellectual integrity such as that of Brookings Institute, for instance which had the courage once to say that ?on no fewer than 215 occasions since the end of World War II, the US has seriously threatened to unleash some of its military might in order to get diplomatic mileage?. It is not enough to have think-tanks. Governments and policy makers should take them seriously. Or why have them at all? If Dr Manmohan Singh is serious?and one presumes that he is?he must help to establish think-tanks in a more purposeful way and show by way of example, that he cares for their considered opinions. Get cracking on that, Mr Prime Minister. You have the right idea. But what good is a right idea if it is not to be implemented?