By Anang Pal Malik
“To Havel, “post-totalitarian” was not a term relating to sequence. “Post-totalitarian” did not mean a government that arises after the evolution or collapse of a totalitarian structure of the sort we typically associate with singular omnipotent leaders. Instead, “post-totalitarian” to Havel described a massive, bureaucratic culture that controlled vast territory over people’s lives, the economy, and was not tolerant of deviation or dissent.
Havel’s distinction between “post-totalitarianism” and the more consuming and familiar forms of totalitarianism has serious implications for our discourse today. Americans, even conservatives, tend to skip over Havel’s post-totalitarian nightmares in the continuum between Scandinavian-style socialism and Hilter’s style of totalitarianism. We forget about a big bureaucratic leviathan that masks its truly evil nature. Reading “The Power of the Powerless,” you explore a post-totalitarian bureaucratic system that sucks out the soul in ways that a traditional totalitarian system does not.
For example, in the traditional totalitarian system of an outlaw regime, it is usually a small gang of heavily armed thugs who have seized control through the threat of extermination of enemies. The enemies sulk and cower until they finally act. In a post-totalitarian world, the culture becomes the regime and the regime becomes the culture. A massive legalistic bureaucratic state driven by ideology holds power and suffocates every corner of life with ideology, snuffing out all sparks of dissent not by violent intimidation, but by something more sustainable.”- J. Christian Adams in a PJMedia article.
Indian columnists, security experts, and diplomats are fond of the term Pakistani Deep State, the Establishment with a capital E, that shadowy entity that controls Pakistan, that is always in power, in fact which is the only entity in power in Pakistan, with the elected governments as its convenient mask, which it changes whenever it feels like, sometimes replacing it with a khaki mask.
It is intriguing that they have never considered the possibility that something similar may be the case in India also. Or may be it is just another evidence of the mediocrity of Indian ruling elite that they have never even considered the possibility of something that has been so thoroughly analysed in the West: that parliamentary democracy also gradually degrades to a bureaucratic Leviathan, the permanent entity that comes to control and enjoy power, with elected politicians either coopted in, or those who refuse to conform, made to fail and ejected by the electorate as a result. Or may be they themselves are part of this Leviathan, and are guarding it with their silence.
In the PJmedia article linked above, J. Christian Adams discusses the Czech poet President Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless.” In the essay, Havel defines Post Totalitarianism not in the sequence to the classic Totalitarianism of one strongman, but as “a massive, bureaucratic culture that controlled vast territory over people’s lives, the economy, and was not tolerant of deviation or dissent,” “a post-totalitarian bureaucratic system that sucks out the soul in ways that a traditional totalitarian system does not,” in which “the culture becomes the regime and the regime becomes the culture. A massive legalistic bureaucratic state driven by ideology holds power and suffocates every corner of life with ideology, snuffing out all sparks of dissent not by violent intimidation, but by something more sustainable.”
Reading the excerpts of Havel’s essay in the linked article, one is struck by the similarity of what is currently happening at The Centre in Delhi and what was stated by Havel. At the Centre in Delhi, we have a man considered to be a very powerful personality and assertive, given a huge decisive mandate by an expectant electorate, PM Narendra Modi, but who is apparently struggling to push reforms. Once we look at the scene at the Centre with Havel’s penetrating gaze, everything becomes crystal clear.
The fact is that like Pakistan, in India also, there are areas in which elected government has little say. In Pakistan, those areas are Defence and Foreign Policy; in India these areas are Economy, Education, Law, and Justice Delivery system. And therefore we have a strong Prime Minister who is unable to move in these areas. A massive bureaucratic Leviathan: unelected, self perpetuating, mostly self appointing and unaccountable to the elected parliament; controls levers of powers in these areas.
In case of economy, the license permit raj is back in even more vicious avatar in the form of Boards, Commissions, Regulatory Authorities, and Tribunals: Wild Life Board, Animal Welfare Board, Ministry of Environment and Forests, National Green tribunal, etc. Bureaucrats who spend their life while in service blocking economic activities, after retirement quietly move into these Boards, Commissions, Authorities, and Tribunals, making sure that rules are in place enabling them to retain those massive bungalows in Lutyens Delhi as a result, and start blocking/shutting down factories and industries they could not block/shut down while in service. Thus effectively taking away the policy making power of the elected government. Budget and sanction of expenditure is considered to be the sole prerogative of the lower house of parliament-Loksabha-but that power has also been effectively usurped by the Leviathan by making laws that mandate budgetary allocations, irrespective of the revenues and intentions of the government in a given year- MGNREGA, RTE, FSA, NRHM; and a lot many other missions, programmes, yojanas, which become like laws because of electoral politics and the permanent dependent Class they create; leaving little elbow room to the Finance Minister of the day.
In case of Education, most of the initial appointments in the Universities are made solely on the basis of interviews, and therefore only those who conform to the ideology of The Left that controls Education Establishment in India, get appointed, and they in turn perpetuate the ideological conformity.
In case of Law, whatever be the government, lawyers are always present in the Cabinet in sufficient numbers so that we have a new law every month, if not every week, but all casting into law ideas of the Left. In case of Justice Delivery system, nobody outside the system knows how Judges to the higher Courts get selected, and of course Judges themselves appoint judges, taking away this power of the elected government bestowed upon it by Constitution. How the candidates are shortlisted, what are the qualifying criterion, and how the merit list is framed, it is all secretive. And the same persons after retirement move to Boards, Commissions, and Tribunals. Attempts by the present government to take this power back is under litigation, with one of the parties to the dispute, higher judiciary, itself being the Judge in the case, making mockery of the basic principle of democracy-the separation of power.
Narendra Modi is up against this permanent Leftist ruling elite of India. He is alone, because most in his own party are part of the elite, comfortable with it, ready to share power with it, content to enjoy whatever power this Leviathan cedes to them.
So one problem Modi is facing is that most of the policy making functions and budget allocation powers of the Central government have been usurped by this permanent Leviathan of Boards, Commissions, Regulatory Bodies, and Tribunals. Whatever remains with the government, the bureaucrats make sure to obstruct whatever changes are attempted in that.
So why Modi, the taskmaster in Gujarat, is not able to control bureaucrats in Delhi? This is the second problem he is facing. The bureaucrats in the states are easy to control, because the Chief Minister controls their transfer/postings, and thus controls their bribe earnings which form their main earnings. There are large number of posts in the states which have little opportunities to earn bribes and the recalcitrant bureaucrat can be packed off to those posts, the bureaucrats are younger and therefore desperate to earn money as early as possible, have to live in that Cadre most of the time, and stakes are very high. As against this, at the Centre, the bureaucrats are seniors who have already amassed all the wealth they had targeted and therefore not afraid of transfer, at the Centre there are very few posts which are dry, and if indeed the things get hot, they can go back to their parent Cadres and start minting money afresh in bribes. Most BJP ministers are inexperienced and timid, and totally dependent on these bureaucrats. and therefore get controlled by them instead of controlling them. Thus even the bureaucracy that is under the government is able to sabotage any reform efforts of Modi.
Why does the bureaucracy oppose economic reforms and efforts to reduce the size of government? The best thing for The Left is that their ideological interests and bureaucracy’s monetary and career interests neatly coincide. Left’s programmes and policies mean ever increasing bribes and power for the bureaucrats, and because a massive bureaucracy is needed to administer all these programmes, schemes, and yojanas; these programmes and policies also mean ever widening career pathways for the bureaucrats.
So the bureaucracy knows where its bread, butter, and bungalows lie. Therefore it is openly sabotaging Modi’s efforts to open up the economy, and roll back the socialist state that has taken over India during last 67 years. They know that even if Modi “punishes” few of them, next regime would handsomely reward them for guarding the fort during Modi regime. After all, they know, if Modi is not able to perform miracle, Indian electorate will bring back the tried and tested who at least give them free stuff; as it does ever so often.
Havel’s essay is a melancholy read. But even the excerpts in the linked article describe exactly the current ruling elite of India: the Post Totalitarian Power “as absolute and all-permeating, but with outward appearances as something more legalistic, more benign.”
… commands an incomparably more precise, logically structured, generally comprehensible and in essence, extremely flexible ideology that, in its elaborateness and completeness, is almost a secularized religion.
In an era when metaphysical and existential certainties are in a state of crisis, when people are being uprooted and alienated and are losing their sense of what this world means, this ideology inevitably has a certain hypnotic charm. To wandering humankind, it offers an immediately available home: all one has to do is accept it, and suddenly everything becomes clear once more.”
“In this post-totalitarian surrender, “one pays dearly for this low rent home, the price is abdication of one’s own reason, conscience and responsibility.”
What sustains this system are large numbers of people, comfortable, risk adverse, and happy to “live a lie” in an act of self-preservation. Power thrives in a post-totalitarian structure because people are afraid to stick their necks out. People are afraid they will be accused of having an ill “tone” if they question those in power. Bad acts by government multiply because nobody ever questions them. I have some experience with a contrary approach.
So does the West. While Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” is addressed primarily to those seeking to understand the Eastern Bloc in the 1970s, it has messages for defenders of human liberty in the West in 2015.
Havel described the post-totalitarian system as:
… thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government.”
So this is the problem Modi is facing: “The bureaucratic state has become unmoored from the political branches. Layer upon layer of bureaucrats exist, skilled at justifying their own existence and artful in hiding their most outlandish behaviour.”
Modi has to dismantle this permanent bureaucratic state of India, Leftist in ideology, painstakingly put in place by Congress, which it serves well even in its absence, and ferociously guarded by The Leftists in media, academia, and crony intellectuals, and well “funded” by the crony industrialists.
Elections are periodically held in India. Governments do change. Even parties with a free market driven economic outlook come to power now and then, but power is wielded by this permanent Leftist ruling elite led by the serving and retired bureaucrats and retired judges, and well supported by the Leftists in media, academia, and culture. This is the Indian version of Deep State, the Establishment with a capital E.
At present, Modi is the only man who can take power back from this unelected, faceless, unaccountable Leviathan and restore it to the elected government, as it should be in a democracy.
(It is suggested that J. Christian Adams’s article in PJmedia is read in full. To read it, click here.-Ed))
(To read similar past articles at this site, click on the titles below.-Ed)