By Amar Yumnam, Source: Imphal Free Press

The North East has come to engage the Indian psyche for sure. This is a very positive fall-out of the Prime Minister’s twin approach emphasising the need for enhancing the relationships with South-East and East Asia and the imperative for evolving a growth momentum for the region. This naturally has had both global and national implications. The neighbouring countries in South East and East Asia are already taking keen interest on the issues, potential and challenges facing the North East. Such an interest by a significant group of countries has naturally to have wider spill-overs. Now the European nations and the countries in North America have started taking more extensive interests in the region than ever before. The national implication is that the administration is hard-pressed to attend to the urgency.

Here it may be of use to note the hallmarks of Modi as distinct from the previous one in his position. Modi manifests commitment in whatever he feels imperative to engage. Further, he is also a man with no desire to wait if not compulsively warranted; he exhibits strong diligence to work for achievement in real time. The political leadership’s commitment to cause development to the region has necessarily impacted on the functioning of the bureaucracy in India. Unlike earlier, the Indian bureaucracy now displays eagerness to know and evolve policies for the region. This is where the problem arises.

Before I would like to recall what John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge has written in their 2014 book titled ‘The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race To Reinvent The State’. What they write about the Chinese approach in the introductory chapter itself is very telling: “BURIED IN A SHANGHAI SUBURB, close to the city’s smoggy Inner Ring Road, the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong appears to have a military purpose. There is razor wire on the fences around the huge compound and guards at the gate. But drive into the campus from the curiously named Future Expectations Street and you enter Harvard, as redesigned by Dr. No. In the middle stands a huge bright red building in the shape of a desk, with an equally monumental scarlet inkwell beside it. Around this, spread across some forty-two hectares, are lakes and trees, libraries, tennis courts, a sports centre (with a gym, a swimming pool, and table-tennis tables), and a series of low brown dormitory buildings, all designed to look like open books. CELAP calls all this a “campus” but the organization is too disciplined, hierarchical, and business-like to be a university.

The locals are closer to the mark when they call it a “cadre training school”: This is an organization bent on world domination…The students at the leadership academy are China’s future rulers. The egalitarian-looking sleeping quarters mask a strict pecking order, with suites for the more senior visitors from Beijing. And as with other attempts at global supremacy, there is an element of revenge. Thirteen hundred years ago, CELAP’s staff remind you, China set up an imperial exam system to find the best young people to become civil servants. For centuries these “mandarins” ran the world’s most advanced government, but in the nineteenth century the British and the French (and eventually the Americans) stole their system—and improved it. Since then better government has been one of the West’s great advantages. Now the Chinese want that advantage back…When the leadership academy was established in 2005, President Hu Jintao spelled out its purpose: “To build China into a modern and prosperous society in an all-round way and to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, it is urgent for us to launch large-scale training programs to significantly improve the quality of our leaders.” Rather than focus on indoctrination like the party schools, CELAP and its two smaller sisters in Jinggangshan (CELAJ) and Yan’an (CELAY) have been designed to be practical places. The talk is of leveraging your skills, strengthening your global mind-set, and improving your presentation abilities. It is all meant to complement what goes on in the party schools. But the fact that CELAP is based in Shanghai while the central party school is in Beijing adds a competitive frisson. When one trainee in Pudong explains that the party school focuses on “why,” while CELAP looks at “how,” there is no mistaking which question he thinks is more important to China’s future. If CELAP had a motto, it might be Alexander Pope’s couplet, “For forms of government let fools contest/What’er is best administer’d is best.”

Driven by the desire to “best administer,” about ten thousand people a year attend courses at the school, nine hundred for the first time. Some arrive ex officio: If you are a bureaucrat who has just been put in charge of a state-owned company, a governor who has been given a province to run, or an ambassador en route to a new posting, you are sent to Pudong for a refresher course. (As a thank-you, the ambassadors are supposed to send the library a book to symbolize their new posting. The man who sent The Rough Guide to Nepal has some explaining to do.) More generally, a course at the leadership academy has become a prize to be pocketed by any ambitious bureaucrat. Every Chinese civil servant is expected to have clocked three months of training every five years, or about 133 hours a year. Courses at CELAP are oversubscribed by a factor of three, with most of the candidates drawn from the ranks of deputy director generals, the fourth-highest rung in the Chinese system…The two most common questions, says one teacher, are “What works best?” and “Can it be applied here?” A typical course is divided into three parts, with lectures soon giving way first to fieldwork, with the mandarins sent out to study something that could be useful, and then to discussion about how to apply it. The subjects vary from the relatively small, such as the most convenient way to demolish houses for infrastructure projects, to the monumental, such as designing the most equitable pension system. The appetite for ideas is rapacious: ideas from local businesses (there are two hundred field-study centers in the Yangtze River delta, including a mini CELAP campus in Kunshan city); ideas from various national universities; ideas from Western management thinkers.” We should also recall here that the inimitable Milton Friedman was the person who gave training to the selectively best Chinese bureaucrats on the market economy before the country went for market-oriented policies. Now compared to this, the Indian bureaucracy is a very status quoist organisation; being so they are necessarily very arrogant too.

This status quo oriented personnel are now trying to reorient themselves in the policy making for the North East, perhaps in a more compelled way consequent upon the wishes of the Prime Minister rather than spontaneous volition. This is very evident from the emerging characteristics of the bureaucrats, both serving and retired, of the way they labour hard to make themselves relevant and authoritative on the North East. The status quoist mind-set is complemented by three other features very strongly. First, the level of knowledge and understanding of these personnel as regards issues and realities of the North East are a suspect. But they would not hesitate in revealing their capacity to think about interventions and policies for the region. This is despite the fact that their knowledge and understanding of the region do not go beyond the status quoist knowledge and understanding of the larger Indian scenario sans the North East. Second, these personnel do not read and ipso facto do not know the latest global thinking on issues relevant for absorbing lessons and implications for the region. Third, it is a reality that geography, institutions and demography of the North East are a continuum with the South East and East Asia while they are discontinuity with the rest of India. This implies that the understanding of border has to be contextualised instead of the usual way of meaning boundaries. This also implies that the suspicion usually associated while viewing neighbouring foreign countries is not applicable to the people of the region. Indian bureaucracy as of today is possessed by an incapability to instil these qualities. But they have the capability to sabotage anything about the North East. Unfortunately there are signs of this happening.

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