Governance and corruption- relevance of Plato
Corruption is a very burning issue in India. There is hardly a day when there is no news about some scam. Corruption in high places is a matter of every day talk. We need not go for statistics to see the magnitude of the issue. Corruption is to nation what cancer is to body. There are also other problems of governance. There is wide spread immorality and dishonesty in the entire population. This can be seen in all spheres of life- education, hospitals, business.
We have recently witnessed anti corruption agitation by certain NGOs also called civil society. They are also agitating for introducing Lok Pal institution, which would enable fighting corruption at top administrative level as well as lower bureaucracy. The NGOs or civil society, as they are often called even go to the extent of tarnishing the entire political system and constitutional framework. This is more anarchic than anti corruption. It is doubtful if such movement for introduction of Lok pal can eradicate or even reduce corruption. After all, the Lok Pal organization will also consist of individuals from same social and educational background as others. Here is a story. Once a king found that the horses in his stable were weak. He enquired about diet of the horses. Sufficient horse food was supplied. The king was advised to appoint a supervisor to see that the horse food in not stolen. But the situation did not improve. Then he appointed a head supervisor to see that the horses were well fed and there was no corruption. The situation did not change but the horses got weaker. What really happened that the stable manager was corrupt. Addition of supervisory staff led to more sharers resulting in poor health of horses. The moral of the story is that appointment of more persons or authorities like Lok Pal as suggested will only aggravate the situation.
Are politicians alone corrupt
The general public, social activists and religious groups are shouting from housetops against corruption at high places. But they ignore the fact that politicians have same educational, family and social background as others. Corruption is a way of life in India. People in all walks of life- bureaucracy, arts, movies, professions, business, education indulge in various irregularities and corrupt practices for personal gains. The corrupt practices include adulteration of food and drugs, low quality civil works, substandard manufacture of products, tax evasion, cheating, contract copying in board examinations, black marketing of quota by businessmen and so on.
The issue is that there is wide spread moral depravity. even the holy men are corrupt despite their claim to spirituality. Then what is the alternative? Needless to say, any change of government or persons at helms of affairs cannot cure the cancer of corruption. The changeover from one set of politicians to another does not remove or reduce corruption. This only changes players.
Needless to say, dishonesty and corrupt practice is way of life. In fact, every one favors honesty but with exception of his own family and himself. Everyone considers that a little dishonesty or cheating by him makes no difference. A story is relevant here. Once, a king was advised that if the pool is filled with milk, rain will follow and famine will end. He ordered that everyone pour one bucket of milk in the pool. But people were very clever as they are even today. Everyone thought that one bucket of water will do. When others will pour milk, his one bucket of water will make no difference. But everyone thought similarly. So, the pool was full of water only without even a spoon of milk. Similarly, everyone thinks that a little dishonesty by him will make no difference.
It goes without saying that the current rulers, teachers and religious/ spiritual gurus have failed in building character of people. The NGOs. or civil society are themselves dens of corruption and they receive foreign funds only to create anarchic conditions in India.
There is talk of changing the system. But nobody says what the change should be. Institution of Lok pal is no change. There is already central Board of Investigation, vigilance organization, police, judiciary. Any organizational change may increase cost to exchequer but no results can be expected.
Relevance of Plato
In these circumstances, thoughts of Plato are relevant. He had conceived of a system that relied heavily on character of citizens who would have perception of truth and beauty; who would hate vice and love virtue. He conceived of Philosopher ruler, who would be an embodiment of virtue. The Philosopher ruler would be aided by auxiliary group who would be selfless and work for nation. He also contemplated that the citizens would be specialized in single vocation. This would ensure that everyone did his best.
Thus education was key to good management of the entire state. Plato had realized that family attachment and love for wealth creation were root of corruption. He suggested a system of communism of property and wives. This was for elite ruling class viz. Philosopher ruler and the auxiliary class.
This is a fact beyond any shadow of doubt that family ties and wealth accumulation are at root of dishonesty and corruption. Plato's concept of communism of wives and property is very relevant from this angle. He conceived that the philosophical ruler and the auxiliary class would not be married and have no personal family and property. This appears Utopian and impractical. But this is not altogether impossible. For many, even abstaining from accepting and giving bribe is impractical. What you seriously decide and implement is practical. So, let us think of a system based on Plato's thoughts of communism of wives and property for elite only- the top political class and bureaucracy.
Implementing communism of family and property system on Plato's thoughts
We should begin with key posts of top functionaries- President, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, supreme court, higher bureaucracy. These are sections of society responsible for functions of state. There is every reason to expect that they will not only be truly honest but also be so in public perception. There should be total ban on wealth accumulation- land, building, precious metals & ornaments made thereof, equity shares, cash holdings etc. They need only be given monthly allowance for daily needs like food, clothing, shelter. Even for these, they need not be paid in cash. Instead they may be given these in kind. They may be given facilities of free accommodation, food, electricity, phone etc. But no wealth accumulation. As they cannot accumulate wealth, there is no motive left for any misdeeds. If this is considered difficult to implement, the remedy lies in regulating wealth creation and devise foolproof method to ensure that they do not build assets. All investments in immovable property as well as shares, mutual funds, banks should be prohibited. They may be directed to draw only so much salary as they can spend on day to day needs. The savings arising should be deposited only in provident and other funds under control of government.
IT is worth considering that the public servants be given life long facility of pension, medical care, accommodation. This will ensure that they do not need to build any assets and not indulge in wealth creation. Life long social security is not a big price to ensure that the public servants devote all their energy to public service only.
The measures of ban on wealth creation by public servants (including family) will meet the spirit of Plato's communism of wives and property. The spouses of public servants should be subject to same strict rules. Public servant and his/ her spouse should be considered as one unit for purpose of conduct, financial transactions and similar matters.
If we can ensure good conduct and efficient service by politicians and bureaucrats, the character of other citizens and their conduct will also improve.Family attachment is major cause for corruption. That is why Plato suggested that the ruling classes should be governed by a system of communism of property as well as of wives. It may be impractical to suggest that the the top politicians and bureaucrats should not marry and have common wives. It is too bizarre to suggest that they should mate with common wife as directed by the state. This is unthinkable. But Plato had definitely a good motive in such suggestion. We may however devise a system to ensure that family attachment does not result in corruption. There should be strict regulation of family affairs.
The state should ensure that the ordinary citizens are of good character. The education system should produce specialists in various trades as suggested by Plato. There should be stress on quality of citizens. Appreciation of beauty, love for truth and virtue, contempt for vice and corruption are the qualities of a citizen according to Plato. There should be stress on character building, love for fellow citizens, patriotism and spirit of excellence.
There wealth is symbol of status. This should be changed. Profit motive is okay for a businessman. But not for others. Kautilya had stated that a Brahmin should always attempt to get more knowledge. A king should always aspire to expand territory of his kingdom. Thus Brahmins(philosopher advisor) and Khstriya (ruler), the ruling class must have no greed for wealth. Their greed should be for knowledge and expansion of kingdom. In today's circumstances, the political class and buraucracy should also have no greed for wealth. They should have greed for giving good governance to nation.
We need to draw suitable lessons from the wisdom of Plato and curb corruption that arises from love for wealth and fanily attachment.
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