Challenges in Administration

Photo Division, Government of India | March 29, 1954
Speech of Jawaharlal Nehru at the inauguration of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, March 29, 1954.

The first problem that one has to face on such an occasion as this is what language to speak in. Coming fresh from Parliament today, where there was some impatient talk on the language issue, this was fresh in my mind. But then I found an initial difficulty in speaking in Hindi. I do not know how I can say in Hindi “The Institute of Public Administration”. I have no doubt that there is a very good word, but I do not know it.

Our Chairman, Shri V.T. Krishnamachari, has given us a lead in this matter as to how we should look upon this Institute. Many of you have already joined this Institute, or are on the point of joining it. A number of you have been intimately connected with the administration in its various aspects and are naturally interested in it; I am also interested of course, though my connection with administration has been relatively limited. Even though, as Shri Krishnamachari said, I may be the head of the administration, the head is so far removed from other parts of the body, that I can hardly see the tail!

When the administration becomes more and more elaborate then arises the problem of the administrator. Inevitably as the state becomes more complicated, the apparatus of the state becomes more complex, and the more complex it becomes the more difficult it is properly to know its various departments. For my part, as I say. apart from these few years when I have been connected as Prime Minister with administration, my contacts were of a different kind.

Now I am not quite sure if it is advantageous or not to come into contact with the administration at the top without any personal knowledge of the other rungs of the ladder. I suppose it has some advantages also, although it has its own obvious disadvantages. The advantage is that perhaps one might escape that feeling of functioning in a particular routine which inevitably must come if one functions for a large number of years. The result is any person like me is constantly coming up against these two urges which come into conflict with each other — the urge of the disciplined administrator, and the urge of a person who is administered and who wants things done for himself or for the group or for the country.

One virtue I possess in common with others, and that is. having come into contact for a large number of years with most of the human beings in this country, both individually and in groups and in multitudes, one develops a certain sense — the sixth sense or call it what you will — in regard to what they might be feeling and what they might be wanting. In other words, it is the feeling, if I may say so, with diffidence of a physician having his hands on the pulse of the multitude. The pulse acts faster or slow, but it tells you little about the emotional reaction of that individual. Anyhow that is helpful to me, and it is also a hindrance trying to make oneself receptive to that feeling among others. It is helpful if one feels emotionally aware of it, though one might not be fully able to describe it. At the same time one might be led away into a slightly wrong direction by this emotional reaction. On the other hand, if you have not got that emotional reaction, that does not mean that you have not got it at all.

It does not matter how terribly competent you are in the routine, because administration like most things is, in the final analysis, a human problem — to deal with human beings, not with some statistical data. Statistical data help in understanding. But there is no danger that the administrator at the top — not so much at the bottom, because he comes into contact with human beings — may come to regard human beings as mere abstractions. There is that danger at times to both, types of societies, whether it is what might be called capitalist society or communist society. The communist talks a tremendous deal about the masses, the toiling masses. The toiling masses become some abstraction apart from the human beings in them. He may decide something on pure theory, which may lead to tremendous sufferings to those toiling masses.

The administrator may think in the abstract of the people he deals with, come to conclusions which are justifiable apparently, but which miss the human element. After all, whatever department of life you deal with, or whatever department of Government you deal with, it is ultimately a problem of human beings and the moment we forget that, we are driven away from reality. That is why in order not to drift away too far I take the opportunity of going out ot Delhi from time to time to satisfy a craving to see people other than those I see in offices, at least to talk to some of them and thereby maintain some contact w ith them; in short, to develop an emotional awareness of this collection of human beings, 360 million human beings in India. I am. however, surprised at this multitude, their enormous variety, their difference and their unity and all that.

The Institute of Public Administration has to function in the context of a society or country which is dealing with a multitude of problems and ever changing problems. The whole conception is that we are living, as we have always been living, in changing times. It may be that they change more rapidly now than they had in the past. Therefore, it is always necessary to keep up with these changing conditions of human beings, whether in the world or in this country. That is quite essential. There are many things that the government does. Now when we do a thing, it looks odd why we did not do it long ago, e.g., in the manner laid down in this prospectus of the Institute. I read the prospectus and it crept into my mind how far in doing all these things, with a measure of thoroughness we might not miss the human element. Of course, you cannot provide for that in the prospectus. But there is a danger that our experts, our professors, our economists and others, who are exceedingly good at the particular subject in which they are experts, sometimes become rather inexpert in understanding even a single human being, much less a crowd. It is just like a botanist good at his science but having no pleasure in flowers. So, how to bring about this human touch in understanding the problems of administration? You know I have been connected with the External Affairs Ministry, and we choose with some care, after examination, a number of young people for Foreign Services, train them for a year and a half, and send them to foreign countries. They are a good bunch as a whole, but it has been striking me for some time, how* little they know of their own country — these people who go far away. Of course they know their family or their town or their village. The European history or some period of European history, may be good for specialised study but there is precious little of the history of Asia. Progressively we shall have to deal with the countries of Europe or America. But the balance has shifted now.

Again I am giving you an example from my personal knowledge. We started the Foreign Service six years ago, and through sheer habit we attached greater importance to the well-known countries of Europe and America. Of course they were important, some of them very important, like the United States, England and Russia — they are the important powers today by any standard. Nevertheless, from the point of view of our foreign missions these countries of Europe cannot be more important than some countries of Asia. Gradually we came to the conclusion that we have to judge things not from some distant outlook, looking at the world as it is, but from our geographical position as well as our own particular interest. A neighbour of ours which is, not, let us say, one of the greater powers, may be more important to us than one of the great powers. The relative importance of our missions gradually began to change in our minds, and Asian countries became more and more important from that point of view because we have to deal with them and their problems are our problems. Actually great countries of the world like America, Russia and England are all important. But our neighbours are more important to us than outside countries. So you see a certain shift.

Photo Division, Government of India | March 29, 1954
Now so far as I know our educational courses have not kept pace with the shift of opinion, and we still study more and more the history of distant countries than of our own neighbours. I think that we should understand and study much more the countries of Asia now. We must, of course, study Europe, obviously. because Europe has played, is still playing, and will play an important part undoubtedly. But again the balance will shift somewhat. I gave you one particular example of this.

Shn Krishnamachari told you very rightly how in two respects more especially we have changed completely. At first, orders were issued from Whitehall for governing India in all important matters. That has all changed. We have got a fairly well established democratic system. Obviously that does not fit in with the outlook of the system of administration some years back.

Then there is the second question. We are aiming at the welfare state and rapid development. That does not fit in with the type of rather static mentality which the governing class or governing apparatus had, many years ago. We have to change, and we have to change our methods of thinking.

Behind all this lies something of which I feel that although we talk about it a lot, we are not, most of us, really emotionally aware. That is the fact that we are living not only in the atomic age, but under the shadow of the hydrogen bomb. Now that is a terrific fact of which even the newspapers are not emotionally aware. You see what has been happening in the last fortnight. There was this hydrogen bomb which exploded at Bikini 4 I do not know what Bikini is like but I am sure it is somewhere in the Pacific, a little island. Gradually in driblets we are getting some information about it. The information is to the effect that this explosion of the bomb took by surprise even those who watched and exploded it. No one knows how many people suffered, because apart trom the suffering caused by the impact, it is a kind of creeping thing which may affect a week, a fortnight or a month later, which may make you blind ultimately, w'hich may upset all kinds of internal organs, which may affect the waters of the ocean and life in it. In other words, we do not know many details; these are just coming to us.

Some Japanese fishermen and others have suffered. They are afraid to eat fish. The Japanese have now a great problem. They have to give up eating fish because of the radioactive substance which might injure them. Now what does this mean?

It is a visible indication that man is using powers today, which are going out of his control completely. That has been said in a rhetorical way but now it is a fact that human beings are unleashing forces which are completely beyond their control after they are unleashed. I am reminded of a story which many of you might have known. It is the story of a jinn coming out of the bottle, and then getting out of control.

I mention all this because it has an intimate relationship to all our problems which are overwhelming. We may talk about war and peace; we may talk about this bloc or that bloc; we may talk about being neutral or outside the scope of war but the overwhelming fact is common to everybody, which everybody should realise, whether he belongs to this bloc or that bloc or to no bloc at all. Now, you may have heard about this hydrogen bomb that there are certain reactions in a number of countries, notably in Japan which has suffered from it. But even in other countries, in England, in Australia, and a number of other countries, there is a strong reaction suggesting that there should be no more experiment with this hydrogen bomb, no more unleashing of these forces which we do not know how to control. The ash that might come up from them might go thousands of miles, and create reactions and problems to human beings there.

I believe the next experiment is going to be a bigger show. Even the makers of it do not know' the effects of it. Again, there are the statistics; the hydrogen bomb is a hundred times stronger than the previous atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The present hydrogen bomb is thousand times stronger. There is bound to be some outcry from some wise and thinking people to stop it. They say vehemently; “stop this experiment”. Up till now, we were afraid of a great war which would inevitably involve the use of atomic or hydrogen bombs but now even before the war, forces are being unleashed by way of experiments, which may do havoc and which may not be controlled at all. I must say that I entirely sympathise, perhaps many of you also will too. in this demand or request which has been made in England and in several other countries, that this type of experimenting should stop. I hope that people and those in authority will give attention to it. That is going to be a terrible weapon in their hands; whether it is going to be used in future I do not know. But this experimenting with it is becoming a very dangerous use of it.

I drifted from the subject of your Institute of Public Administration to the atomic and hydrogen bomb. I wanted you to appreciate that there is an intimate relationship between the two. The link is the human being whose betterment, whose welfare the administration seeks to achieve. Again many of you here are what are called Service men, that is those who have joined a particular Service here in this country, have spent a greater part of your career in it and gained experience and all that. It is right that Service people should have various things attached to services like security, this, that and other. That is right. Nevertheless, in the old days the administration from top to bottom was a Service administration. Therefore, the outlook of the administration was a Service outlook. The most complicated rules were made for the protection of Services. But somehow it seems .to me that it was forgotten that the services were meant to achieve something and not merely to exist as Services. That is to say, while the Services will have to be protected, the test is human weltare. The test is to be, in other words, the welfare of the masses of the people who think that we are their ministers.

I think it is necessary to emphasise this because I do not think that the old idea has completely ceased to exist. It has changed of course and I should like to pay a tribute to our Services, because they have acted remarkably under new conditions. I am not complaining of them, but rather complaining of a mental approach to these problems which we have inherited and which we cannot easily get rid of.

I speak, as you notice, not as a person very expert in administration, but a person naturally interested in it very much, and seeing some aspects of administration which in the limited sense of the word are not administration at all, and yet which are very important, I think, because administration is meant to achieve something, and not to exist in some kind of an ivory tower following certain rules of procedure and Narcissus-like, looking at itself with complete satisfaction. The test after all is the human beings, just as if I had to address a municipality, I would venture to remind them that the test is not the few palaces ol the rich but the slums of the poor. So I hope that this Institute of Public Administration will no doubt look into many important problems which confront us and which have to be dealt with not in a casual lackadaisical manner but scientifically, expertly, with knowledge and all that. But it is always to be remembered that it is the human society and the human beings that should gain the results that you achieve for the betterment of human beings.

I have to say that I inaugurate this Institute. I say so and I wish it success.
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