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View: The ghosts haunting India’s bureaucracy

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I’ve had it up to here with everyone blaming either incompetence or intrigue for the flailings and failings of Indian-administered India. People have been quibbling, since the first pen-pusher pushed his pen, over which is worse — being rubbish at one’s job, or conspiring to not do it properly (or at all) to satisfy higher-ups (and, therefore, one’s own brood). Well, this week we finally got to know what truly ails Indian bureaucracy: ghosts.

The Gajra Raja Medical College (GRMC) in Gwalior may not be at the forefront of India’s battle against Covid-19. But its authorities finally lifted a white veil that has covered clerical India far longer than the 40 years since Rajkumar Kohli’s Jaani Dushman exposed another of India’s secrets: that at the root of feudalism and caste politics lies sex. A bunch of RTI applicants had been investigating certain ‘anomalies’ regarding MBBS admissions into the college. In September 2018, one RTI applicant had sought admission records for the 1994 batch. He suspected that very mysteriously, non-domiciles — those not from Madhya Pradesh, but from the mortal realm nonetheless — had somehow got MBBS admission through the domicile quota.

After reportedly buffeting the RTI applicants’ requests by first stating that the records pertaining to the information sought had been seized by the shadowy CBI [strains of ‘Gumnaam hai koi/ Badnaam hai koi…’], the college authorities stated that the clerk responsible for the documents had been apprehended by the said shadowy CBI [ ‘Gumnaam hai koi/ Badnaam hai koi…’].

Finally, the GRMC authorities, like cornered members of the gnostic Satanic group Our Lady of Endor, tumbled out with the truth: the room in which the sought-after documents lie is now haunted by the ghost of the aforementioned clerk, who had apparently committed suicide. So, unlocking that room would be, well, a nightmare.

Remember, Madhya Pradesh, home to the Great Vyapam Scam — the state government’s entrance examination racket uncovered in 2013 involving politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen — is literally Middle India.

If the disquiet spirit of one clerk in Gwalior is responsible for an information blackout, you can well imagine the spiritual dangers and harm posed in getting information, pushing a file, accessing records across the country.

All this bhoot-pret business must sound all very gawaar to some of you cityslickers. But the country’s administration — governmental or otherwise — has now been found to be haunted. That explains the till-now inexplicable reason why not just authorities, but the flesh and blood citizenry in general, find it so odd for people to pursue information, despite the paranormal dangers this entails.

Gattu Vamana Rao and his wife Nagamani in Telangana, for instance, are the latest in a long list of RTI activists harassed, attacked or killed for snooping around. The Raos were mysteriously ‘murdered by knife’ for filing an RTI on ‘land issues’. Killer ghosts, I conclude.

Karl Marx was on to something when he wrote about a ‘spectre haunting Europe’, the birthplace of modern bureaucracy under Otto von Bismarck and the Junker elite of eastern Prussia. What is less known is that in the original German, Marx had written ‘gespenst’ — spook, ghoul — literally ghost, rather than the metaphorical spectre.

It was this Victorian invention — used by the colonial British regime in India to collect, collate, use information and hide it from its subjects and rule — that continues to haunt India. After all, what is a ghost? It’s an entity which, after losing its original purpose, finds itself repurposed to haunt its old stomping grounds.

Exorcists to cleanse the system? Don’t be silly. Regular yagnas to keep these spirits — they exist in a plane ‘higher up’ — untroubled is the wise thing to do, digital betaals be damned.

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