There was a time when devaluation of a country’s currency was a national tragedy; devaluation of the Indian rupee in 1949, 1966 and 1991 caused widespread consternation, but with the adoption of floating exchange rates the rupee is devalued almost daily, with few people, if any, even noting the falling value of the rupee.


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There was a time when devaluation of a country’s currency was a national tragedy; devaluation of the Indian rupee in 1949, 1966 and 1991 caused widespread consternation, but with the adoption of floating exchange rates the rupee is devalued almost daily, with few people, if any, even noting the falling value of the rupee. Similarly, falling morality in public life has ceased to invite comment, much less shock public conscience. The same is true for academic institutions.

Fifty years ago, no one could have imagined that any institution worth its salt would give admissions in lieu for money, yet this is the norm today. Much worse is happening, with vice-chancellors of most State universities being appointed on political considerations, and being embroiled in the worst kind of scandals. Question papers of Government recruitment examinations are invariably leaked and often, education ministers charge humongous bribes for appointing teachers in primary schools.

No wonder learning has been devalued, what with cutoffs of medical post-graduate entrance examinations getting reduced to sub-zero levels ~ necessitated by the need to accommodate the requisite number of candidates ~ even though they may lack merit. Prestigious IIT’s admit general category students with twenty-five percent marks while the same students score near perfect scores in their Board examinations ~ highlighting the complete devaluation of the examination system.


The situation is so bad that Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2023, found that about 25 per cent of 14 to 18-year-olds cannot read a Standard II level text fluently, even in their regional language. The education system based on Government schools has collapsed, just like the buildings from which these schools operated. Sadly, devaluation has set in the academic standards of the great universities of yesteryears, like Calcutta University and Allahabad University, who now mostly churn out unemployable graduates.

The respect for occupiers of high offices has been devalued to near zero with chief ministers, ministers, and top bureaucrats perpetually in the cross-hairs of enforcement agencies, and often in jail on corruption charges. Devaluation in public life can be best understood by an apocryphal story; one of the less talented incumbents to the Indian Presidency, asked an eminent economist about the meaning of devaluation.

The professor replied: “Sir, earlier we could get an outstanding individual like Dr Rajendra Prasad, or a renowned scholar like Dr S Radhakrishnan, for a salary of Rs 10,000, but now we could only hire a semiliterate person like you for this salary.” Sadly, falling standards in politics is now a worldwide phenomenon. Traditionally, banana republics of Africa and South America were notorious for political amorality, but the twenty-first century has seen this malaise infect the body politic of established democracies.

The United States, which projects itself as the torchbearer of democracy and the best in governance, has a presidential hopeful in ex-President Donald Trump, against whom fraud charges have been proved, and who is charged with an attempt to forcibly overthrow an elected government. While in office, Mr Trump had the dubious distinction of being impeached twice.

Britain, another votary of democracy and good governance, had a Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who along with his cabinet colleagues, was fined by the London Police for violating the Covid protocols that they had imposed on the entire country. Closer home, we have Pakistan where opposition leaders routinely land in jail on corruption charges. Miraculously, verdicts against them are overturned once they come to power.

Coming back to India, nowhere is devaluation in standards as manifest as in this year’s conferment of Bharat Ratna honours. Since its institution in 1954, Bharat Ratna had been awarded to 48 individuals in recognition of their “exceptional service/performance of the highest order.” There were many years when no one received the Bharat Ratna.

This year, the Government conferred this honour on five persons, four of them politicians. The next day, a leading national daily came out with an editorial, discussing in gleeful detail, how the ruling party would benefit electorally, by honouring these persons with the Bharat Ratna. Should the public really believe that the nation’s highest award was conferred for political expediency rather than on merit, then the value of the award, which has no monetary component, is effectively reduced to near zero.

There is, however, a contrary view, though still in a nascent stage, viz. a new morality is emerging, and perhaps, contemporary events need to be judged by the newlyminted touchstones. Specifically, a view has emerged that reassessment of the relevance of Gandhian thought, that had guided world leaders, philosophers and intellectuals, is now required. The reason being that the Mahatma’s views on human conduct, truth and non-violence, are at odds with the current reality.

An indication of the way the wind is blowing, is the shameful trend of deification of Nathuram Godse, the Mahatma’s assassin. An explanation for this volte-face readily presents itself. India is a country, that is now seeking its due place in the comity of nations. Understandably, the Government is constantly striving towards achieving the biggest and best in everything. However, as collateral damage, smaller endeavours are not appreciated; most Government plans and projects are denominated in lakhs of crores of rupees, if not more.

Correspondingly, citizens have started thinking big, which often translates into trying to earn big money ~ even by questionable means. This line of thought and action is diametrically opposed to Gandhian thinking, with its emphasis on truthfulness, thrift, purity of means, and other related concepts. A shortcoming of the alternative narrative is that its intellectual moorings are yet to be formalised. So, all politicians have to swear by Gandhism even when their actions are contrary to what the Mahatma would have done in the given circumstances. Though the Government is on a purely capitalist trajectory, but the ‘socialist’ in the Constitution obliges it to swear by equality. Similarly, even die-hard communalists dare not express themselves candidly in public, because constitutionally, we are a secular country.

AI will probably come to the rescue of politicians practising the current version of realpolitik, by formulating a suitable philosophical basis for their line of thinking. Still, a perceptible change has come about in political posturing. Not too long-ago politicians, indulged in chicanery surreptitiously, keeping a façade of morality, but now, with sinking morality, there is no need for masks, and politicians of all hues shamelessly flaunt their agenda of gaining wealth and staying in power at all costs.

The way public representatives allow themselves to be bought and sold, soon, a stock exchange may come up for price discovery. In a case of life imitating art, the present scenario uncannily resembles a comedy show of the late Jaspal Bhatti, where he was shown running a trading agency for elected representatives. It is a tribute to the genius of George Orwell, that he could foresee the downfall of political morality. In his magnum opus, Nineteen Eighty-four, penned exactly seventy-five years ago, Orwell wrote: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.

We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing…We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax