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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2588

Sycophancy Indian style

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

It is a debate that erupts all too frequently and yet it so engrosses the sanctimonious and the morally sapped political class in the country. The union human resource minister, Arjun Singh, may or may not have spoken as a ‘sycophant’ when he pitched for Rahul Gandhi as prime minister, but the eagerness with which his words were lapped up by his detractors in and out of his party for a display of serial indignation looks totally out of place. And to draw parallel with pets is debasing a discourse that many already consider ribald.

No straining of any faculties is required to see that in this country, touted as the world’s largest democracy, ‘sycophancy’ is the most commonly observed trait in every sphere of life, including politics and place of work. The envious ones see it as a key to ‘success’. Its form may differ, but a kind of ‘servile flattery’—the dictionary definition of ‘sycophancy’—is evident all around us. Most Indians perhaps know it better as ‘chamchagiri’- a fact in every office and place of work.

It will have to be accepted, grudgingly by the austere, that success seems to come more easily to the accomplished practitioners of the art of ‘chamchagiri’. It questions the efforts of those who are fighting a losing battle to preserve and promote ‘meritocracy’ against the onslaught of lengthening ‘reservation’ list that is supposed to establish a truly egalitarian society in the country of deep divisions. Unwillingness or inability to practice the art of sycophancy or ‘chamchagiri’ has often led to premature end of promising careers.

Debunking politicians or a particular party for encouraging sycophancy has become fashionable. But when it has been so widely practised and for such a long time in the country it seems a little unfair to single out one class for the opprobrium. However, one reason why it is so commonly and derisively associated with politicians is that in politics ‘chamchagiri’ comes with some magical cleansing qualities that do not necessarily extend to other spheres. In politics it assures a sweep of immunity; it can overnight transform a criminal into a ‘saint’ and take him to heights (in politics) that would be nearly impossible to attain in all other vocations.

In the mundane world of routine jobs a ‘chamcha’ can aspire for bigger things but it can still be difficult if that person has had a brush with the law or does not meet the stipulated qualification for a particular position. ‘Chamchagiri’ works best in offices for out of turn promotions and getting favours envied by colleagues. Both are perhaps relatively harmless offences. Otherwise, ‘chamchagiri’ or ‘sycophancy’ in politics would not have become the nation’s obsession that it has.

It will be wrong to argue that in government jobs, known for total ‘job security’, sycophancy plays little or no role because promotions are by and large ‘automatic’, up to a point at least. If that were really true the work culture, such as it is in government offices, would have suffered even more severely with many more showing a visible contempt for work and there would have been no role for confidential annual report card prepared by superiors.

In the private sector the boss gets a free hand in deciding on promotions but being human the boss can be vulnerable to flattery—another name for sycophancy—after he or she has been able to ignore the genuflecting gestures from the subordinate employee.

The rules are different in Indian politics because, first of all, the very nature of entry into politics is unlike the way of securing an office job and then go through the grind to climb up the ladder. Not that there are no hereditary successions in certain private jobs—professions—in politics succession from father/mother to son/daughter is almost taken for granted; no one from a political family has to ‘apply’ for a job in politics and collect all kinds of testimonials. The justification for this difference is that a political lineage prepares one better for taking on the onerous political duties of parents.

What makes succession in political families easier is that, again unlike an office job, the definition of ‘qualifications’ for entering politics is extremely flexible. There is no age bar and there can be no stipulation for minimum educational qualification for entering the world of politics in a ‘democracy’ where half the population in any case is illiterate. Criminal record? Who has ever heard of a politician or his/her ward being handicapped in any manner by criminal proceedings? The best part for political heirs is that they do not have to go through a period of apprenticeship while for others that is also the time when they learn the first lessons of sycophancy.

Privileges of being born into a political family are obvious at the entry stage. Except for the very top family in a party, upward movement of all entrants, whether from a political or non-political family, requires some expertise in the art of sycophancy for moving up the political ladder. A phenomenon unwelcome for many is that in single-family political outfits—increasing by the day—sycophancy is not a ticket to the highest post. But then merely surviving in such an outfit, much less retaining a prominent position, is itself a reward.

For the rank ‘outsider’ in politics, often the first generation politician, survival in a party is directly related to one’s sycophantic abilities. The more one has of it the better the chances of moving up - well, up to a point, again. After all, how many members of a party can hope to achieve the prominence and clout that comes from being the general secretary or the treasurer or the spokesman of a family-run party?

It has to be said, however, that in terms of negative effect sycophancy in politics has a fall-out that can be averted in other jobs. There can be instant ‘sacking’ in a political party and the decision cannot be challenged before any tribunal. But as a counter to this, the sacked person has the option of rushing into the waiting arms of a rival party—after displaying a bit of flattery by singing paeans of the centre of power in the rival camp.

A peculiar thing about India is that politicians never retire. Rarely do they fade away. In other jobs one can expect at best a couple of extensions after serving the normal length of service but even the most supplicant among them cannot avoid the eventual superannuation. For such persons a plush after retirement job awaits if they have been sufficiently sycophantic towards their Masters while in service.

It may well be the longevity--life-long tenure—in Indian politics that makes sycophancy among politicians so more widely decried by their own clan than in other jobs. Arjun Singh may be nearing 80, but if his ‘sycophancy’—since translated as ‘loyalty’—works to its potency he will surely be blocking many other aspirants who are trying to master that art to further their careers.

Politics being the most paying profession in India has become the most sought after job - a job where competition can be warded off only by sycophancy.

- Syndicate Features -

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