Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Administration and Politics in Different Countries

The administrative systems of various countries were classified in our last article while discussing the Bureaucratic Approach to comparative public administration. Here the administration and politics in some countries will be discussed in detail. The countries selected for discussion purpose are: The United States of America, The Great Britain, France, Japan, China and India.

The United States of America

The political cultures of the USA and UK have been described as “the civic culture" by Ferrel Heady, Almond and Verba. Civic culture means a culture which is "participant” and “pluralistic”. This is a culture based on communication and persuasion, diversity and consensus. As a result of this culture the political system in USA has been able to maintain stability and legitimacy.

The United States of AmericaIn United States there has been a good balance between political and administrative development. Compared to the bureaucracies of France and Germany, the bureaucracy of USA has been slow in becoming professionalized and acquiring characteristics of “classic” Weberian bureaucracy. Spoils system was prevalent here upto the late 19th century when through the Pendleton Act in 1883, it was abolished. Through this act the recruitment and promotion in the civil service started to be done on the basis of merit and not patronage though this started only at the federal level and not at the state or local level.

In USA the bureaucracy is seen as a neutral instrument of government. Congress has the power of executive reorganization i. e. for the creation or abolition of executive departments. The head of the department is secretary who is appointed by the President but the Senate has to confirm it. A new Merit Systems Protection Board and Personnel Management agency have been created at the central level for the personnel management.

“Position” rather than “rank” of the public officials is emphasized in the US system. Officials are selected on the basis of the requirements of the position. In this way the US system is different from the British or Indian administrative system. Senior Executive Service (SES) was constituted in US has been constituted in US since 1978 on the recommendation of the Second Hoover Commission. The members of this elite service occupy the top echelons of the administration. The US administrative positions are divided into “grades” reflecting levels of responsibility. The top three grades are called “super grades” and are usually occupied by professionals.

In the US administrative system more specialized positions are there who are filled on the merit basis but the career advancement of these professionals is much less planned than in Britain. The upper ranks of US bureaucracy are considerably representative of American society and it is less elitist than other countries. It is due to less class distinctions in the American society. There is no constitutional protection for the civil servants and mutual transfers between public and private sectors is quite common. The legislative branch regulates the various areas through the independent regulatory commissions. In fact such commissions are American innovation.

Unlike in British system, the civil servants are not covered in the veils of “anonymity” and “secrecy”. The role of bureaucrats in policy making is very well accepted by the politicians and they have to face public criticism and reaction in case of faulty public policy making. One quite distinguished feature of American administration and politics is no clear cut distinction between the career and non-career executives. They are quite mixed up in the higher positions in administration. In fact there is lack of demarcation between political and bureaucratic spheres. On the whole Americans have produced a governmental system which is internally competitive, is more experimental and has a less powerful but dynamic bureaucracy.

The Great Britain

Like that of the United States, the culture of the Great Britain is also termed as that of “civic culture” because the culture prevailing here is also participant and pluralistic. As the political development of the country didn’t have any violent disruptions, the political and administrative change were gradual. This gradualist pattern allowed the nominal monarchy to remain in this country in the presence of a unitary, parliamentary government. Due to this slow political development, both political and administrative systems of the country developed simultaneously in balance. At no point was administrative system dominant on the political one.

The Great BritainIt was in the middle of 19th century that the British civil service started to be recruited on the basis of merit leaving the patronage system. It was brought about by the famous Northcote-Trevelyn Report of 1854. With this system the foundation of a career based bureaucracy was laid in Britain in which recruitment and career advancement both were based on merit rather than nepotism.

Due to the high level of political participation in the British society, the role of civil service is regarded as “service oriented” and there is firm political control over bureaucracy. This is the reason why bureaucracy is considered to be the neutral agent of political decision makers.

A ministry is headed by a minister and there is a post of permanent secretary below it who is the administrative head. For managing the personnel matters, there is a Civil Service Department directly under the Prime Minister. Before World War II, the British civil service used to be elitist with only people from higher strata of society joining it but the social and education base of the civil service has broadened for the last three decades. A career civil service exists in which officials are generally taken at an earlier level only and the mutual exchange of officers between public and private sectors is prohibited.

Anonymity and neutrality are the hallmarks of British administrative system. The bureaucrats are duty bound to give advice to the ministers who are responsible politically for the discharge of governmental functions with the assistance of bureaucrats.

This system allows the civil servants to be kept out of the public criticism directly though at higher levels they are involved in the policy making along with the concerned minister. The measures to ensure the accountability of administration are quite extensive in view of the increasing powers of the executive due to delegated legislation. On whole, the British administration may be described as orderly, cohesive and prudent.


In France the President is directly elected by the universal suffrage and he appoints the Prime Minister and terminates his tenure if the need arises. The President is so powerful that he can overshadow the parliament, the constitutional council and the council of ministers. The Prime Minister carries out the policies of the President and is answerable to the Parliament for it. In theory the government remains collectively responsible to the Parliament while in practice it is responsible to the President.

Flag of FranceFrance witnessed continuous political instability for the last two centuries and at some points violent disruptions were there in the political system. Fifth Republic came into being 1958. Despite so much of political turbulence France like Germany has been marked by administrative and bureaucratic stability. The administrative apparatus that had been created to serve the “ancient regime” transferred and maintained its allegiance to the nation, after the brief disruptions due to revolution, whether the government in control was an empire or republic. Due to the political instability the administrative apparatus of the country was called upon to take the governmental responsibilities many a times and this is the reason that the French bureaucracy is a fully developed “classic” Weberian type of bureaucracy. This is the reason why France and Germany are called “classic” administrative systems.

Unlike Britain and India, there is no single body responsible for running of civil service system. Each ministry is responsible for its own staff. Also the civil servants can participate in political activities unlike Britain and India. The French civil service is organized on the basis of “corps”. These are basically the categories of staff taking part in administration and recruitment takes place in these corps. In France centralized form of administration exists since the very beginning and due to this the French civil service is very powerful. It has been accorded a higher place in comparison to the ordinary citizens. Law experts dominate the civil service.

A system of ‘administrative courts’ exists in France in which cases against administrative excesses are decided. These courts are headed by ‘council of state’ which decides the way these courts are expected to function. Civil servants not only control the massive administrative machine but also occupy the important positions in politics, public and private sectors. Democratization of the civil service has not occurred to much extent as the higher education is primarily confined to upper social classes only. In 1946, the civil servants have been clearly given a right to organize trade unions. Right to strike also exists provided essential services are not hampered. On whole civil service system in France is highly organized, very powerful & influential and resembled most closely the “ideal” type of bureaucracy.


The constitution of Japan makes Diet, the parliament, the highest organ of the state in which executive is responsible to it. The Prime Minister of Japan is designated by the resolution of Diet. The emperor is only the nominal head of the state. The powers of emperor of Japan are practically nil in comparison to the British monarch. British monarch has the right to be consulted by the Prime Minister, Japanese emperor has none. He does not actually have power to interfere in important decisions of government. Still the emperor of Japan is considered as the living symbol of Japan’s history and is very much loved by the citizenry. Prime Minister is the head of the executive and the head of his cabinet secretariat finds a seat in the Japanese cabinet. He is called Director of cabinet secretariat.

JapanJapan has been termed as a "bureaucrats paradise” and the “wonderland” of bureaucracy by the scholar Chitoshi Yanaga. The Japanese bureaucracy is democratized to some extent though still the bureaucrats are recruited from a narrow social base only. In recent times the Japanese bureaucracy has been downsized and “executive agencies” have been created. The civil service is organized on the basis of career system. Intense competition to Japanese civil service is quite remarkable. Like some other countries, large chunk of candidates being selected in the civil service come from some prominent universities like the Tokyo University. This feature is even more pronounced than the recruitment of Oxford and Cambridge graduates in British civil service. The civil service is dominated by law background candidates.

A unique feature of the Japanese civil service is quite limited lateral mobility of civil servants between different ministries. A civil servant is likely to remain in the ministry which he enters. This restricted inter-ministerial lateral mobility promotes the loyalty towards a ministry or department and not towards the whole of civil service which sometimes results into compartmentalization among different administrative units. Another feature is lucrative post-retirement jobs that the Japanese bureaucrats get. The retirement age is less (around 50 years) and generally after a civil servant retires the attractive private sector of Japan takes him up on highly paid jobs which are commensurate with their earlier experience.

Distinction between bureaucracy and politics is quite blurred in Japan and bureaucrats generally quite actively take part in the political decisions of the government. This results into the political activism of the civil servants. Due to very long period of political dominance of only one political party, the Liberal Democratic Party, the higher civil servants have come to be identified with the ruling party. Many of the ministers in government have been former bureaucrats. The existence of “Deliberation Councils” is another feature of Japanese administration. These councils have representatives of government, private sector and civil society. Before public policy making there take place deliberations within these deliberation councils and suggested reforms are taken into consideration by the government. This shows that Japanese administration is responsive towards citizens’ views and the politics engenders a “consensual" polity.

In sum, Japanese bureaucracy has successfully managed the change in post war years and given the country much needed stability. Bureaucracy though has lot of political weight still transformed itself in consonance with the needs of changing and industrializing needs of the country.


In a democracy the government & administration of the day are duty bound to be accountable to the citizens of the country while in a communist country it the party to which the administration has to be accountable. The emphasis on the state administration to be responsive to the party creates conflicts. A bureaucrat faces dilemma between acting as a “public official” and as a committed “party worker”. From the early years in 1949 the communist China adopted Soviet model and the state bureaucracy was entrusted with the task of implementing rapid socio-economic changes. In 1957 a movement called “Great Leap Forward” was started for rapid progress on all fronts. Slogan “politics takes command” was given by the Communist Party of China (CCP) to motivate the people and the government. The state administration was found to be too centralized and overbureaucratized. Decentralized efforts like involving the rural communities in increasing the agricultural production were started though industrial development was not lost sight of. Great emphasis on four modernizations has been laid by the Chinese administration: of industry, agriculture, science & technology and the military and the reform of bureaucracy was considered as pre-condition for achieving these “four modernizations”. Some of the measures by which the bureaucracy has been sought to be reformed in China are:

  1. Advanced education for bureaucrats in China itself as well as in foreign countries

  2. Emphasis on technical expertise as the necessary qualification for recruitment

  3. Expertise rather than seniority was emphasized in ranks of bureaucracy

  4. The number of ministries and agencies were reduced and the staffs rationalize

  5. Public opinion was given an important emphasis on judging the performance of lower level officials

ChinaThe Chinese political system operates on "democratic centralism” in which the final decision making authority is highly centralized. The National People’s Congress (NPC) is theoretically the highest organ of the sate but it meets only during the annual sessions. In between the annual sessions its standing committee is the highest authority. However the State Council which is akin to "state cabinet” is responsible for directing all the ministries and administration. NPC acts like Parliament of China. The Communist Party’s Central Committee can recommend NPC to designate or remove the members of the State Council including the Premier. NPC has a five year term and it meets once in a year. Standing Committee of NPC exercises its powers between the annual sessions. The constitution of China can also be amended by NPC. Constitution enjoins that the State Council should consist of a premier, vice-premiers, vice-ministers and the heads of the national ministries and commissions. In effect however due to the large size of the state council, it is the inner cabinet which exercises all the powers practically. It consists of premier and vice-premiers.

Constitutionally the whole country is divided into provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities which are directly administered by the central government. At the local level, there are people’s communes and towns. The term “autonomous” is a misnomer and like other regions only the autonomous regions are very much part of the centralized administrative hierarchy. They are largely made on the considerations of minority groups.

The Chinese government is controlled and directed by the communist party by the interlocking system of party personnel and party having a parallel structure to that of the government. The party even maintains a “shadow government”. As the government is manned by party functionaries also, the public officials receive instructions both from the government as well as the party but the instructions from the party high command are supreme.

The bureaucrats in China are called as “cadres” or “kanpu”. There are three levels of cadres: leading cadres, intermediate level cadres and the basic level cadres. These cadres are classified into three broad categories: state, local and military. A cadre’s rank is determined not necessarily by the seniority but by the educational background and technical competence. The new generation of leaders in China argue that there should not be distinction between party ideologues i. e. “reds” and the technically qualified i. e. “experts”. They insist on creating “red and expert” cadre which is both ideologically oriented and technically competent.

The Chinese bureaucracy has carefully managed to have a centralized system and a higher degree of administrative stability though the rising levels of inequality and turbulence in Chinese society call for some radical shifts in politico-administrative settings of China.


The politics and administration in India today are a result of two sets important historical events. The first one is colonial legacy and the second one is the democratic welfare state set up by Indian constitution after independence. An administrative class called Indian Civil Service (ICS) was the most notable legacies of British times in independent India. The colonial administration was regulatory in nature with no developmental roles to perform and was authoritarian, unresponsive and paternalistic in character though some minimum welfare functions like construction of roads, railways, colleges and hospitals were performed. The civil service was not just an instrument of public policy execution but had the policy making in its own hands. The ICS though an instrument of the British was an integrating force in the Indian polity and was efficient despite the inherent diversity of India.

IndiaThe bureaucracy that India inherited at the time of independence was totally new to developmental tasks, was trained only in rule application and had no concept of accountability to the people. After independence, President of India has been made the head of the state as well as head of the executive of the country. The work of the government of India is divided into various Ministries headed by Ministers. The Prime Minister presides over the Council of Ministers. Work is assigned to the various Ministries through the rules framed under Article 77(3) of the constitution. Secretary is the administrative head of the Ministry or Department.

Some ministries have subsidiary organizations called the attached or sub-ordinate offices under them for helping in the execution of policies. Generally a ministry composes of a minister along with some deputy ministers or parliamentary secretaries, a secretariat with the secretary as its head and the executive department headed by a director general or inspector general.

Two important features of Indian bureaucracy are: anonymity and neutrality. Though the administration is responsible for the execution of the policies, individual civil servants are not directly responsible to the legislature for the some deviations in the execution. The concerned minister is responsible thus anonymity protects the civil servants from public criticism. Further the civil servants are expected to be neutral in their outlook and are expected to serve the governments of every political ideology with equal zeal. Though there have been debates about whether such a neutrality is possible or not, or whether it is desired but still the civil servants are expected to show such levels of neutrality.

The secretary who is the administrative head of a ministry is designated as secretary not just to a particular ministry but to the government of India. He is expected to have a thorough knowledge of the whole functioning of the government of India not just of a particular ministry. He is the principal policy adviser to the minister.

Another administrative innovation in India has been the "All India Services”. Constitution of India provides for two All India Services (AIS): Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS). It also gives power to the Parliament for the creation of other AIS. Indian Forest Service (IFS) has been created subsequently. The officers of All India Services serve the state government as well the central government. While serving the states also they are under the disciplinary control of the central government and remain the employees of the central government. As a whole the civil services in India consists of three broad categories: the All India Services, the Central Services and the State Services.

Though the India administrative system is dominated by generalists but a unique feature of the civil services in India is that more and more of specialists and technocrats like doctors, engineers, economists and lawyers are joining the civil services. Also the bureaucracy is of mammoth size.

After independence the guiding principles of India administration and politics were: welfare of its citizens and the accountability to them. The state became the major promoter of planned change. The nature of administration changed totally from the regulatory one before independence to the developmental after independence but the instrument of state to carry out such objectives of the state remained the same - the age old colonial bureaucracy veiled by secrecy it its functioning and unresponsive to the citizens. A study of Ralph Braibanti confirms that despite independence the norms of Indian bureaucracy remain same as were there during colonial times.

Renowned scholars like C. P. Bhambhri and V. Subramaniam have undertaken studies to study the socio-economic background of members of Indian Administrative Service (IAS). They have found that they are elitist by background and are urban educated & professionally qualified middle class of the country. The proportion of rural areas is less According to C. P. Bhambri, in Indian context there is incongruence between the orientation & attitudes of higher civil service and the national goals such as equality-secularism, social justice and democracy. Rural farming families, lower income groups etc. have little representation in these services. Sometimes the attitude of civil servants is manifest in the bias & prejudice for their social class.

Traditionally the Indian civil services are considered to be obsessed with rules & regulations, having lack of initiative & dynamism and resistant to new changes & ideas. Policies such reservation system in the recruitment to civil services have failed to some drastic effects on the ‘attitude’ of the civil servants as once part of the civil service those from lower castes are also no different behaviourally from the rest.

In the Western nations, economic development and prosperity took place later than the political and administrative development. They took years to achieve it but in India we have sought to achieve this in shortest possible time and that too without any forceful or totalitarian measures. So in India the administrator is seen as an agent of “modernization” and “social change”.

The simultaneous presence of extreme impersonality and susceptibility towards the external pressures is one of the paradoxes of Indian administration. It is most unfortunate that the administrators have lost much of their credibility today in India. This has to be changed by clearly defining the “domains” of both administration & politics and sticking to it in true spirit.


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