The colonial times saw the full flowering of this ethos, which defined an entrenched agrarian culture. Somebody from a middle-class background lucky enough to get promoted as burra baboo in a managing agency firm lost no time in filling the posts of petty clerks within his beat with his near and dear ones. Such gestures would be accorded tacit social approval; it was as if the individual was redeeming his debt to his extended family which had helped him get established in life. The expression ‘nepotism’ was yet to gain currency. Fellow-feeling — identity of interest with those around — was what mattered. It was extremely low-level economic equilibrium; a stagnant agriculture — at that point the prime source of national income — fostered a stagnancy of the mind. What is elliptically referred to as modernization was a lugubrious process, there was not that degree of competition for people to avail themselves of urban opportunities, the formidable head clerk had little trouble in crowding the office with members of his clan. Similar things happened within government precincts; a deputy collector and magistrate or a subordinate judge — the highest rung of the ladder an Indian could ordinarily aspire to reach — would consider it his bounden duty to get poor relatives or acquaintances selected as kanungos, muharirs or sheristadars. This mirrored the social conscience of the day. Many private banks, for instance, crashed because they thought nothing of making generous advances to either members of the family floating the enterprise or to close friends that in the end went unrequited.
Such a state of affairs continued more or less till the advent of independence. During the acute depression of the 1930s, a swelling of urban unemployment led to stray protests against reported instances of nepotism in public appointments. But it did not assume a serious form; a provincial chief minister (then designated as premier) could even brazen it out by claiming ‘helplessness’ since all his nephews, who had landed cushy government jobs, happened to be brilliant. The private sector, though, was yet unaffected by ramblings of nepotism-induced discontent.
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