Democracy functions not always through written rules but by way of conventions. One set of conventions relates to procedures when governments change from one political dispensation to another. Every government makes appointments to suit its own interests and policies — these include ambassadorships, memberships of committees, posts within the administrative structure and of governors. Some of these appointments, especially of ambassadorships, are made from officers still serving in the Indian Foreign Service — these are known as career appointments. Some ambassadors are selected from a wider pool — from retired officers and politicians or persons of eminence in other fields. These are labelled as political appointments. This distinction is relevant for appointments in fields outside the realm of foreign affairs. The convention is that with the defeat of a political dispensation, political appointees of the outgoing government should tender their resignations from whatever positions they held at the behest of the government.
This convention is often honoured only in the breach in India. Thus it is good to learn that three very eminent persons have stepped down from the positions they held under the United Progressive Alliance government. Leila Seth, always the model of propriety, stepped down as the chairperson of the advisory board of National Library. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former member of the Indian Administrative Service, a former ambassador and former governor — and by virtue of holding these posts and of his own pedigree, well-versed in the conventions of democracy — resigned as the chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and of Kalakshetra in Chennai. Last, and certainly not the least, Sonia Gandhi quit the governing body of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. These individuals — and others who, away from the limelight, have resigned from their political appointments — should be applauded for upholding the true spirit of democracy. They did what they thought was the right thing to do under the present circumstances. What is regrettable is that many others who hold political appointments have failed to follow the convention and to follow the example set by the three individuals named above. India has a new prime minister who has risen from being nobody to the top job; the country also has individuals who are eager to do the right thing. This is the strength of Indian democracy.