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Politicisation of civil services amid rising Centre-state rift: Events in West Bengal of May 2021 | Ahmed Raza

Saturday 12 June 2021

by Ahmed Raza *

The beginning of a new controversy between centre and state administrative relations on account of recalling Chief Secretary of West Bengal for placement of his services with the government of India despite three months extension already given to him for serving with the state seems to be a politically motivated rather than an administrative decision of Government of India. The way the Department of Personnel & Training, (DoPT), Government of India has acted by summoning a top official of the West Bengal government within a strict time frame of reporting deems to be an invitation of controversy as neither the Chief Secretary has remaining service period to serve union Government, nor State Government concurrence has been sought as per 6(1) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules.

The media outlets began their news-breaking headlines of the bitterness of center-state relation highlighting the alleged thirty minutes delay arrival of West Bengal chief minister and the chief secretary at the meeting venue with the Prime Minister followed by a quick departure from the meeting citing her prior official engagement. Though, considering the protocol and civil service conduct rule on priorities, the chief secretary could not make a presentation in the ‘Cyclone Yaas’ review meeting and left quickly the meeting as he is bound to obey the concerned chief minister as his immediate boss. As per the civil services conduct rule, the immediate control of all India services always lies in the hand of the state government, whereas ultimate control is always with the central government. Later on, denying from relieving the top officer of the state government with justifications of the government’s fight against Covid-19 and post-cyclone necessities seems to be a portrayal of politicization of civil services as the chief secretary wished to superannuate from his service as scheduled rather than report to the DoPT at Delhi. On one hand, confronting the union government by appointing the former chief secretary as the chief advisor to the chief minister for the three years has appeared to be an example of the politicization of civil services rather than a necessity of services for state government. On the other hand, proposing disciplinary action against the Chief Secretary on account of disobeying the Government of India order may prompt the debate on politicisation of civil services in India. Hence, this piece of writing has attempted to focus on three main leading factors responsible for politicising civil services in India.

Neutrality lacks in civil servants

The civil servants being as permanent executive of government derives authority from technical and administrative expertise and hence, are authorized to implement the policies and advises to the government. They should show ‘sensitivity’ to the minister’s concern rather than being cynical of any politically motivated work. The civil servants are expected to tender advice to the Government without fear or favour as they have to serve different regimes or parties with the same enthusiasm. Now a day, shrinking professional ethics and frisking attitude of the civil servants in lieu of credit image, political ideologies, plum posting, safe-guard from mal-practices etc happens to be the leading factors for lacking in the neutrality of civil servants. Hence, right from Nehru to Narendra Modi, all the Prime Ministers of India have expressed their disappointment with the civil servants’ performance as they have failed to live up to the expectations of people. On the other hand, the politicians being as superior to the civil servants always prefer loyalty over efficiency in selecting civil servants to higher posts which brings down the neutrality of a civil servant and also downs the morale of other efficient officers. Such ill practices as part of conventions, conformability, loyalty and other factors such as religion, language, culture, regions etc in our political system from both sides Civil servants and Government introduces the politicisation of civil services. Hence, the entire controversy which has erupted due to bitter relations between the Union Government and the Government of West Bengal led to making the Chief secretary as a scapegoat, which always poses a great threat to our civil services system.

Assignment of the election process to civil servants

Another reason for politicisation of civil services in India could also be linked to the election process as the civil servants happen to be returning officers while elections are conducted. Ministers need a lot of finances for election campaigns, publicities and political functionaries, so they prefer to appoint their loyal and convenient officers so as to implement policies in such a way which may fulfill the political interest of parties. In this context, the civil servants try to anticipate the minister’s wishes and offer advice accordingly. Though, such nexus between political executives and officers are curtailed by the election commission on account of reshuffling, transferring, and appointing outside observers after the election notification, but, politicisation of civil servants is still exists due to shortage of man-power and other observers. The West Bengal assembly election 2021 witnessed several incidences of denial of organising political rallies, declaration of no-fly zone for helicopters to opposition parties which more or less points out towards the politicization of civil servants as claimed by political parties. Hence, civil servants need to be strict about their professionalism and maintain a high standard of ethics while being appointed as returning officers for organizing the election.

Rising level of corruption in civil servants

The existence of corruption in the civil services has a long history, which not only creates hurdles for progress and development of the society but also politicizes the civil services. One of the most safety valves for corrupt officers has been to political affiliation and inspired political ideologies of the existing government, which gives them a short time relive as departmental inquiries other vigilances investigations are delayed so as to protect the officers. In India, several incidences of mal-administration, corruption and other irregularities of the civil servants have gone un-noticed, un-checked and sidelined from the inquiry due to the existence of politicization of the civil services. A lot of tussle between state officers and Central Bureau Investigation teams due to the inquiry on scam took place in the state are the output of politicisation of state civil services. At the same time, central investigative agencies have to take the blame-game of politicisation of civil servants if they initiate any investigation to other states which are ruled by opposition parties of the central government. Very recently, arresting of few of legislators of All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) party by the Central Agencies is alleged as a conspiracy by the Central Government as few other politicians from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been put out of arrest citing other legal procedure. But, more or less, such a hastening approach in the arresting of TMC legislators tend to be an indication of politicisation of civil servants as alleged by the other political parties. Hence, civil servants need to be apolitical and professional sound while making any decision.

In conclusion, civil servants happen to be a steel-frame and architect of the progress and development of the society due to their expertise, sound professionalism, apolitical approach, and permanency of tenure for serving the nation. Hence, civil services conduct rules need to be strictly followed while exercising their duties towards the nation. The civil servants must prioritize their focus, commitment and responsibilities while performing duties. They must show loyalty to the government by executing policies effectively not by showing courtesies, regard, and closeness of the politicians in public ceremonies except the protocol as prescribed in-office manual.

* (Author: Dr Ahmed Raza, Assistant Professor, MANUU (a central university) & Project Director, (MRP, ICSSR), Ministry of Education, Government of India)

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