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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 39-42 September 17 - October 8, 2022 - Bumper issue

Civil servants serving interest of their political masters | Arun Srivastava

Friday 16 September 2022

by Arun Srivastava

A group of retired bureaucrats have petitioned the chief election commissioner (CEC), that the AAP be de-recognised as a political party [1] as its leader Arvind Kejriwal has been trying to "induce" public servants in Gujarat to help his party in the state Assembly polls due later this year.

This is indeed a sagacious move and every liberal person possessing moral ethics should appreciate this move. The immediate reason for their writing to the CEC owes to Kejriwal’s observation at his press meet held in Gujarat’s Rajkot on September 3 where he induced the bureaucrats of Gujarat to work in tandem with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to ensure its victory in the election.

No doubt the CEC must take the letter written by the bureaucrats seriously, but the most important question that arises is why Kejriwal mustered courage to induce the bureaucrats in such a blatant manner. The fact is the bureaucrats are to be blamed for the creation of this situation. Once they retire they roar like conscientious lions. But while in service they prefer to become a creature too eager to lift the shoe of the politicians by their teeth. They behave like a spineless mortal.

An insight into the operation of the bureaucrats would underline the fact that they are super politicians. They only act when their own interest is at stake. Their taking umbrage to Kejriwal’s speech speaks more than it meets the eyes. Nevertheless, their move to cleanse the political scenario deserves appreciation. But this also leaves behind some questions. Why do they lack courage while in job to call a spade a spade and to urge their colleagues to totally disapprove of the blatant efforts of the politicians to politicise the civil servants and make them crawl. Is it not a fact that the operation has turned them suspect in the eyes of the people of India and tend to describe them as hypocrites. Is it not their greed for money, material and power that they volunteer to carry out the wrong and anti-people orders of their political masters.

Look at the manner in which the serving bureaucrats are behaving in the Modi Raj. It is an open secret that these bureaucrats have been proactive in harassing innocent citizens, implementing their unconstitutional directives and twisting the set statutory guidelines and norms to help the politicians. The officials attached with ED, IT, and CBI have been putting all kinds of decency in the garbage bin to fulfill the dirty desires of their political bosses. They even do not bother about what nature of embarrassment and humiliation will have to face once the Modi government is replaced by some other government.

Everybody is aware of the fact that a large number of bureaucrats helped the BJP in the assembly election in UP to come back in power. The same thing happened in Bihar. The district magistrates, who officiate as the Returning Officers, denied the certificate to the opposition candidates who had won in the election to the assembly. In some cases, they took back the certificates from the winner and declared the BJP candidates victorious. Where had gone their conscience?

It is certainly not an effort to defend Kejriwal. This has become a norm. Politicians always make "veiled effort" to utilise the officers of the state to "further the electoral prospects" of their parties. Why this realisation did not dawn upon them that such inducements "has a great bearing on the democratic ethos with which India’s elections are conducted"? These bureaucrats at one stage, to be precise while in service, must have been members of their associations, like IAS/IPS/PCS Associations. Why did they not dare to force their associations to raise this issue and ensure that the bureaucrats are not compelled to carry out the wrong and anti-people orders of the politicians?

The officers might be right in their perception that public servants do not owe any allegiance to political parties, but this is an entirely incorrect conception. They not only act simply like a bearer of the order, instead, they enjoy the status of being the conscience keeper of the ministers and politicians. We have seen from close their supine behaviour. It is utopian to believe that would devote their time and energy for working for the furtherance of public welfare and security. The fact of the matter is in pursuit of their mission, they even outright turn anti-people and behave in a very rude and ruthless manner with the common people.

If the officers have been really concerned of the public welfare and had nursed a soft corner for the people, the appeal of governance certainly would not have deteriorated to such an extent. As they did in the case of Kejriwal, these former bureaucrats should have approached the Election Commission and requested it to withdraw recognition of the party which has been using them for its electoral gains. But they did not muster courage to confront the political masters.

The bureaucrats in their letter to CEC had written; "We reiterate that civil servants are meant to be non-partisan and serve the government and the people and execute policies adopted by Parliament and the executive". They should ask themselves whether they have been adhering to their own reiteration. Why the bureaucrats while in service conveniently forget that they are bound by a code of conduct? One thing is certain a politician cannot force a bureaucrat to act like a subservient if he is not spineless.

We have seen how honest officers who are reluctant to carry out the nasty dictates of their political bosses even do not get the support of the fraternity in their task to fight the politician. These officers feel isolated and betrayed. For a politician, civil servants are like tools to be used, misused and, on occasion, even abused. There are many instances where the political boss disowned his decision when it is subsequently ‘discovered’ that it was ‘wrong’.

It is also a bare fact that some officers at the behest of their political masters indulge in the game to malign an honest politician and putting him in trouble. It is not that only the naïve officers become the victims of the dirty designs of the politicians. The seasoned bureaucrats are found to be more involved in such a game. They misuse their understanding of the procedures to help the politicians. We have before us a number of officers who did not allow themselves to be used by the politicians. Of course they had to face the wrath of the politicians. Unfortunately, most of bureaucrats are not willing to suffer.

TSR Subramanian, Bureaucrat’s Bureaucrat, has been one of the rarest officers to keep the politicians in their places. One of the most sought-after figures in the country’s apex civil services, he had become the face of the dignity, pride, and role of public administrators in Indian polity. He went on to serve as Union Cabinet Secretary to three different governments at the Centre between August 1, 1996 and March 31, 1998. He held the office of cabinet secretariat during the tenure of three Prime Ministers: HD Deve Gowda, Indra Kumar Gujral and the early phase of AB Vajpayee. His fight for rights of civil servants, however, didn’t mean that he wasn’t aware of the pivotal position of elected government and representatives in a democratic society.

Good governance in a democracy is possible only if it has a professional bureaucracy. Though the elected executive holds the reins of control over the civil servants, the latter has been more than willing to oblige the politicians to ensure desired transfers or postings for themselves. As a result thereof, the institution of bureaucracy has effectively been emaciated over the years.

There is no denying the fact that civil service has always reflected the traits and character of its political masters who have generally preferred to get their work done without being caught for a wrong move or being held accountable for the decisions taken. In the fodder scam in which Lalu Yadav was described as the alleged prime accused, a number of officers were also involved. Some of them are still in jail. If these officials had put their foot down not to oblige the politicians, the scam would not had happened.

One thing is quite significant, the officials prefer oral instructions from their political masters. The phenomenon of issuing verbal instructions owes its birth to the cozy relationship between the political class and the civil service. Significantly the Supreme Court in its order of October 31, 2013, in response to the petition filed by 83 retired bureaucrats and eminent persons, the Supreme Court had observed, “The civil servants cannot function on the basis of verbal or oral instructions, orders, suggestions, proposals etc and they must also be protected against wrongful and arbitrary pressure exerted by the administrative superiors, political executive, business and other vested interests”. The government-constituted Hota Committee (2004) and Santhanam Committee (1962) on administrative reforms but it is the bureaucracy that has worked as the stumbling block in the implementation of the recommendations. Oral instructions, having become the norm, are anathema to good governance.

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