Bureaucracy follows master’s voice
It has become an annual ritual. Come April 21, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address the bloated Indian bureaucracy to celebrate the Civil Services Day. Young IAS, IPS officers and their rather cynical seniors will be lectured on the need for a corruption free, meritorious and politically neutral bureaucracy. It will be stressed ad nauseam on the youngsters that in parliamentary democracy like India, merit is the way forward and not political connections. The routine will be completed after cabinet secretary of the day will write demi-official (DO) letters to all state chief secretaries and other concerned mandarins conveying the need for less political interference at district levels and proper tenures at the cutting edge levels for good governance. Unlike US and China, India on the face of it does not have system of spoils where government jobs are given as rewards for bringing a political party to power or with a regime change. China at present is going through the throes of change with vice president Xi Jinping ready to succeed incumbent Hu Jintao this year and no less than 6,000 jobs are up for grabs. As if proud of their imperial past or for lack of innovational courage, Indian bureaucracy is permanent and supposedly non-partisan as its British counterpart for continuity in governance. The facts, however, speak otherwise with the Indian bureaucratic system has degenerated into a mix of pelf, political patronage, spoils, seniority and at times even merit. The easiest way to sum it up is: You show me the person and I will show you the rule. The result is that the administrative acumen at both centre and state government levels has gone down drastically with mandarins ready as ever to curry favor with the political masters of the day. This corrupted system has even eaten into the vital organs of the state with political clout being used for appointments in military and intelligence. Consider this:
• Before she swept to power in West Bengal last June, then railway minister and TMC leader Mamata Bannerjee ensured that her favorite officer PK Mehta, a 1977 batch IPS officer way down in seniority list, was appointed director general of Railway Protection Force (RPF). The incumbent at that time Ranjit Sinha was put on compulsory wait and Mehta was appointed with Mamata calling up home ministry from election campaign in Bengal to confirm the appointment of Mehta. He was appointed as DG even though IPS officers two years senior to him and way up in merit are still waiting for their promotion to DG.
• BSP supremo Mayawati ensured that her protégé Shashank Shekhar Singh, a politically savvy pilot, was appointed to the unheard post of cabinet secretary to UP government during her five year tenure as UP chief minister. Shekhar Singh ensured that the state chief secretary and the DGP were reduced to ciphers. Her successor Akhilesh Yadav has done no better as the entire bureaucracy has been purged off so-called Mayawati supporters this week. In UP, it is actually the system of spoils is working with the civil services rule book thrown out of the window.
• Appointments to plum postings at the centre are no different. For the first time cabinet secretary Ajit Seth is senior to the principal secretary to Prime Minister Pulok Chatterji and both hardly have an experience in working as secretaries to Government of India. While Seth has spent more time as UP’s resident commissioner in Delhi, Chatterji has been associated with Congress president Sonia Gandhi as her private secretary with only a brief stint as secretary in the PMO.
• Coming back to power for the historic second consecutive time, the Akali-BJP government in Punjab appointed Sumedh Singh Saini, a relatively junior IPS officer of 1982 batch, as DG Punjab this month over the claims of his seven seniors in the state. While many argue that Saini’s appointment was on grounds of merit, his detractors say that he was given the plum post due to his proximity with the Akalis.
There are several other examples to prove that politicization of the Indian bureaucracy and even the armed forces is a rule rather than an exception. Perhaps the Indian system would be best served through the declared systems of spoils with each regime change bringing its own set of mandarins to handle governance. Maybe the government in that case would be able to deliver better governance as babus would be working for a political party without any compromise or sabotage from within. A non-permanent bureaucracy would perhaps be more accountable though still very difficult to predict on count of honesty. As mediocrity is anathema to merit, the latter cannot be a criterion for bureaucratic appointments in times of weak coalition governments and mediocre rulers.