Rarely do civil servants stick their necks out to make powerful politicians accountable to law. That’s usually the stuff of which Bollywood scripts are made.
Little surprise then that a young woman IPS officer, Anju Gupta made disproportionately huge headlines for her deposition on events that led to the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992 in Ayodhya. Her USP? She was by the side of L K Advani that fateful day as his personal security officer.
L K Advani
Gupta’s account of the BJP leader’s conduct — while kar sewaks razed down the mosque with hammers, crowbars and shovels— is quite damning and has driven Hindutva zealots into a counter-offensive against her person. Anju retains her maiden name. But BJP propagandists have deviously begun referring to her as Anju Gupta Rizvi to bring in the fact of her marriage to a Muslim IAS officer on the staff of Home Minister P Chidambaram.
I’ve known BJP’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad for many years and consider him a dear friend despite our differing political perceptions. So it was quite disheartening when I heard Ravi append the Rizvi name to Anju’s Gupta to communalize her deposition. To me, his comment in a TV discussion was nothing but a repeat of the BJP’s desperate bid to discredit then CEC J M Lyngdoh while he studied the ground situation in Gujarat to convince himself of its demand for elections after the post-Godhra riots. A pro-BJP newspaper whose editor was later sent to Parliament ran a headline using the EC’s full name–James Micheal Lyngdoh – to show him as a cohort of Sonia Gandhi against whom a campaign was already afoot to present the people a choice between Ram Raj and Rome Raj.
I’ve no problem with political leaders and parties exposing their rivals or calling each other names. But they must leave civil servants alone.
They owe it to the country to ensure that bureaucrats do not act under political threats or pressure. Or else, their assurances on administrative reforms are unadulterated hogwash.
One can safely say in retrospect that Lyngdoh was an upright officer who gracefully receded into the background on completion of his tenure as CEC.
Unlike his predecessors T N Seshan and M S Gill, he didn’t run after political power after leaving the Nirvachan Sadan.
The ‘either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us’ approach shouldn’t be applied to civil servants whose tenure does end every five years. I’ve known bureaucrats who served opposing parties with equal distinction while they held political power. Albeit for its own political reasons, didn’t the BJP lead NDA consider P C Alexander— who served in Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s PMOs— for the presidency? Even APJ Abdul Kalam, whom the BJP eventually made President, got equal respect as India’s missile man under Congress dispensations.
Civil servants can indeed be categorized as good and bad and as corrupt and honest. While rotten apples have to be dealt with, better ones have to be preserved as national assets. The likes of M N Buch, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander to name a few, have kept people’s faith in what P S Appu (also an IAS) called the Indian Automatic Service.
Civil services have to be automated, in fact, against all aberrations —systemic or individual centric. Advani’s lawyers reserve the right to cross-examine Anju Gupta in the CBI court. But that shouldn’t prevent the former Deputy PM from making BJP’s spin-doctors mind the language they use for the doughty IPS officer outside the court precincts.