Servile service

A frontal attack on communalism will be ineffective if it is not part of a larger campaign for good governance

The Gujarat carnage has once again proved that the Indian Administrative Service, which heads the law and order machinery in India, cannot be trusted to act with fairness and objectivity. Rather than follow dictates of the Constitution most of them got swayed by their communal prejudices and willingly allowed themselves to be governed by the local politicians, in the process forgetting that they were duty–bound to save the lives of innocent citizens.

Three issues need to be probed; the changing nature of politics in India, the response of the civil service to it; and the legitimacy that Hinduisation has provided to both politics and administration, which has otherwise completely failed to solve the real social and economic problems of the common people.

Political pressure can be healthy if it results in greater demand on administration for efficiency and better services to the people. Pressures properly regulated and wisely tempered, improve the spirit of administration and help to keep it on an even keel. Unfortunately, the main problem today is that the politics of the country has itself become divorced from public welfare and is more concerned with narrow sectarian interests.

Politicians think that electoral behaviour can be manipulated through precipitating caste or some other populist wave at the time of elections, which does not require sustained work in the constituency. At the same time, elections require funds, which have to come through the looting of the government treasury.

The political system is accountable to those who are behind the individual MLAs/MPs; these are often contractors, mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and manipulators who have made money through using the political system and are therefore interested in the continuation of chaos and patronage–based administration.

A vast gap exists between the stated and unstated objectives of government. On paper, the avowed objective of government is to give clean administration, but many posts are auctioned to the highest bidder. Corruption is rampant. People have unfortunately accepted the position as fait accompli and resigned themselves to their fate. They, too, tend to seek short cuts and exploit the system by breaking rules or approaching mafia gangs and politicians for favours.
Democracy in most developing countries is not about people; it is about access to state power. Entry into the political arena is driven by a desire for personal gain, not by a genuine commitment to serving the people. The state’s resources are the most valued prize for both politicians and their constituencies, which leads to a client–patron relationship between the holders of state power and those seeking favours.

Patronage is controlled by individuals, not established institutions bound to follow set procedures. Where power is highly personalised and weakly institutionalised, the political process is replaced by arbitrary and informal transactions. In such an environment, access to power and material resources leads to the fudging of rules (show me the person and I will show you the rule), plundering of public treasury, dependence upon intermediaries, and decay of governance. When the fence itself starts eating the field, there is little chance of the survival of the rule of law.

Winston Churchill, on the eve of India’s Independence, had said, “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.” What appeared as a scandalous outburst then may be called an understatement now!

The power–hungry IAS officer, soon after his recruitment, gives up studies, and sees no reason for making efforts to improve his skills. There is then an exponential growth in both his ignorance and arrogance.

Civil Service
India started with a competent and motivated civil service (though it was pro–rules and not pro–people), but in the course of the last thirty years the service has lost much of its dynamism and autonomy. It has ended up as being a stooge in the hands of its wily politicians. The political morose has affected the civil service, too, though reasons for the decline in its performance are many.

Some such as secrecy, cumber-some procedures and unnecessary controls are well known. Here we will highlight two more factors: unplanned expansion of the IAS in the 1970s and 80s, and lack of professionalism.

In a north Indian state, where previously one officer used to be the secretary of medical and health, now there are five secretaries doing the job of one; four are in charge of health, family planning, medical, and medical edu-cation respectively, whereas the fifth one, as principal secretary, oversees the work of these four secretaries! With the changing role of govern-ment, the bloated size of the civil service no longer relates to the nature of functions that government can or should undertake.

The proliferation of promo-tion posts (though carrying little challenge) has apparently been done to avoid demoralisation of individual civil servants due to stagnation, but the net result has been just the opposite. First, it leads to cut-throat competition within the service to get into more important slots. The old camaraderie has given place to a rat race. Instances are not lacking when IAS officers wanting a plum job, say a foreign posting, have gone to the press denigrating their competitors.

This has also resulted in the decline of superior–subordinate relations, even when both are from the IAS. Previously, the junior officer was always a colleague, now he appears more as a subordinate wanting favours from his superior. The annadata and the maibap culture of  bygone feudal days now pervades the IAS. Second, this no–holds–barred competition is then exploited by politicians in playing up one against the other leading to officers becoming more pliable. Third, for IAS officers in marginalised positions govern-ment seems remote, heartless and more unjust now than ever before. Previously, IAS officers were the government, now the individual officer considers himself alienated from government. Many have gone to the tribunals and courts for promotions and postings, a phenomenon that was unknown ten years ago.

Lack of professionalism
A high degree of professionalism ought to be the dominant characteristic of a modern bureaucracy. The fatal failing of the Indian bureaucracy has been its low level of professional competence. The power–hungry IAS officer, soon after his recruitment, gives up studies, and sees no reason for making efforts to improve his skills. There is then an exponential growth in both his ignorance and arrogance.

It is said that in the house of an IAS officer one would find only three books — the railway time-table, because he is always on the move, a news magazine because that is the only book he reads, and of course, the civil list that describes how many in the system are above him. Stagnation in his intellectual calibre leads him to believe that the state structure has been created to pander to his ego. When the world is moving fast to a new goal oriented culture, the IAS officer is sliding back to the 18th century mentality.

The IAS officer is not so much worried of a transfer per se, as he is worried of being transferred to a job that carries no patronage or perks. He would use all kinds of pulls and pressures — both adminis-trative and political — to avoid it. In addition to the fear of marginalisation, another factor which contributes to the surrender of senior officers before political masters is the total lack of any market value and lack of alternative employment potential. Beyond govern-ment they have no future, because their talents are so few.

The only job for which they were suitable, that of liaison officers for the private sector, would also no longer be available to them as the process of liberal-isation of the economy gains momentum. Most IAS officers thus end up as dead wood within a few years of joining the service and their only talent lies in manipu-lation and jockeying for positions within government.

The IAS serves the State but the State structure is itself getting increasingly dysfunctional and diminished. In some north Indian states parallel authority struc-tures and mafia gangs have emerged. Tribal regions in central and north–east India are out of bounds for normal administration. In such a situation it is no surprise if the bureaucracy, too, is in a bad shape.

There is greater integration now both socially and in terms of group objectives between the members of the IAS and the politicians of that state. Many civil servants are deeply involved in partisan politics: they are preoccupied with it, penetrated by it, and now participate individually and collectively in it.

This is understandable, though unfortunate, because between expression of the will of the State (represented by politicians) and the execution of that will (through the administrators) there cannot be any long–term dichotomy. In other words, a model in which politicians will be communal, corrupt and harbourers of criminals, whereas civil servants would be secular, responsive and behave as change–agents cannot be an equilibrium position. In the long run, administrative and political values have to coincide.
Over the years, whatever little virtues the civil services possessed — integrity, political neutrality, courage and high morale — are showing signs of decay. The impact of low self–image, identity crisis and complete alienation from peoples’ concerns has led them to strange and deviant behaviour. Some of the newspaper headlines truly depict the morass to which the IAS has sunk. ‘IAS officer caught shop–lifting’, ‘Chief secretary expelled from the IAS association’, ‘Several IAS officers jailed for corruption’, etc. Now, IAS officers should include in their career graph a stint in jail, not as jail superintendent or IG Prisons, but as jail inmates!

While defending the continuation of the All India Services, Sardar Patel had said, “They are as good as we are.” At that time it was taken as a big compliment that the civil service was being compared with statesmen who had won freedom for the country. One does not know how many civil servants will like to be told today that they are like politicians. But things have moved a full circle, and perhaps many of them have become like politicians; the English–speaking politicians, corrupt, with short–term targets, narrow horizons, feudal outlook, disrespect for norms, contributing nothing to the welfare of the nation, empty promises, and no action.

Rather than try to improve the delivery system, most IAS officers are compromising with the rot and accepting a diminished role for themselves by becoming agents of exploitation in a State structure which now resembles more the one in the medieval period — authoritarian, brutal, directionless, and callous to the needs of the poor.

A few lucky and ambitious civil servants may be able to rise above all this, by joining the UN and other such organisations. Their material success will further fuel the desire of the ordinary members of the service to enrich themselves by hook or by crook. In the process they would become totally indistinguish-able from other rent–seeking parasites — politicians, inspectors and babus.

Perhaps they had not imagined that they would end up like this at the time of joining the service. Stagnation in their intellectual capabilities and a decline in self-esteem has further demoralised them. Marginalisation and corruption are thus likely to coexist in the IAS for quite sometime to come.

Hinduisation of Gujarat society has come as a golden opportunity, for both the discredited politicians and the ineffective bureaucracy, to gain legitimacy and distract the attention of the people from their day–to–day problems. If the majority community has no feelings of shame or remorse in perpetrating the orgy of violence in Ahmedabad and other places, and if they have no expectation of good governance from adminis-tration, then why should the ruling elite not exploit this situation? They cannot make teachers teach or government doctors attend to patients, or fair price shops supply foodgrains, but can surely promise a Ram Rajya. It requires much less political and administrative effort.

The rise of Hindu fundamental-ism in Gujarat serves several objectives. It helps the lower castes’ acceptance within the Hindu fold, so long as they do the dirty work of brutal confrontation against the minorities on behalf of the high castes. It also absolves the rulers from their responsibility of providing clean, equitous and humane administration.

A frontal attack on communalism will be ineffective if it is not part of a larger campaign for good governance.            
Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2002, Anniversary Issue (9th), Year 9  No. 80, Servile service




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