At higher levels, we have Secretaries to State governments and police chiefs who have totally surrendered to Ministers and prefer to share the spoils.
The PMO, supposedly manned by the most competent civil servants in the country, is at the epicentre of this clannish coterie and is itself afflicted by major shams and scams, the latest being the secretive ISRO-Devas deal, which is being desperately concealed with the connivance of the media. The Thomas episode is further evidence of these in breeders stooping to any depth to make the country a “Republic of Scams” and destroying institutions in the process.
Be that as it may, let us hark back to 1922 and recall the prophetic words of India’s first Governor-General, CR Rajagopalachari, then a freedom-fighter: “Elections and corruption, injustice and the power and tyranny of wealth and inefficiency of administration will make hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us.”
PERHAPS this dire prediction was at the back of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s mind when he wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in April 1948, advocating the formation of an independent civil service, in the functioning of which “political considerations, either in its recruitment or in its discipline and control, are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether”. This was strongly opposed by the Chief Ministers of the States and many members of the Constituent Assembly. In his speech to this Assembly in October 1949, the Sardar said: “The Indian Union will go. You will not have a united India if you do not have a good All India Services which has independence to speak out its advice – if you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present system, substitute something else.”
Sardar Patel had his way and the AIS was established to “give a fair and just administration to the country and manage it on an even keel”. To ensure this and safeguard the civil servants from the “vicissitudes of political convulsions”, these services were covenanted in the Constitution.
Set up under such challenges, the civil services had the basic philosophy of delivering de-centralized, good and honest governance to all citizens and uplifting the poor and the downtrodden. Such governance would pursue an equitable, small-is-beautiful, need-based, human scale, balanced development while conserving nature and livelihoods. But most of today’s mandarins are pursuing the MNC agenda of turning the country into a 300-million-strong rich/middle-class market through FDI-funded, big-ticket projects by mortgaging the resources of the nation, leaving the 900 million “laggards” in the lurch.
A majority of the population pays bribes to access revenue services, municipal services, public distribution, healthcare, education, electricity, land records, registration, forest, housing and so on.
In the event, civil servants have been dragged into the very vicissitudes of convulsive politics, scams and scandals against which they were supposed to be a bulwark. They have become accessories to the colossal corruption that in the last five years alone has exceeded the British colonial loot of India of about a trillion dollars. Due to the collective failure of civil servants in living up to the covenant of the Constitution, India’s democracy has diminished, giving place to a “kleptocracy” – a government of the thieves, by the thieves, for the thieves!
India conscientiously adopted the permanent civil service system. But, over time, it has descended into a spoils system, imbibing the worst of both. In the event, despite Constitutional protection, civil servants have abdicated their independence and political neutrality and have become willing pawns in the hands of ruling politicians. Many of them have compromised and some have become their joint-venture partners to enjoy prized postings while in service, grab coveted post-retirement sinecures, acquire properties and set up benami outfits to run business and corner lucrative contracts. Serving corrupt carpetbaggers has become their mantra, the aam aadmi be damned. This is a crisis situation for the civil services.
Is there hope? Yes, if civil servants revert to the constitutional scheme of things from which they have drifted and reinvent themselves to become a fearless, independent, honest and efficient entity bound by an esprit de corps which is absent now. For this, a few colonial and neo-colonial hangovers such as “bureaucratic gagging”, “subservience to political masters”, “too much protection” as well as the jack-of-all-trades culture should be done away with. Also to be discarded are obnoxious practices like clannish inbreeding and servile sinecure-hunting.
The message is clear: Civil servants, unite and assert; you have nothing to lose but your servility. The choice is obvious – resurgence or swansong!