The Spokes of Ashok Chakra- IAS and India

What image does the word “sarkari officer” produce in your mind?

An oily haired, bespectacled, pot-bellied, bored middle-aged man sitting behind a wooden desk, beneath a portrait of a beaming Bapu. He comes to office late, aboard the white, curvaceous clone of 1948 Morris Oxford complete with siren and flashing blue light; orders tea and rummages through dusty files, all along cursing the ruling party for not increasing the DA. Any request to meet him is vetoed by the ardali’s platonic “Saab is in a meeting”. When he is not devising new excuses to delay work, he’s rubbing shoulders with politicians and businessmen, doling out favours – for a price.

Hard to imagine that this same fellow once made a model robot in a college in Massachusetts that could talk and serve tea, or had dazzled the Armani suit clad gentlemen of Goldman Sachs with his profound  knowledge of Asian economy. That perhaps he had thronged the classrooms of Harvard or Cambridge, won multiple awards for his research in “Women and Gender Equality in rural India”, which ultimately secured him a PhD from JNU.

Can you compare the stark differences between the above two illustrations?

They are the same men. Just different designations.

As The Tribune puts it, “IAS converts brilliant young minds into dull, corrupt and inefficient men”.

IAS- “I’m Arrogant Service”

So how did the steel frame of administration gather rust?

The IAS, or ICS (Indian Civil Service) as it was called at that time, was the brainchild of Lord Cornwallis, the third Governor General of India. The officers were chosen from prominent English families through a tough competitive exam and enjoyed tremendous clout. After independence, both Nehru and Sardar Patel carefully nurtured the service. To induct efficiency, the service was broadly divided into:

  • IAS (Indian Administrative Service)
  • IFS (Indian Foreign Service)
  • IPS (Indian Police Service)
  • IRS (Indian Revenue Service)

and a host of allied services like IAAS, IRTS, IDAS, IFoS etc.

Despite this fragmentation, the IAS retained its clout amongst its less powerful cousins, both in rank and pay (and it still does…).

The first signs of decay appeared during the Emergency of 1975. The dictatorial government began giving more weightage to blind loyalty and unquestioned obedience over the efficiency and integrity of the officers.  As Shah Commission puts it, “IAS officers practiced forging of records, fabrication of grounds of detention, ante-dating detention orders and callous disregard of the rights of detainees etc”. Ironically, this period also marked the beginning of ministerial interference.

Bureaucrats began to view loyalty to ruling party as an important ingredient for career advancement.

They began cosying up to their political masters, eager to show their servility and devotion to earn a favour or two. A cushy posting in Finance or Industrial Ministry, central deputation, overseas postings (in UN, IMF, World Bank etc), a plum post-retirement stay in Information Commissionarate, Election Commission or as CAG.

Recent reports reveal the large number of tribunals and commissions erected solely as a haven for retired “babus”.

In North Indian states like UP or Rajasthan, a DM has to be approved by a string of local political bigwigs before appointment. He has to fulfil a number of requirements in terms of religion, caste, proximity to governments, both in centre and the state, his past records of “honesty”…. and so on. An “Outstanding” or “Average” in one’s “Annual Performance Appraisal Report” or APAR plays little part in this decision.

(Source: “Bureaucrazy: IAS Unmasked” by M.K.Kaw)

The corridors of power.
The corridors of power.

With the opening of the floodgates of Indian economy in 1991, a horde of business barons, at home and abroad, entered the Indian political arena. These wealthy oligarchs changed the face of government functioning, giving birth to a new era of “lobbying”. Our babus with faded full shirts and worn away shoes looked at them with awe. They decided to join hands with this new power.

Hence arose a powerful nexus between politics-business-bureaucracy and, last but not the least, the mafia.

They would be soon joined by the TRP hungry media.

Neera Radia tape is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the crazy world of Lutyen’s, Delhi, where power equations changes at the drop of a hat, an IAS officers position is directly proportional to his proximity to the ruling party and indirectly proportional to his honesty.

Nowadays, every morning we wake up to news of some bureaucrat being victimised as they had the guts to take on local political goons and influential businessmen. As the service is protected by the Constitution, the politicians have unleashed a “Transfer raj“. Most recent victims of the “system” are Durga Shakti Nagpal (slapped with a transfer due to her conflict with UP sand mafia), Amit Kataria (who was reprimanded for sporting shades before the PM, himself a fashionista who can put Sonam Kapoor to shame), Ashok Khemkha (the DLF row with national “Jijaji” Robert Vadra and more recen probing of irregularities in Haryana Traffic Dept – taking the tally to over 50 transfers in  years of service. Just think of his poor family…), Raju Narayanswami (IIT-ian shunned to a inferior post) and the list goes on and on.

Some aren’t even lucky enough for a threat. The likes of Narendra Kumar (an IPS officer of Bihar who was crushed to death by sand mafia), DK Ravi (who faced a mysterious death), Yashwant Sonewane (who was burnt alive by oil mafia) and countless others were martyred by the service.

No justice for these martyrs. Not yet..
No justice for these martyrs. Not yet..

We often nullify the bureaucracy as useless machinery, a breeding ground of red tapism and corruption.

But in a county where a chunk of our elected representatives are either mere graduates (76%) or worse illiterate, with 34% of them facing grievous criminal charges, where efficiency of Parliament is lesser than the GDP of Somalia; it is the non-political executive – the “steel frame” – which holds together this madness.

When ministers like Sushil Kumar Shinde, Smriti Irani and Saddhvi Jyoti are given charge of important portfolios, it’s the IAS prefixed secretaries who run the ministry. Arun Jaitley or Kapil Sibbal may be great counsels, but their experience in Finance and Telecom is limited. That’s where our babus swing into action.

It’s the brightest minds of our country which puts together a budget, manages relief during floods, decides loan waiver to burdened farmers and educational grants to orphanages.

It is easy to criticise and laugh, but difficult to convert it into actions. They may not cover our borders or cook our meals, but they, who abandon fat corporate pay packages and luxurious lives, they who work from dawn to dusk to ensure a village gets proper water supply, they who brave 40.c heat to inspect Maoist’s  land mines, those who try to protect public purse despite threats of transfer and demotion, they too deserve our respect.

Jai Hind!

– Illegal Scribe

 (Source of some data: The Economist

(Source: First Post.