Dialogue October-December, 2011, Volume 13 No. 2


Editorial Perspective



Bureaucracy: Inner Fault-lines and Mal-administration


Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister of Independent India, laid stress on receiving free, frank, well-considered and objective advice from the senior civil servants. The Gopalaswamy Ayyangar Committee on Reorganisation of Government Machinery, in as early as 1948, was of the same opinion when it said: “No less a danger is the Secretary who says ‘yes’ to everything that falls from the lips of the Minister”. The situation gradually worsened, as C.D. Deshmukh wrote in 1974 in his autobiography (The Course of My Life): “no civil servant is any longer appreciated for speaking or writing without fear or favour”. There was gradual downwards slide even after that. The ground rules laid down for the functioning of the civil servants for his ministry by the then Information and Broadcasting Minister in P. V. Narasimha Rao government (1990-1995) said: “Servants should not speak till the master permits” and “You are not to apply your mind, you are just to do what you are told”. This was a position worse than that of a ‘courtier’, as even a courtier’s advice was sought and followed in the past. Here, it needs mention that the terms ‘senior civil servants’ and ‘courtiers’ were interchangeably used during 18th century.

      Maladies in administration due to political interference has come out in the memoirs of some of our senior-most civil servants - T. S .R. Subramanian, former cabinet secretary (Journeys Through Babudom and Netaland: Governance in India), B.G. Deshmukh, former cabinet secretary (A Cabinet Secretary Looks Back: From Poona to the Prime Minister’s Office), Madhav Godbole, former Home Secretary (Recollections and Reflections of a Civil Servant) and others. According to Subramanian: “No one can now aspire to a posting in ministry in Delhi, unless his or her name is vigorously sponsored. Ministers ask for specific officers, whom they know from before, for posting in the ministry, even at junior levels. The merest wish of an official of the PMO becomes a command to the system. The personnel department at the centre has become helpless in enforcing the existing regulations. Even the cabinet secretariat has been overwhelmed, unable to stem the rot in recent years. This system has sent strong messages to entire cadres of aspiring civil servants that hard work and performance are irrelevant — the path is to gain effective access to one or more in power. 0f course, there is a price to pay for the shortcut. The carefully built up structure for identifying suitable officers for posting in Delhi has by now been demolished.”

     He further writes: “Traditionally, the secretary in a ministry has been the minister’s advisor, much as the cabinet secretary used to be the prime minister’s administrative advisor. This system has been seriously subverted since 1980s by the staff officer to the minister eclipsing the legitimate role of the secretary and emerging as rival power centre within the ministry. This is akin to the decimation by the PMO, also taking place, of the essential role of the cabinet secretariat.” B. G. Deshmukh also reports about PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) playing “an influential part, often overshadowing the cabinet secretary”. He also informs about another centre of power, the Prime Minister’s House (PMH), which was “also very active, M. L. Fotedar and Captain Satish Sharma constituting a powerful PMH”. He also writes about the appointment of P.K. Kaul, as cabinet secretary superceding his seniors and Rajiv Gandhi humiliating senior civil servants.

    Political interference in matters of transfers and postings was widespread, as was the experience of T.S.R. Subramanian, as the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh. He writes: “The political interference encountered in matters of transfers and postings is by no means unique to Uttar Pradesh. In many states, by all accounts, the chief secretary has by now given up the ghost. Many even do not pretend that they participate in postings and transfers of senior officials of the state.” According to him, such things impede good governance; the officers become ‘pliant and unprincipled’; the public servant becomes private servant. It is shocking to learn the auctioning of senior positions.

      Thus, at present, a large number of civil servants have close affinity with the ministers. Extraneous factors are at work in postings, promotions and post-retirement appointments on statutory bodies and other agencies leading to nexus formation. They lack emotional attachment to the national/social cause. Numerous bureaucrats are working for safeguarding the interests of the political parties in power and in turn theirs. Transparency and good governance, naturally, becomes the first casualty. Under. such circumstances, honest officers suffer frequent arbitrary shifts from one post to another. However, in spite of harassment and indiscriminate transfers of honest officers, we have a large number of civil servants with integrity, who are not pliable.

      As discussed above, clearly the political interference is a major factor responsible for the rot in the system. However, that can not be the only factor. In reality, permutation and combination of many factors are at work. Many factors responsible for the same are inherent in the system itself. The bureaucracy tenaciously maintains its colonial character; it combines with the political elite to resist change. That is precisely the reason that the reports of the committees and commissions gather dust, irrespective of the departments related to administration, law, policing, or other; old colonial laws, rules and regulations continue to have currency. Careerism and colaborativeness is ingrained in the very mindset of a bureaucrat; this explains (a) intra-bureaucratic fault-lines, (b) politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus formation. Intra-bureaucratic fault-lines make it easier for a politician to harass an honest civil servant, and there can not be politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus without willing collaboration. Here, it needs mention that Nitish Kumar, during his last term as the Chief Minister of Bihar, endeavored to minimize political interference in the state administration and was successful to a large extent; corruption rather increased. It is now, in his present term, that he is taking steps to curb it. The North-Eastern States are the densest administered ones, but the States have failed to deliver.

     The competitive examinations on which the selection of incumbents for civil services is based evaluate the information gathered, rather than on the candidates’ wisdom, their attitude, their behaviour based on the value-system,. The candidates, who do not have the values as part of their being — the values flowing from his family and social background — behave differently. Unfortunately, the colonial education, of which the Marxists are the greatest supporters, has nothing to do with the values and the traditions. For them the interest of the server is at the centre; the interest of the served gets marginalized. Evidently, that is also the source of corruption and mal-administration.

     The British, with a view to serve colonial purpose initiated ‘Indian Civil Service (ICS)’ and other colonial services. It was necessary that the incumbents should have the appropriate mindset for best service to the empire. The academic input for the ICS, IP (Imperial Police), etc. was planned accordingly based on distorted version of Indian history, culture, tradition, religion, etc. As for example they prescribed Mills’s History of British India for examinees of the ICS, about which Max Mueller (India, What can it teach us? p. 92) writes:

     “This book which I consider most mischievous, nay, which I hold most responsible for some of the greatest misfortunes that have happened in India, is Mill’s ‘History of British India’, even with the antidote against its poison, which is supplied by Professor Wilson’s notes.”

      “Mill’s History, no doubt, you all know, particularly the candidates of Indian Civil Service, who, I am sorry to say, are recommended to read it and are examined in it. Still in order to substantiate my condemnation of the book, I shall have to give a few proofs:

     “Mills in his estimate of the Hindu character is chiefly guided by Dubois, a French Missionary, and by Orme and Buchanan, Tennant and Ward, all of them neither very competent nor very unprejudiced judges. Mill, however, picks out all that is most unfavourable from their works, and omits the qualifications which even these writers felt bound to give to their wholesale condemnation of the Hindus. He quotes as serious, for instance, what was said in joke, namely, that ‘a Brahman is a ant’s nest of lies and impostures.’ Next to the charge of untruthfulness, Mill upbraids Hindus for what he calls their litigiousness.”

     Another source of confusion have been the Marxist infiltration in the system, education, politics and the media. Raj Thapar’s All These Years and Mohit Sen’s A Travel/or and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist gives an insight about the same. Excerpts from Raj Thapar’s book about the appointment of communists by P.N. Haksar, during Indira Gandhi’s regime, ‘at breakneck speed’, Thapars being the ‘stepping stones’, ‘courtier like attitude’ of the Marxist job-seekers, etc. is revealing. Raj writes:

    "To me it was a kind of vulgar deception using leftist ideas and words, but once disrobed they revealed the same sordid naked ego ....  one by one Haksar picked up his colleagues of those days, hoping to bring about an unsuspecting revolution from the top.”(Raj, 298-99)"... "Haksar was making appointments at breakneck speed, some of which afforded us much amusement." (p. 317)

   “On the occasional evening we dropped to see the Haksars. Parmeshwar (Haksar) would be surrounded by job-seekers, all leftists of the thirties, now sporting their leftism in word, not deed. There was K.T. Chandi from Kerala, originally senior officer in Levers, now seeking a larger status and so befriending us to begin with, coming over to the house straight from the airport, transferring to Parameshwar when Parameshwar was in position, sitting almost at his feet by the hour until he was appointed steel czar, Chairman of Hindustan Steel. Then there was Nurul Hasan, round and flabby, rather like a jelly, supposedly a good professor of history, which had inspired him to set his sights some place higher, and Parmeshwar’s study was the obvious point to begin with. It was like the durbars of old except that the conversations would be mouthed in marxist jargon even though it could not hide the groveling and cringing undertones which clung tenaciously to words and gestures. We had been stepping stones. With Parmeshwar they arrived, Nurul Hasan to become Minister of Education. We still respected Haksar’s judgement and it was only the courtier-like attitude which we found somewhat disconcerting."

     “Mohan Kumarmangalam also got into the act, drifting away from us after seeking an introduction from Ramesh to Indira even though he had known her for much longer than we had, then taking to breakfasting with Parmeshwar. It was like being at the start of a game of snakes and ladders, all in the process of climbing, unaware of the snakes at the top, or — perhaps confident of dealing with them. Its an ugly thing, this capacity to manipulate for the advancement of self. Not even that, because only the material self is catered to. All the little things. A car at the tarmac for Mohan, as he once confessed after he became Chairman of Indian Airlines, ‘only because I was late for a meeting. Or. K.T. Chandy opening up the VIP lounge at the airport, insisting on it. They all got a thrill out of extending the distance between themselves and the average man. To me it was a kind of vulgar deception using leftist ideas and words, but once disrobed they revealed the same sordid, naked ego.” (Raj: p. 299)

      The root cause of the malady of Marxism in India lies in Marx himself, who believed and wrote that “Indian society has no history at all. What we call its history, is but the history of successive intruders.” He wrote that the question is “not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton.” The reality is that Marx fully borrowed the contempt of British Imperial scholars like Mill for India. Like many Euro-centric European scholars, and from whom Marx heavily borrowed and synthesized and made their thought saleable, he believed Asia to be barbarous and Christian-Europe as civilizer. According to Marx, all the cultural, industrial models, belonging to “pre-history” are moving by a historical necessity towards Anglo-Saxon model. Marx, who approved the destructive role of British empire in India, did not know that India, except for brief period, topped the world economy for long 17 centuries. It was the destructive role of the British that its economy and education declined. During 0 CE, India’s contribution in global GDP was 32.9%, where as that of China and Western Europe was 26.2% and 10.8% respectively. The corresponding figures during 1700 CE were 24.4%, 22.3% and 22.5% respectively. Thus Europe was behind India even after massive global plunder. Needless to say that heavy doze of Marxist intellectual input in the course content of the competitive examinations in our country, which is a reality, produces confused civil servants.           

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  — B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati