Whatever happened with the lady IAS officer, Durga Shakti, in Uttar Pradesh suspension within 41 minutes maybe shocking, but could well have been anticipated by the way the relationship between the political masters and the bureaucrats had evolved in the last several decades.
The Indian Administrative Service IAS was considered to be the steel frame of the Indian governance and top civil servants took pride in the fact that the best of the persons in the country would opt for the service and work towards nation-building with zeal, enthusiasm, honesty, and without bothering much about political affiliation and the whims and fancies of the political masters.
That could well have been true in the initial heydays of Indian bureaucracy, but by the time even Nehru’s term as the prime minister came to an end in 1964 a full 17 years he himself could not avoid accepting the fact that one of his biggest failure was not being able to reform the administration.
That was then, and later within a period of almost two decades, with Indira, Rajeev and sundry other prime ministers at the helm of affairs, the top Indian bureaucracy had become so committed unfortunately committed to the individuals in powerful positions, and the parties in power, rather than public interest and nation-building that despite enormous protection provided by the Constitution to the top bureaucrats, they were disrespectfully equated with one’s cook and personal servants, by a Supreme Court judge.
These intemperate and ill-considered comments came from the bench as written by Madhav Godbole, a writer of repute and a bureaucrat himself.
The cosy relationship between the political masters and bureaucrats was symbiotic as it helped both of them and in the process eroded the sound foundations of once the steel frame now not even having any semblance of a frame. The states led by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh started with a rather bizarre step of voting the most corrupt top bureaucrats.
Without the conscience being shaken, a senior, voted to be highly dishonest and corrupt bureaucrat, lady officer was rewarded with the top bureaucratic position in the state of Uttar Pradesh by Father Yadav. As it was a bit too much to be taken by the people of India, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court against this decision, and the highest court agreed with the public-spirited citizens.
It is widely known and very well documented that a good number of business houses, and with the passage of time petty politicians turned businesspersons, would have a definite say in the transfers, promotions, suspensions and other career decisions of bureaucrats; and it is quite obvious that the least pliable are treated in the shabbiest manner, and Durga Shakti’s suspension within 41 minutes is the recent and blatant example of political obduracy, crassness and avoidable adventurism, which clearly exhibits lack of even a bit of respect to the members of the elitist service of the country.
The question arises for consideration: are the political masters only to be blamed, or is it a two-way process? It has been experienced that when the political masters desired the bureaucrats to bend a little, the latter were willing to crawl.
Now with the political masters used to crawling bureaucrats for so long, it would not be fair to blame the political masters if all of a sudden, one individual challenges the authority. “How dare you?” is the reflex action of the political master, and if there are no signs of remorse by the civil servant, the next step is suspension.
The doors of the courts are always open for both the parties. But, the court can decide only the individual’s case, not provide a remedy for the malaise in the system, which has deep roots and deeper vested interests.
Only the governing class can make things better for bureaucrats, but why would they empower them? Why would they like to make things difficult for themselves? There appears to be no reason as to why the political class would like not to have to do any business with highly capable and malleable individuals handling all their dirty works. And, that is precisely why administrative reforms from the times of Nehru till date have not yielded the desired results.
So, where is the road ahead? It leads to the bureaucrats themselves; and to take any effective action the bureaucrats collectively have to come forward and jointly resolve not to take the unreasonable and unacceptable from the political masters lying down.
That is a tall order given the largesse bestowed by the political masters on the bureaucrats while in service and post-retirement. But, to avoid being threatened, embarrassed, and decimated in the future, the beginning has to be made sometime, somewhere, by someone, and to put things in order, the first step has to be taken by the civil servants unitedly. And they don’t have the luxury of time.