Is the bureaucracy backing Narendra Modi this Lok Sabha elections?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 - 11:15am IST | Agency: DNA

The latest poll predictions released by NDTV suggest that the BJP along with its allies is all set to cross the 272 mark when the results come on the May 16, giving prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi more than hope to form the next government in New Delhi. 

Behind this success of Modi, is the near-perfect marketing strategy of his government’s achievements in the state of Gujarat, where he still remains as the chief minister after 13 years. However, managing a nation would be a different ball game altogether, and for this Modi would require all the help he can get to fulfil his promises by the country’s tightly knit community of bureaucrats.  The Indian bureaucracy is like no other. It has a life and purpose of its own, and is a significantly under-played factor when it comes to the election season. A good example remains of how the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is often blamed for stalling the Ministry of External Affair’s attempts to hire people from outside the civil services system. Hence, it is vital for a government that the bureaucracy finds itself on a similar page with it, if not necessarily the same one, allowing for a co-existing and amicable environment. Now, considering what Modi has said in the past, some work may be required by the BJP in this area. 

Last month, Modi promised to set up special courts to prosecute MPs, MLAs and so on facing criminal charges if the BJP is brought into power. If this announcement would have sent waves within the Congress party and its allies, the bureaucracy would also be feeling similar jitters. However, unlike the UPA, or in-fact, any government in New Delhi, Indian bureaucrats manage to out-serve most of the country’s public institutions. But as of today, Modi is said to have the backing of the Indian bureaucrats, and he would want this to remain intact if he assumes power in the coming weeks. 

After Modi announced his plan for special courts, he added: “This step will clean up the entire system in one go. We will not differentiate between various political parties while dealing with corruption and criminal cases. The guilty will be punished and those (who are) innocent will be get relief.”

Considering the basket full of scams that happened under the UPA rule over the past decade, a persecution of Congress leaders under a BJP government will definitely mean that the bureaucracy will come under significant scrutiny as well, specifically those at the junior and middle level, who could make for easy fall-backs for the higher-ups and the politicians themselves.

Previously, former officials who had come under scrutiny of the courts during the large scams such as the 2G spectrum case have correctly pointed towards a lack of cohesive and effective regulatory environment due to which scams at such a level were able to take place. The problem that comes up here is that, thanks to the institutional environment and rigidness of the system, many bureaucrats retiring from the civil services themselves lead these very regulatory authorities. Agencies such as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) have previously (in 1999) been disbanded for reportedly being ‘too independent.’ In fact, the current chairman of TRAI, Dr Rahul Khullar’s profile reads that he is a “permanent civil servant”, joining the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) ranks in 1975. 

Another example of the bureaucracy getting its own way was in 2012 when Rajiv Nayan Choubey took over the charge of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH), one of the most technically demanding jobs in the country which should be given to geologists and other such experts from a proven scientific background. Choubey took over the DGH after shifting from being the Development Commissioner (Handlooms) in the Ministry of Textiles. 

Even as Modi has good bureaucratic backing in Gujarat, the fact that much of UPA’s big scams took outside the state will present him with a challenge to rally the bureaucracy behind him while upholding his promises to the people of bringing the corrupt, specifically those serving under the UPA, to justice. It is possible that Modi’s colleagues in the BJP may actually dissuade him from taking too much of a hard stance against the Congress once in power, specifically from targeting individual leaders, with one of the reasons being that it may add undue pressure on the bureaucracy, which may then react to protect its own interests.


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