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Cover Story

Civil servants as political masters!

Of late, the herd mentality has taken over and many civil servants are queuing up to grab a chance of getting a Lok Sabha ticket and becoming MPs, MLAs and ministers!


DECADES ago, when I entered the portals of the National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, as an IAS Probationer, the first principle drummed into my ears was: “You are a civil servant. You are only to be seen, not heard.” Having just arrived after commanding soldiers in the field, both in war and counter-insurgency operations, I resented the word ‘servant’, but couldn’t do much about it.

As years passed, I realised as to why this principle was given so much importance. Despite being members of the most elite of civil services, covenanted in the Constitution of India, subservience had become the hallmark of most IAS and IPS officers. The less said the better about State civil service and police officials. I saw this in the crudest form when Emergency was imposed on the night of June 25-26, 1975, and most of these worthies crawled when they were merely asked to bend. The crawling started from Delhi Administration and Police and spread to various parts of the country. For once, I realised the true meaning of ‘civil servants’—being subservient to political masters and even extra-Constitutional ones! I was never part of that breed!

Of late, the herd mentality has taken over and many ‘civil servants’ want to become ‘political masters’ by joining politics and becoming MPs, MLAs and ministers! And there are some variants at that!

NK Singh (Bihar-1964) is the most typical. This high-flyer extracted the maximum out of the IAS as the retirement age was increased to 60 years in 1998, just before he was due to retire. He became Finance Secretary in the Government of India and then went on to become Secretary to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and member of the Planning Commission. He then joined the Janata Dal (U) in 2008 to enter the Rajya Sabha for six years and became Bihar’s face in the super-rich ‘Davos Club’. When Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked him to run for Lok Sabha, NK Singh promptly resigned from the JD(U) and joined the BJP, obviously to solicit a Rajya Sabha nomination. He wants to enjoy political power without facing the electorate, a true case of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds!

The case of Yashwant Sinha (Bihar-1960) is different. He resigned from the IAS in the early 1980s and joined the Janata Party. Because of his political connections, he soon became a Rajya Sabha member and briefly adorned the Cabinet of Prime Minister Chandrashekhar as Finance Minister. Then he joined the BJP and was Finance and External Affairs Minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet. Having become a full-fledged politician, he fought the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Hazaribagh and lost it. But he won the same seat in 2009. Having proved his point, he has now opted out of the race, but not before getting the seat allotted to his son.

Ajit b Jogi (IPS/IAS, Madhya Pradesh-1968) is the typical bureaucrat to enter politics mid-course and make a fight of it. He has been an MP—both in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha—an MLA and Chief Minister of a State (Chhattisgarh). Though disabled and wheelchair-bound due to a major accident in 2004, his fighting spirit has not dampened in any manner.

Haryana is the inventor of the political expression, ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’, signifying defection and floor crossing. In recent times, the State has gained notoriety for pursuing a predatory development model rooted in real estate, the land mafia and the resultant humongous corruption. Interestingly, while the list of aspirants for political power among civil servants is getting longer and longer, encompassing most States, in its intensity the small State of Haryana takes the cake. Here the trend covers the wide spectrum of IAS, IPS and the State Civil Service.

WHILE IAS officer Abhay Yadav has taken voluntary retirement to contest elections, another IAS officer, HS Rana, after retirement, has joined the Aam Aadmi Party. Former IAS officer ID Swami, who became Lok Sabha MP from Karnal, was the Minister of State for Home in the NDA Government, and former IAS officer Kirpa Ram Punia was a minister in the Devi Lal-led State Government. Retired Haryana Civil Service officer Bahadur Singh was a minister in Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala’s Cabinet. After retirement, IAS officers BD Dhalia, Gulab Singh and RS Choudhary have joined the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). RS Malik joined the BJP for a short time while MS Rathi, who had joined BansiLal’s Haryana Vikas Party, was made a member of the Haryana Public Service Commission. After retirement, SL Dhani was made chief of the intellectual cell of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee. MP Bidlan, who, as DC, Sirsa, had fled from a function when fire broke out, resulting in the death of hundreds of children in Dabwali, has recently joined the BJP to seek the party ticket from the SirsaLok Sabha seat.

The IPS crowd does not lag behind either. Former Haryana DGP AS Bhatotia revived the State’s ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ culture when he first joined the BJP, then shifted to the Congress and is now in AAP! Ranbir Sharma, who was IGP, took voluntary retirement and joined AAP to dedicate himself to swaraj. Parmveer Rathi, another former Haryana police officer planning to enter the electoral fray, was Chief Minister Hooda’s intelligence chief and was retained as adviser in the home department after retirement. Also, former Haryana IPS officer VN Rai joined AAP only to aspire for a ticket from Karnal. Another former DGP of Haryana, MS Malik, is a heavyweight in the INLD and a candidate for the Parliamentary election.

The charade has gone to such an extent that the AAP leadership has offered the Chief Ministership of Haryana to Ashok Khemka, the serving IAS officer who exposed Haryana’s land looters and ‘kleptocrats’, if he decides to join politics and contest Assembly elections. Wonder whether Khemka will take the bait!

The other two States with a high bureaucrat-politician conversion rate are West Bengal and the Telangana part of Andhra Pradesh. This is probably because the emerging leadership in these States wants to benefit from the expertise and experience of these civil servants who have dealt with multi-dimensional issues and have the capacity for perception and analysis. In Tamil Nadu, it is the opposite because the ‘tunnel-visioned’ Dravidian parties are averse to civil servants with knowledge and experience.

While the list of aspirants for political power among civil servants is getting longer and longer, encompassing most States,in its intensity the small State of Haryana takes the cake. Here the trend covers the wide spectrum of IAS, IPS and State Civil Service

The Congress in Tamil Nadu has also fallen in the same rut. The treatment meted out by this party to Vellayan Selvaraj (IAS-1964), a compassionate and competent civil servant during the 1991 Parliamentary elections, is a case in point. An ardent follower of the legendary K Kamaraj during his student days, Selvaraj won the college union president election, both in Loyola College and Madras Law College. Though he entered the IAS soon after college, his political aspirations remained. During the 1991 election, he was offered the Congress ticket from his home constituency of Rasipuram (Reserved) and was asked to resign from the IAS. After reconfirming the offer from the Congress high command (Rajiv Gandhi), he put in his papers, which were processed with speed and his resignation was accepted. During this period, he was stabbed in the back and the seat promised to him was given to the sitting MP. Selvaraj was left high and dry!

THE Election Commission (EC) is unhappy with the government’s rejection of its suggestion for a “cooling off” period for bureaucrats looking to join political parties to contest elections soon after retirement or quitting service. On this I am only partly with the Commission. They should not treat the full-tenure-sinecure-enjoying bureaucrats on a par with the ones willing to sacrifice years of service in the coveted All-India or civil services. The EC could suggest different norms instead of making the ban omnibus. While there should be no bar on officers resigning from executive office mid-course to contest for political office, there should be a mandatory cooling-off period for those who have completed their full tenure. Those who were re-employed and did sinecures in addition, and those who occupied constitutional positions, should be prohibited from contesting elections or receiving Rajya Sabha nominations.

Political office-holders are public servants. When a civil servant who has sucked the ‘bureaucratic fruit’ to the full and eaten the skin as well, enters politics he could at best be a ‘political servant’ and nothing more!

The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. Email: deva1940@gmail.com

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