COME August 15, 2016, we will celebrate 70 years of Independent India. India has travelled a long way socially, economically and politically. It’s time for introspection. What should be the roadmap for a new vibrant India? What is the apparatus on hand for such a voyage? India desires impeccable, hardworking, and result-oriented civil servants. The file pusher’s epoch has disappeared. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started experimenting in assigning posts to the civil servant in a non-traditional way. This has generated uproar even among the senior-most civil servants. gfiles cover story, ‘Melting the Steel Frame’, analyses what is happening in India’s civil services. MG Devasahayam explains why it was formed and how Sardar Patel believed its need, “In April 1948, Sardar Patel wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru advocating the formation of independent civil service in the functioning of which “political considerations, either in its recruitment or in its discipline and control, are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether.” This was strongly opposed by the Chief Ministers and many members of the Constituent Assembly. Speaking to the Assembly in October 1949, the Sardar said: “You will not have a united India if you do not have a good All India Services which has independence to speak out its advice—if you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present system, substitute something else.” K Subramaniam writes about the adaptability of the system, “The most amazing story of the steel frame was the demolition of inspector raj. The IAS cut down on its own powers by doing away with the bureaucratic network that had became a hindrance to growth, enabling India to enter into the liberalised and globalised world.”
Former Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar explains, “The latest discontent of a large section of officers in the Central ministries is that the bureaucracy has largely been rendered redundant in the present regime. There is hardly any worthwhile work being handled in the ministries. Ministers are scared of taking initiative, lest it may be resented by the PMO. The decisions are handed down from the PMO and are expected to be religiously followed by the rank and file.” The situation is serious. Is this a churning aimed at ameliorating the condition of Indians or is it being done to deal with the burden gifted to Modi by the Congress.
One has to understand the new political dynamics. India is habituated to rule by a set of civil servants. The BJP and Modi both have to prove to India that the new dispensation is for change and perform. Modi can’t be expected to behave like his predecessors otherwise the people of India will wonder why they elected Modi. Transformation is the name of the game, which is what Modi is doing. He is shedding, pruning the accumulated burden of years. Should this be a reason for discontentment among civil servants? Prabhat Kumar writes, “The emerging prototype of decision making may not be palatable to many senior bureaucrats. But modalities and procedures, in my view, should not be allowed to override outcomes as the ultimate test of the effectiveness of the government. It will be erroneous to blame the PMO of upsetting the procedural integrity of the Westminster system of governance if the new mode of decision-making serves the overarching objective of development and welfare of people”. Well said. Happy Independence Day.