Governing a state is an altogether different operation, compared to the central government. And, lately, with the Chief Ministers (CMs) becoming absolute power centres in the states, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) has started to become more of a single window clearance centre. Most ministers in states are just pawns of the CM and are there only to enjoy privileges attached to the post. Yet, a CM cannot rule alone. He, therefore, sets up a team of civil servants who deliver at his instance, without any questioning or batting an eyelid. gfiles’ cover story by senior writer Rakesh Dixit-on the top civil servants of Madhya Pradesh-explains how Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is administrating the state with a homogenous group that works as a team to implement the agenda of his government. This is hardly a new trend-Madhya Pradesh is being ruled, more or less, by the same set of civil servants, whether it’s the administration of Digvijay Singh or Chouhan. These civil servants are not only competent, they also deliver with speed. And that is what makes them indispensable. This practice of concentration of power in a team of civil servants started during the time of Maharashtra’s longest serving Chief Minister, Vasantrao Phulsing Naik. It soon became a trend with chief ministers in different states-Pratap Singh Kairon, Mohan Lal Sukhadia, Dev Raj Urs, K Karunakaran, Narayan Dutt Tiwari-following the same model. They all developed a group of civil servants who worked as a team, or a coterie. The reason behind this trend is simple: A CM is a political entity and needs civil servants who understand him and can help in furthering his political, social and economic ambitions. Also, a CM is involved in so many daily activities that he hardly finds time to run the state 24×7 on his own. There arises a need for a set of ambitious, hardworking and tested civil servants in the state administration. Every state has around 10 to 12 top-ranking secretary-level officers who work in tandem with the Principal Secretary to the CM. In some cases, the Chief Secretary is part of the group; but it has been observed in many states that the Chief Secretary is generally kept out of the loop of the core group. A state is basically managed by this core group through district magistrates/collectors/SSPs/SPs on a day-to-day basis. Most efficient CMs personally speak to the district magistrate/collector/SSP/SP of a district to maintain a hold on the state. This pattern of administration has made the middle-ranking officers redundant and they appear to be only file-pushers.
At the same time, this monopoly of certain civil servants in almost every state has raised peculiar problems. First, this system does not let any new idea or officer reach the CM and the moment anybody tries to topple those in the circle, he is permanently incapacitated in his respective career. Second, the top-ranking coterie is so powerful in most states that it has become an estate within the state and even the CM ultimately appears helpless before it. Such palace intrigue is age-old, but these modern-day palace courtiers have surpassed all limits in serving the ruling political dispensation as well as their own families.
Is there any way out of this tunnel? It seems difficult in the near future but who knows, a mechanism may evolve to liberate the system from such interference, restricting it to only intervention. Till the interface of the government delivery mechanism becomes completely transparent, one has no option but to be ruled by these new nawabs.