THE ugly face-off and the violent fallout between the Civil Service and Delhi government remind us of EV Lucas’ short story, Face on the Wall. The plot isn’t important. Still, “There are three extraordinary, three most remarkable things” about the fiction. The first is the association between a face-like patch on a damp wall and the life and death of a person. Second is the link between the name of the living person and the place where the patch existed. Finally, as the narrator concludes, “The third extraordinary thing about the story is that I made it up about half an hour ago.”
Similarly, there are three astonishing and exceptional things about the physical assault on Delhi’s Chief Secretary, Anshu Prakash, by Delhi’s elected MLAs (and ex-MLAs) of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the presence of the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia. It doesn’t matter where the meeting was held, and at what time, or what its agenda was. It doesn’t matter who gets bail, or goes to jail for the criminal offences. For the issues involved are much bigger, larger than what mere voters can make sense of.
Ever since Delhi became the National Capital Territory and a part-State with its legislative assembly, but power-sharing with the Centre and with Lieutenant Governor in command, the progress towards complete statehood went through a process of chaotic and confused patchwork on an ever-dampening political wall. It acquired a weird life-like reality of its own; in fact, there were several realities that played out on the ground. Tussles between the two legislatives, State versus Centre, and between the legislative and executive, State versus Civil Service, were common. These only deepened, and turned virulent and physical since AAP came to power.
A former senior official in Delhi administration contends that this wasn’t the first time that AAP took on cudgels with its officials. Ashish Joshi, Member-Secretary (finance), Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, was given the additional charge as Member-Secretary, Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC), which was set up immediately after AAP government assumed office. He was asked to quit within a month by the Delhi government. The reasons differ. AAP’s Ashish Khaitan, Vice-Chairman, DDC, was angry when Joshi invited applications for the appointment of volunteers on the official website. Khaitan, or rather AAP, had a different idea—under the veener of volunteers they wanted to engage their cadre as advisors on reportedly hefty pay.
Khaitan, as alleged by Ashish, had asked to issue appointment letters, which he refused being devoid of any sanctity under any of the government rules or procedure. Some sane vioces had suggested to ask Ashish to seek premature repatriation to his own P&TFS cadre. Kejriwal allegedly wanted to get rid of the bureaucrat with a “scar and stigma”, in-order to send strong signal to the civil servants. After few days, Joshi sought revenge, and revealed many secrets, including those of Kejriwal’s Secretary which led to raids on the CM’s offices and a few arrests. Several corruption charges were levelled against Rajender Kumar, Kejriwal’s principal secretary.
Next episode occurred when, KK Sharma, the then Chief Secretary, flew to USA on personal visit for a few days. Kejriwal and Co. wanted Sanjeev Sahay to become the acting Chief Secretary. However, the senior-most bureaucrat in Delhi at that time was Shakuntala Gamlin, who was duly given charge by Najeeb Jung, the then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. The CM then fought with Jung and went to the extent of humiliating a lady officer, alleging in a public meeting of auto-rickshaw drivers that Gamlin ‘lobbied’ for power distribution companies whereas his own principal secretary, Rajender Kumar, earlier as power secretary had issued letter of comfort to the same power companies. Piqued by the temerity of the then principal secretary (services), Anindo Majumdar, who had circulated LG’s directions to all secretaries by-passing the CM, Kejriwal went to the extent of locking his office and appointed another officer as principal secretary (services).
THE game of AAP was to trap the Union Government by using the power of government machinery. A cabinet note was prepared to constitute DAW (Delhi Analysis Wing) on the pattern of RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). It was also proposed to procure restricted sophisticated surveillance equipment, when Arun Baroka, the then Secretary PWD—holding additional charge of Department of Administrative Reforms—refused to implement the Machiavellian plan by signing the cabinet note. He was shown the door in the month of March when the services of PWD secretary were needed the most.
These plans to trap the central government needed full control of the ACB of Delhi Police. The then DCP was reportedly dancing to their tunes and had even registered a FIR against Reliance. Alarmed by these developments, Mukesh Meena was appointed head of ACB by removing the incumbent. The then principal secretary Home, Dharam Pal, had issued the order and invited the wrath of Kejriwal in fashion similar to as in the case of earlier officers.
The latest incidence involving manhandling of the Chief Secretary is the culmination of an accumulated and well-designed strategy to bring the entire bureaucracy to its knees.
Many civil servants complain that they were ‘deliberately’ not allowed to work. After the Chief Secretary episode, such complaints have flooded select Whatsapp groups. One of them, who is on temporary duty outside Delhi, wrote, “Since December 2017, I have been debarred from seeing files of my own office because I did not succumb to their (government’s) illegitimate demands. I was asked to remove important facts from the Cabinet note which I refused to do.” This was as candid as it can get.
MANY of the officers are convinced that Kejriwal wants to make the established norms of the civil services irrelevant. They claim that precisely for this reason all departments have been flooded with AAP cadre in the guise of advisors, so called experts defying all established norms of governance within the framework of Constitution of India.
More importantly, civil servants maintain, as is reflected in their hundreds of text exchanges in private social media groups, that the Delhi government has allegedly twisted and massaged facts to suit their interests and garner votebanks. Take this example, which doesn’t deal directly with the civil services. One of them reminisced, “They (government) issued fee hike order of private schools for reasons best known to them. That order was issued after it was seen by the Chief Minister himself.
“And then when public got agitated, they directly instructed the government counsel to admit to the high court that the fee hike order is being kept in abeyance. And then came a note with drafted advertisement under signature of the Deputy CM stating that the high court has passed injunction order on the fee hike order.” For the civil servant concerned, the last wasn’t true.
In Reykjavik, Iceland (Europe), there is a statue which is faceless with slightly-distorted body, called “The Unknown Bureaucrat”. According to several Indian civil servants, who commented on Whatsapp groups, it is “humorous and provocative”, and a “perfect metaphor of how everyday life crushes down on them while at the same time depicting the narrative of the faceless official who is a cog in the wheel.” In some existential manner, the statue depicts the state of civil service vis-à-vis Delhi government.
Former civil servants see the latest assault as an onslaught against democracy, and Indian Constitution. As a retired official says, “This is not about the Chief Secretary, egos of the various individuals involved, or the Indian Administrative Service. It is about upholding the traditions of governance, the Constitution and the democratic framework of the country. The violence against the highest official in Delhi cannot be treated as a mere criminal act.”
Another one explained on social media, “CS (Chief Secretary) is the head of bureaucracy of the State and the assault on him is tantamount to attack on the executive branch. The bureaucracy works tirelessly, fearlessly and silently under the Constitution of India and any attack on it is going to erode the morale and ethics of the hard-working and sincere government servants.” Therefore, it is the deliberate erosion of one of the pillars of democracy.
For most of the IAS and other civil services, which have together protested across the country, this wasn’t a one-off incident, this was the final straw, the final offensive against the civil servants over the past few decades. In Delhi, many officials have been shifted and shunted back to their parent cadres over the past four years. This was especially true at the levels of joint secretaries and additional secretaries. “The whole idea possibly is to make the civil services surrender and become subservient to the political machinery.”
A few issues related to the CS-MLAs event are enough to hint at evidence behind such a thought. This is explained succinctly by a former civil servant. No CM ever calls the CS for a meeting at midnight unless, of course, the matter concerns a “grave emergency”. Even if there is such a meeting, the CS is the head of a State’s civil service and, hence, MLAs and ex-MLAs are not invited to it. The norm is that the CS sits on a separate chair, next to the CM, and not between two MLAs. In this case, the former sat between two MLAs, one who came from a minority and the other a Dalit.
For most of the IAS and other civil services, which have together protested across the country, this wasn’t a one-off incident, this was the final straw, the final offensive against the civil servants over the past few decades. In Delhi, many officials have been shifted and shunted
Later, the political administration revealed that the issue under discussion related to ration cards. But the secretary (food and civil supplies), or the minister concerned were not present at the meeting. “It was clearly an afterthought in a bid to misrepresent the issues to a possible gullible public,” says a former civil servant. In any case, the presence of nearly a dozen MLAs and ex-MLAs was not under any administrative protocol.
THE third extraordinary thing, and a crucial point of contention, is that there is a bid to deliberately construct a narrative and scenario to belittle the civil services. The events, as are indicative, are being propped up as a part of a sinister move. This explains why the central government hasn’t said much on the subject. The actions, or the lack of them, on the part of the central legislative are revealing in some senses. Several plots, mostly semi-fictional, and several narratives, mostly semi-truths, are being weaved in to prove certain falsehoods.
It’s like the short story, Face on the Wall. The protagonist, as revealed in the end, made up the entire story of extraordinariness and remarkability. In a bid to prove that his piece was the best among the ones being discussed among friends, he invented the characters and events. The CM-CS spat and spatter is part of a fictional reality that’s’ being weaved by the vested interests.