Whither The Bureaucracy?
Whither the bureaucracy? This is a question that is becoming increasingly pertinent as the days go by. Has the civil service been able to live up to the expectation of the people who it was appointed to serve? Has it followed the role that the constitution bestowed upon it or has it usurped a role for itself, which gives it more powers and privileges and a redefined value system that is conveniently flexible? The answers to these daunting questions are depressing. The bureaucracy has more or less failed the people as public servants and has also failed their political counterparts as straightforward advisers on policy formulation. A few idealists who tried to live up to their designated role have either been sidelined as inconvenient, or have fallen by the wayside in utter desperation, or have jumped on the juggernaut of rumbling inefficacy in sheer resignation just to survive. W.B. Yeats, in The Second Coming, said,
'Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.'
That is what exactly has happened to our bureaucracy. The best, the right-minded people, people with the right values, people that are conscious of their designated role, 'lack all conviction' because of a totally hostile ambience, while the worst, i.e., the sycophants, the corrupt and the power hungry,' are full of passionate intensity.'
So, what must truly be done?
Perhaps one most important step to be taken is to view critically the existing relationship between the policy maker and the policy implementer, i.e., the politician and the civil servant. Unfortunately, the executive arm follows the diktat, said and unsaid, of the political head. Where the political head is committed to public welfare and takes to heart the oath he swears to uphold the provisions of the constitution, the executive arm has no option but to follow suit. Where the signals are otherwise, as documented at length in TN Seshan's anguished speeches, 'Rishvateva Jayate' replaces 'Satyameva Jayate'.
Over the last few years, scandal after scam has inundated the country, in each case the bureaucrat following closely the desire of the political executive. In the fiftieth year of independence, the special session of the Parliament was content merely to take note of the profoundly disturbing Vohra Committee Report which speaks of the mafia network, 'virtually running a parallel government pushing the state apparatus into irrelevance', of 'a politician'bureaucrat-underworld nexus', and of even judiciary falling prey to the mafia which has caused 'a sense of despair and alienation among the people.' It speaks of a 'disastrous combination of high skills and absence of ethical sense and moral values.' The CEC as if in continuation, reported that 180 out of 425 MLAs of UP Assembly have criminal records. The Economist too wrote that rascals ruled West Bengal. The Vohra Committee, among other things, noticed a steep rise in deaths in police custody, rapes, public lynching, crimes against women and children. It also warned that people are becoming totally alienated from the Government machinery. The common man has no way of knowing whether the Supreme Court's directive for government to submit an action-taken report regarding the Report has been complied with.
These are danger signals for us to see, if we wish to. Unfortunately, history is, as ever, an unfashionable topic and those who rule ' the legislative, the executive and the judiciary ' have no time for such 'ancient' matters. Gibbon, analysing the causes of the fall of Roman Empire, had highlighted the following:
Concentration of power in the hands of one ruler for whom there was no constitutional term of election;
A widening gap between the rich and the poor; a pampered soldiery;
Defence cuts and a rundown of military forces in spite of massive taxation;
A failure of the army to meet its commitments;
Suppression of the middle classes while the rich pursued the life of luxury and avoided shouldering the responsibilities of government;
The alienation of a bureaucratic central government from the people;
A breakdown of law and order.
These reduced Rome's resistance to external aggression. At least some obvious similarities with the Indian situation will, one hopes, raise a hint of discomfort, if not alarm. The three arms of the Indian state'legislative, executive and judiciary'are indeed the salt of the earth. 'But if the Salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be caste out, and to be trodden under foot of men.'
But the situation did not come about suddenly. It developed over long years and the bureaucracy is squarely to be blamed for this pass. Manohar Subramanayam, an IAS Officer of 1958 batch belonging to UP Cadre, says, 'In our kind of democracy, a politician and his money cannot be separated. The lay public is not important'I was naive enough to assume that my responsibility was only to the people I served and to my professional peers' One sees in this statement that the understanding of the stated role of the civil servant has been described as mere 'naivet' ! Is it tongue-in-cheek or seriously stated? If stated seriously, then we are in trouble. Yeats' statement, the best lack all conviction, is reinforced. Manohar Subramanyam comes out with another very perceptive statement underlining the reasons for the failure of the civil service, 'Our generation has failed because while we did educate ourselves about the intricacies of administering our country, we did not ever try to educate out political masters. Instead we let them do as they pleased and if they did something abjectly wrong, we only made sure that our involvement was minimal' Therefore, civil service not only lacked conviction, it allowed wrong things to multiply and perpetuate without raising any conscientious objection and initiating corrective action. Thence began a tradition of abdication and passive acceptance while developing the masterly art of saving one's own skin. The inevitable followed. Subramanyam observes, 'We were making sure that we did not rock the boat, but while doing so we overlooked the fact that the boat was beginning to leak. Today the boat has a hole and we all bemoan the fall in standards.'
These therefore were the views of an insider who had been at the helm of administration for a long time. Some outside agencies too, over the years, concerned themselves with the predicament of the politician'bureaucrat relationship.
' Continued on Next Page