Exploitation of bureaucracy in politics
Indeed, Chatterjee is an extremely capable officer. But to reach the most covetable position after retirement is not possible unless he has pulled some wires. It is possible that he was posted Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister because the dynasty wanted at PMO an official who enjoyed its confidence. In either case, it was more than his ability which won him the position. The harm that the Congress rulers have caused to the bureaucracy is probably the maximum. The BJP too has used officials for the party purposes. But the worst case is that of the Congress and now when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on coal scam, estimated at a whopping Rs 1.48 lakh crore, is unfolding one can see that the Congress rulers, particularly, the Prime Minister and Home Minister Shinde were thick with the officials and saw to the gain of certain individuals.
It all began with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who wanted “a committed bureaucracy.” I wondered then, committed to whom, not to a person or a party but to the constitution. How officials were used or allowed themselves to be used is a sordid story of the seventies, particularly during and after the emergency. It would serve some useful purpose if the views of the government on the coal scam were set out unequivocally and in a manner which would enable the different government functionaries to tell their story so that the blame could be pinned downed to somebody. The government’s primary responsibility is to guarantee protection to those officials who refuse to deviate from their code of conduct which should be accepted not only by officials but also by the ministers. If there is sincerity at the political level, the time is ripe for reaffirming the principles and ideals in a manner that there is no ambivalence about the intentions of the government in relation to the bureaucracy. If the officials on the one hand and politicians on the other do not limit their areas of operation to their accepted and acknowledged fields, the nation cannot be kept safe towards working for a democratic system of government. Yet the most important point is that the rulers will have to keep bureaucrats away from party politics and not use them for illegitimate things that the ruling party indulge in.
The Manmohan Singh government’s contribution towards politicizing the bureaucracy is quite substantial. Not long ago, the cabinet secretary used to pick up officers to serve as secretary in a particular ministry. Only one name was sent up to the minister concerned who had to accept him or her. Now the minister himself selects his secretary from a panel of names submitted to him. Why he leaves out number one on the panel and instead selects the sixth or seventh for appointment is not difficult to guess. The minister was probably told or he himself knew who was the most pliable officer. Today the minister can go outside the panel and select anyone of his choice.
Chatterjee, amplifying his advice, says: “Our role is to strengthen the hands of the political leadership by giving them sound, objective advice and respecting their decision so long as it is legitimate. And we can do this so long as we do not go to them for undue personal favours.” Of course, Chatterjee touches upon corruption which has eaten up the best in the system.
He rightly says: “Civil service is not a spoils system”…This unfortunate perception is best captured in the quote of Malcolm Forbes who said ‘Once in a civil service job, one needs only to live to rise’.” How does Chatterjee now explain what was going on in the PMO on the coal scam? Even the rules about the law to give coal mines on auction were delayed by four years so that the ruling party could pick up for favour any individual for allotment. Alas, civil servants have forgotten all the noble traditions of public service. They are now an instrument in the hands of rulers for tyranny or manipulation. That they would themselves become part of the system was not envisaged. I am sad to see the ignoble end of great service it once was.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human right activist and author.