Ingenious bureaucrats should be hailed, not maligned

Ingenious bureaucrats should be hailed, not maligned

By Biswaraj Patnaik | Bhubaneswar | 10 February, 2018
V. Karthikeyan Pandian

Just before India was to attain independence, Sardar Patel wrote to influential prime ministers of the big princely states like Kashmir, Hyderabad and Mysore urging them to convince their rulers to come to merge with the Union of India. India. Bikaner came first only because of his bureaucratic top minister K.M. Pannikar knew that the force of nationalism was irresistible. On 27 June, when a new states department was set up by Patel, only a superbrain bureaucrat V.P. Menon was close to him and had consented to guiding him to glory. Lord Mountbatten had rejected several British officers and chosen Menon who had worked as the Reforms Commissioner and Constitutional Adviser to the preceding viceroys. Many Indians may have forgotten that the Indian Independence Bill was drafted by V.P. Menon because he had understood the political and state dynamics better than all the political luminaries of the times including Nehru.

By 15 August, virtually all the states had signed the instrument of Accession.  Patel used the threat of popular protest to make the obstinate princes fall in line. V.P. Menon dealt with them in detail explaining how difficult it would be to remain safe outside the Union of India. Patel had made it amply clear that the “voice of VP” was the “voice of Patel”. It was V.P. Menon’s idea of the privy purse to accelerate the process of integration of the princely states with the Union which would have remained so small in size without the 565 states remaining stupidly independent. Today people rightly remember the Sardar, but have forgotten the brain behind his success, V.P. Menon. Modern day VPs do exist, but so small is the number that they are hardly recognised. It’s a hard fact that without super bureaucratic brains, politicians, no matter how popular, can survive. They get to know the ground realities and the way out from tight situations from their trusted bureaucrats who are above board and highly skilled.

In any democracy, power vests with the people and is exercised through its elected representatives who have the mandate to govern them for a specific period. The bureaucrats, for their sheer knowledge, skills and wide-ranging experience in and exposure to all domains of public affairs, assist the elected representatives in formulating policy and getting them implemented perfectly as they learn the practicable methods of saving time, money and labour. That is good governance.

Ministers are responsible to the people through the legislature and the civil servants remain accountable to the Ministers.

The Constitution has made clear the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary with well-defined roles and responsibilities. In terms of Articles 53 and 154, the executive power of the Union and the States vests in the President or Governor directly or through officers subordinate to him. These officers constitute the permanent civil service and are governed by Part XIV of the Constitution.

The President and Governor frame rules for the conduct of business in the government. Work is allocated among Ministers as per the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules and the manner in which the bureaucrats are required to help the President or Governor to exercise his/her executive functions is governed by the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules. Though the bureaucrats are subordinate to the President or Governor, they are the ones who carry out the orders.

The Rules of Business of Government do provide for the Secretary to the Government to advise his/ her Minister about the course of action proposed in a particular matter and to submit to him a note which tells him about the propriety or legality of his/her orders and suggest that either such orders not be given or that they be suitably modified. The relationship between the Secretary and the Minister is organic. The Minister has the mandate of the people to govern, but the Secretary has an equivalent constitutional mandate to advise the Minister primarily because he or she is the master of the “Rule Book”. Once the bureaucrat’s advice has been suitably considered- unless the Minister passes an illegal order- the state machinery is bound to implement it. The Minister then is bound to support the secretary who is implementing the order. Similarly, once a law is framed or rule approved, they apply to everyone including the political executive and the permanent bureaucrat or the civil servant who is required to implement the orders of government without bias, with honesty and without fear or favour. It is precisely in this area that a degree of a difference of opinion often occurs between the political executive and the civil servants. The whole world is aware that the political executive has members who are routinely elected on a populist mode by capturing public votes, irrespective of their knowledge or skills. So, ultimately the ruling of the bureaucrat prevails unless he is a crook, too eager to misinterpret rules and make some private gains by misguiding the minister. 

The areas of potential conflict in the relationship between the political executive and the bureaucrats can be identified in the following domains:

  • The concept of neutrality
  • Advisory role of civil servants in policy making
  • Statutory role of the civil servants
  • Discharge of delegated functions
  • Appointments/Recruitment to the civil services
  •  Transfers and postings of civil servants

Advantages of having an independent, permanent and impartial civil service are many:

  • The political system has the propensity to degenerate into a system of patronage, nepotism and corruption. So having a credible recruitment process through an impartial agency provides a defence against such abuse.
  • Public policy is a very complex exercise requiring in-depth knowledge and expertise in public affairs. The permanent civil service provides continuity and develops expertise as well as institutional memory for effective policy making.
  • A permanent and impartial civil service is more likely to assess the long-term social payoffs of any policy whereas the political executive may have a tendency to look for short term political gains.
  • It helps to ensure uniformity in public administration and also acts as a unifying force particularly in vast and culturally diverse nations.

Like any other reputable profession, it is likely to evolve over time an ethical basis for its functioning.

Civil servants collectively is a highly skilled body of governance, expected to play a pivotal role, in the process of development by making sure emphasis is placed on rules and regulations, division of labour, hierarchy, role specialists, rationality, impersonally and neutrality, thereby the process of development is smooth.

The bureaucracy helps the executive in identifying the major policy areas such as preparing proposals, analysing various alternatives and finding solutions to societal problems requiring urgent attention by dividing the major policies into sub-policies, determining programmes of action and suggesting modifications in the existing policy on the basis of experience on the implementation front. Though the political executive is the master, de jure, hardly is it found skilled enough to overrule the product placed by the civil servants because they are equipped with all the facts and figures critical to the policy.

It is universal knowledge today that the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is considered a iconic figure for going stronger by the day. The very element of anti-incumbency has not surfaced in the state simply because he does not conduct himself in manner as most populist politicians do to gain short-term support from the vote banks. Naveen’s has been an accidental entry into politics but the initial rumour that he was least bothered about the development of the state has been proven wrong. He is wise enough to know that the highly skilled civil servants, if appropriately encouraged and inspired, can do the magic of keeping him at peace by ensuring true people-friendly development schemes and projects are made and implemented at all times. Naveen has trusted his civil officials more than his political colleagues as he knows political guys are likely to commit grave blunders for sheer lack of knowledge and fine skills. Pyari Mahapatra, as a seasoned and highly skilled former bureaucrat lead Naveen’s team to nonstop victory. After his ouster due to insanely huge political ambitions, Naveen Patnaik happened to come across a much younger serving civil servant who impressed him no end with his sense of dedication, skills and the superb willingness to take the extra mile at all processes of planning and implementation for such development as would improve the quality of life of the masses, and not merely project impressive indications of economic growth and similar outcomes just for the records.

This young boy with only twelve years of experience on his back, V. Karthikeyan Pandian, agreed to take the burden of a huge bouquet of plans and programmes dreamt by the magician chief minister of Odisha, considered enigmatic and invincible by even the bitterest detractors and political opponents across India. Incidentally, Karthikeyan is the son-in-law of Odisha as his wife Sujata, also a course mate IAS officer is from Odisha. Both the officers had got placed in the Punjab cadre. But Sujata somehow felt called upon to serve the relatively backward state of Odisha, particularly impoverished further, as the super cyclone had just blown away the entire east coast leaving behind a devastated region without enough resources to quickly spring back to normalcy. More so because the Janaki Patnaik-led Congress misrule had also reached its darkest peak around this time. Janaki had his big fall and the newly formed BJD with Naveen Patnaik as the face, came to power with massive victory. Karthikeyan and Sujata were then overexcited to face bigger challenges than usual and prove their worth by devoting best of inputs to reconstructing the impoverished state fast. Sujata holds a master’s degree in International politics, and Karthikeyan is a botanist with specialisation in ‘plant physiology’. Naveen Patnaik identified Karthikeyan when he was a young, highly energetic district magistrate in Naveen’s own district of Ganjam. By then, Karthikeyan had proven his mettle by showing exemplary results apart from being highly recognised for a UNDP-sponsored field project. During routine visits too, Naveen would spot him as a shy young officer, but the reticent chief minister also noticed in him a firmly resolute state functionary who would keep things ready to accurate time schedules and perfect coordination on all occasions. Once, it had so happened that, after a political meeting, the chief minister would want to know what food and other incidental expenses were incurred as some poor people who had gathered there had to be given food and travel facilities. Karthikeyan would spell out the amount fearlessly, explaining even further that there was no provision of availing any money from the public exchequer to meet that. Such straight talk do not normally happen. The officers collect money from local business people or from their own pockets to meet the expenses. This expenses part is kept away from the political bigwigs as they would expect officials to organise anyway. They know too well officers can Rob anybody to keep politic masters happy to remain safe. Naveen Patnaik took note of what Karthikeyan said and dished out the full amount spent. The young officer availed that normally and thanked the chief minister for the gesture.

The real bureaucrat would never stoop low to steal money to please any cheap political creature. Naveen Patnaik kept Karthikeyan in mind from that eventful day. When Pyari fell from grace, the young IAS officer became the obvious choice. There has been no looking back ever since. The 2014 elections came, and Naveen Patnaik ordered political colleagues to consult Karthikeyan on all critical matters as he had the special eagle’s eye and the sixth sense to see through as well as beyond the wall, and sniff an odour from a far distance. Every politically conscious person, nearly all media and professional pollsters and analysts had forecast the BJD victory with around ninety seats at the most. BJD stunned the world with a whopping one hundred and seventeen. Karthikeyan had been the master brain behind the game plan. No wonder, Naveen Patnaik began trusting him like his own limbs from that day. Most importantly, the shy guy hasn’t thrown his weight around or put on airs once as per records. He has rather gone away from the public glare lest his elevated status would attract commoners and irritate detractors more.

Needless to say, most of the politicians who are a bit sensibly educated, feel they are being overridden by the young officer, without ever realising that he has been told specifically to ensure the populist characters don’t violate the ‘rule book’ even on a single occasion. Some senior members of the political executive have raised voice, and agitated against Karthikeyan for he has not been soft on the rule and norm front. He has not passed any obviously populist move or plan by the elected representatives. He has told them clearly, “Violate rule and then face dire consequences only because the public would know that anyway. Short-term benefits causing long term harm to the public shall not be permitted whatsoever.

Baijayant Panda, once a high profile BJD parliamentarian, now a rebel with huge wealth and a media house at hand, has declared war against Naveen Patnaik because he felt lately that he was being overruled by Karthikeyan on plans and programmes which he intended to implement in his constituency,  or the way he wanted to expend his LAD funds there. More so, he suspected he was not given importance at the behest of the young officer. So he went out full steam, making allegations against the no-nonsense bureaucrat and maligning the chief minister publicly by using his electronic media to the fullest extent. The rest is history. Now the insane rebel has demanded for Karthikeyan's induction into the BJD outfit after resigning from the IAS cadre. The Kendrapada MP has gone berserk. For a self-serving businessman politician like him, Kendrapada was the safest constituency for having been the impregnable BJD bastion ever since Indira Gandhi was dethroned in the 70s of the last century. So, the BJD high command would grant Kendrapada only to the most favoured candidate for easy win, especially when he would find it difficult elsewhere.

Baijayant may have begun imagining BJP would invade Odisha to win conclusively and he would be made chief minister in 2019. Little has he realised that the initial, artificially-created Modi wave was only publicity hype orchestrated by top class marketing professionals picked from around the globe. The effect has died off quite in the first year and not likely to move the masses yet again in favour of Modi. Like Punjab in 2014, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand would go with the wind in 2019. Delhi has gone conclusively; Goa and Gujarat have shown what BJP means to India now. And most significantly, the stars of BJP including Advani, Arun Shouri, Jashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha are just waiting for the right moment to launch their failsafe missile to have the Modi-Shah trickery brought in the open and lead the masses to light. Baijayant has wrongly targeted an obediently efficient officer who is only showing the card of norms and rules to the less–educated and arrogant members of the political executive. What most people fail to realise is that the personal sacrifice a civil servant has to make to keep a CM politically correct and happy at the same time, is beyond imagination. Yet, greedy ‘tradesmen politicians' are up in arms against him for showing administration the right path.

The young, shy officer cannot be blamed for all that’s happening on the political arena- particularly the wrongs. The sensation-crazy media has to be a little more honest and responsible in sharing ground level facts, which is not happening because vested interest business outfits are likely to compromise on ethics solely make hay on the private fronts. Naveen’s reasoned choice is just a perfectly zero-error decision. Karthikeyan is a performer par excellence. He reminds one strongly of the unforgettable V.P. Menon who made the legendary Sardar Patel a super statesman. Patel had not ignored him on the smallest state matter nor had made a move without consulting him once. Great bureaucrats should be hailed, not maligned for settling personal scores, which would most certainly lead to bad governance!

There is 1 Comment

Great story....applies universally to the bureaucratic fraternity...a unique perspective....

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