Time to change ?
Last year at the Economic Times Global Business Summit, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said that “the creeping acquisition of Rajya Sabha is on”. The thumping victory in Assam and an increased vote share across states show that the BJP government at the Centre is marching towards its goal. Also, the party seems closer to the goal of ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ after the latest assembly polls.
However, these results need introspection from all political parties. While the results have led to comments from party veterans like Digvijaya Singh’s observation that Congress needs “a major surgery” and Satyavrat Chaturvedi’s similar prognosis involving “a cardiac surgery”, the Narendra Modi government needs to conduct an open heart surgery for a ‘Bureaucrat-Mukt Bharat’. In 2014, India had voted in Modi to spearhead radical change, end corruption, execute citizen-friendly policies and administration, provide development with jobs, and lower prices.
The prime minister started well by meeting the secretaries and not his ministers. But somehow, the bureaucracy, after a while, started ignoring the ministers, as they had direct access to the PMO. I know of a minister who lost his portfolio because the secretary of the department made repeated complaints against this honest man who took a tough stand on irregularities happening in the ministry. Finally, the bureaucrat succeeded in ousting the minister.
I had a meeting with an additional secretary in the presence of a Cabinet minister. We discussed a few programmes that could be implemented on a priority basis. The additional secretary had a problem for every solution we proposed. He provided reasons as to why a major programme could not be implemented. And when we provided a workable solution for each one of his ‘problems’, he finally agreed on a timeline — without ever delivering. During the meeting, he kept flaunting that he had just returned from a meeting at the PMO.
Dragging the Nation Down
Then there was a senior technocrat in a ministry whom I met last month. He immediately told me to send him an email and promised that he would get the job done. The email was forwarded to his junior for action only after nine days! And this, despite clear instructions from the Cabinet minister a few days before. Most bureaucrats don’t seem to be bothered with the job at hand.
When people single out politicians for corruption and non-performance, I beg to differ. The bureaucracy runs the government. If the bureaucrats did their jobs well without fear or favour, we would not have straggled so far behind China. We have been terribly let down by the bureaucracy. There are always exceptions, of course. But they are far and few between.
Bureaucracy has still not got out of the officer culture that they have been used to for about 60 years of Congress rule. The role and orientation of the civil services has to change. Bureaucrats need to give up their role of ‘administrators’ and work on becoming ‘developers’.
I keep hearing that bureaucrats are afraid of taking decisions due to the fear of being hauled up by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation. But aren’t these institutions also in the hands of their fellow officers? Why on earth are bureaucrats afraid of bureaucrats?
It is time for the officer to learn a few lessons from the armed forces. Soldiers join the army knowing well that while working for the country, they can lose their lives. The working conditions for soldiers are not as comfortable as that of bureaucrats and neither do most of their pay scales match those of bureaucrats. And, bureaucrats are also soldiers for development and they should not worry about action against if they discharge their duty impartially and without fear or favour.
If people don’t have the passion and commitment for the country, or if they join the civil services for a job that gives them only authority as an administrator — or only for a safe job with a good retirement plan — don’t join the administrative services. Modi has a grand vision and is a man of action. So, either the bureaucrats rally behind the prime minister’s vision and implement his government’s idea of India by focusing on development with passion. Or we get rid of them.
Goodbye to Bureaucrats
Union road transportation minister Nitin Gadkari has got rid of bureaucrats in his ministry in key positions while having achieved a lot in a ministry considered tough to handle. Could Gadkari’s prowess as a minister have anything to do with the fact that his private secretary and key members of staff are from outside the Indian Administrative Service (IAS)?
So, we need to get rid of the British Raj-era kind of bureaucracy and its officer culture. Otherwise, the bureaucracy will be the biggest bottleneck for implementing the vision of the Modi government with the country paying a price it cannot afford. Fortunately, the prime minister has three years left in his current tenure. So, the next goal for the government should be a ‘Bureaucrat-Mukt Bharat’.
The writer is a public policy expert