India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once famously said that Indian Civil Services was the “steel frame” of the country. Thus, the Modi government’s move to push for lateral entry of professionals as joint secretaries into this steel frame, bypassing the rigorous entry-level hiring method, should not come as a surprise given the current BJP dispensation’s anathema to anything Nehruvian.
But the enthusiasm of doing away with the concept of “Nehruvian” civil services has opened a Pandora’s box for the Modi government as far as reservation policy is concerned, with the Opposition, allies who have dalit votebanks, and even an MP from its own ranks questioning whether quota will be implemented while filling up these vacancies. And in an election year, this is not a good news.
While the Opposition is up in arms and the bureaucracy is somewhat peeved with the move, the Modi government, some feel, has taken another huge gamble. It is being felt that the government is trying to build a “committed bureaucracy” before the 2019 battle royale.
Dissident BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, while speaking to media, said, “I have no objection to lateral entry of talented people into the government. It has been happening over the years. But I object strongly to the way it is being done. Where are the recruitment rules for the post? Why is the UPSC not doing it? All this makes it suspicious.”
Dalits are particularly wary of quota rules being ignored in the lateral entry scheme. Their anger against the Supreme Court’s order allegedly diluting the SC/ST Act was visible during the “Dalit Bandh” on April 2. And now, the government advertisement calling applications to fill up 10 joint secretary-level positions through lateral entry, apparently without any quota, has come as another bad news.
Possibly realising this, one of the first to come out and question the lateral entry move was BJP MP and one of the party’s best know dalit faces, Udit Raj. The North West Delhi MP said that he was concerned over whether quota would be implemented during lateral hiring and that he would be writing to the department of personnel and training (DoPT) to ensure that the policy of reservations was followed.
Next to follow suit was Union minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of the BJP. Mr Paswan said that he raised the matter at a meeting of group of ministers that met to discuss dalit issues and the confusion over the Supreme Court order on reservation in promotions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Sources said that he was intimated that, as of now, the government had not thought on those lines.
Various Opposition parties and dalit groups are also up in arms over the lateral entry decision. They went to the extent of accusing the government of trying to fill up the UPSC controlled ranks with people aligned to the right-wing ideology.
“The decision has been thought through… the government wants to bypass the rigorous process of selection through the UPSC to make way for the absorption of people affiliated to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the BJP through the back door,” Congress MP P.L. Punia said.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said in a tweet, “Why are time-tested UPSC and SSC (State Services Commission) being sought to be undermined? To fill IAS ranks with Sanghis and undermine reservation too, in the BJP’s last few months in office.”
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, who has emerged as a key link in the efforts to forge a united Opposition front, said that the decision to hire those who have not cleared the examination conducted by the UPSC is indicative of administrative failure of the Modi government.
It is a “dangerous move that could benefit big businesses through policy making”, the BSP chief said in a statement.
RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said, “We must also not forget that the idea of reservation/representation in public employment through the lens of Article 15(4) and Article 16(4) is being diluted systematically to the huge disadvantage of the SCs, the STs and the OBCs by throwing the positions in contractual appointment bereft of any provisions of reservation.”
Various dalit groups are planning a nation-wide bandh to protest the lateral entry decision.
According to dalit activist Ashok Bharti, the lateral entry plan ignores the compulsory reservation criteria for the SCs and the STs. He said that the protest is being planned in August, during the monsoon session of Parliament.
The lateral entry plan, widely advertised in newspapers, is set to bypass the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination system, which reserves 15 per cent seats for the SCs, 7.5 per cent for the STs and 27 per cent for the OBCs in the Indian Administrative Services (IAS).
The government argues that it wants to hire talent from different spheres, including the private sector, to augment its own capacity.
Whether the move will pay dividends in pursuing the goal of “good governance”, only time can tell, but with this contentious step, the government has taken a huge gamble ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.