Opinion Columnists 31 Jan 2017 Reflections: Dangers ...
Sunanda K Datta-Ray is a senior journalist, columnist and author.

Reflections: Dangers many from a partisan bureaucracy

Published Jan 31, 2017, 12:32 am IST
Updated Jan 31, 2017, 7:03 am IST
The rationale is that an official’s ideology is not his private business but a public attribute.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)

The appointment of a new chancellor of Nalanda University recalls the transfer of a Madhya Pradesh collector who had praised Jawaharlal Nehru in a Facebook post. Vijay P. Bhatkar, the new chancellor, is an eminent scientist. He produced our first supercomputer and made India the third country in the world, after the United States and Japan, to develop supercomputing technology when the Americans snubbed Rajiv Gandhi. What generates as much public interest, however, is that he is also president of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s affiliated scientific body, Vigyan Bharati. Any head of government needs people who are in sympathy with his political outlook and whom he can trust in key positions. Recognising this, several Western countries — Britain and Australia for instance — instituted an informal “fast track” in their diplomatic service for tacit supporters of the ruling party who are promoted faster than the rest.

The rationale is that an official’s ideology is not his private business but a public attribute. That presented no difficulty during all those decades when Nehru’s vision was identified with the country’s interest. The national ideals of secularism, socialism and democracy made everyone a Congressman at heart. That fundamental philosophy of governance remained intact even under Atal Behari Vajpayee. But times have changed. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh gave short shrift to socialism. While Rajiv Gandhi pandered to Muslims, Narasimha Rao looked the other way as Bharatiya Janata Party fanatics tore down a massive symbol of secularism. Narendra Modi’s Gujarat dealt further grievous wounds to secularism’s bleeding body politic. Now, like Donald Trump in the US, Mr Modi can claim popular backing to drive coach and horses through orthodox democratic norms and conventions. Although no reason was given for transferring Ajay Gangwar, collector of Badwani in Madhya Pradesh, to Bhopal as a deputy secretary in the secretariat there, reports indicate his offence was to take a swipe at the BJP while honouring Nehru.

 

“Is it his mistake that he prevented all of us from becoming Hindu Talibani rashtra in 1947?” his post asked in Hindi. “Is it his mistake that he honoured Sarabhai, Homi Jehangir, in place of intellectuals like Asaram and Ramdev... and set up universities instead of gaushalas and temples?” The Madhya Pradesh administration is divided on the issue. The chief secretary, Antony D’Sa, reportedly declined to comment but others accused Mr Gangwar of violating service conduct rules. They felt his reference to “Hindu Talibani” could incite communal friction. Mention of gaushalas mocked the Nandishala Yojana, a project to improve cattle genetics, which is sacrilege in a BJP-ruled state where vigilantes demand a sanctity for cows that they deny humans. Among the rumblings of support and dissent could be heard the voice of Madhya Pradesh’s culture secretary, Manoj Srivastava, the author of learned books on culture and religion, and a regular Facebook contributor, who didn’t think Mr Gangwar had been punished for praising Nehru.

 

“But criticising the government of the day amounts to crossing the Lakshman rekha”, he said. Clearly, the objection is not to expressing political opinions but to the substance of the opinion. Civil servants are free to agree with their political masters. No harm came to Mr Srivastava for joining the government chorus and criticising Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNU students facing sedition charges. “We cannot tolerate anybody raising anti-India slogans”, he said, pre-empting the trial and assuming guilt. The wonder is that more such controversies haven’t cropped up. Given the level of appointments, one doesn’t expect a repetition of the rowdy protests that erupted when Gajendra Chauhan was made director of the Film and Television Institute of India. But many of the most important jobs in Mr Modi’s government have gone to luminaries of the Vivekananda International Foundation which is affiliated to the RSS via the Vivekananda Kendra. The most important is, of course, held by Ajit Doval who is national security adviser. But the Prime Minister’s principal secretary and additional principal secretary, Nripendra Misra and P.K. Misra, are also political loyalists while another VIF veteran, A. Surya Prakash, was recently appointed chairman of the Prasar Bharati board. Contrary to the vigorously asserted boast that this government doesn’t run on patronage like its Congress predecessors, it relies heavily on providing jobs for the boys.

 

This is only to be expected since, as the Prime Minister never tires of reiterating, he is an outsider in the Delhi Durbar. He must, therefore, secure his authority through safe nominees in key slots as well as reward those already there who are loudest in his praise. It’s the most effective way of ensuring that like the fakir he professes to be, Mr Modi doesn’t ever have to pick up his jhola and quit. What matters more is how he remoulds the administration. There should be no situations such as occurred in Madhya Pradesh when a senior RSS leader accused the police of beating him up in custody. Nor should two senior officers be transferred for “wrongly handling the case” and 10 policemen be charged with attempted murder even though the medical report ruled out life-threatening injuries. The wife of one of the 10 charged says her husband was targeted because he is Muslim. All governments expect total obedience which most bureaucrats are happy to offer. But only strict enforcement of Rule 7 of the All-India Service Conduct Rules (1964) forbidding civil servants from making “any public utterance... which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Central government or a state government” would legitimise the toadies with whom the corridors of power are already crawling. India needs an impartial and objective bureaucracy that attends to public welfare without displaying partisan bias.

 

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