After the exams, come the results — a time of reckoning, the judgment day. It is a day when students and their families wait and pray, with nerve wracking energy and anxiety. It is a “do or die” kind of a day, when destinies change for almost everyone — with several hundreds making it to one of India’s most elite public services, and most others, rejected, dejected, set to accept the reality of the moment and trying to move on.
Most Indians have always held the All India Services (AIS) in great esteem, with a rather strong popular narrative that this is the best of India, selected through the most excruciating of tests in three stages, who finally make it to serving the country, and its highest power bearers, who, beyond the optics of politicians, truly make development and almost everything government happen.
This year, as the results came out, the larger theme of women empowerment and crushing all ceilings emerged as the biggest headline. The three national toppers are women in the IAS exams — Shruti Sharma, Ankita Agarwal and Gamini Singla.
Most Indians would have forgotten the name of Pooja Singhal, a woman IAS officer working in Jharkhand, arrested recently by the Enforcement Directorate under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act for allegedly embezzling MGNREGA funds to the tune of over Rs 18 crores.
Most Indians should do well to always etch into their memory the names of Sanjeev Khirwar and Rinku Dugga, an IAS couple, who were both transferred from New Delhi to Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively, after taking their dog for a walk in a stadium. It must hurt citizens of remote areas that posting to Ladakh and Arunachal are considered “punishment” postings in the IAS view of the country.
For a nation rapidly trying to undo and rectify historical wrongs, this sort of first city bias smacks off a colonial hangover and represents an almost stupendous achievement of control of narrative that persists even inside the present government. The IAS, in every sense, is indeed a colonial legacy, a remake of the ICS of the British Empire which was an elite force conceptualised by Thomas Babington Macaulay more than two centuries ago aimed at keeping the slave subjects in place and the empire safe.
The UPSC has now added 685 more Indians to the elite services — 244 (general category), 73 (economically weaker sections), 203 (OBCs), 105 (Scheduled Castes) and 60 (Scheduled Tribes), who will soon head to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy Of Administration, Charleville, Mussoorie, for training, following which they will take charge of the fate of millions of Indians.
Even in popular Indian art, movies and TV series, the IAS is shown as a real life replica of its best brochure — educated, sophisticated, dedicated, selfless, professional, intelligent, compassionate, fearless, and in service of the nation and its people, a Dr Jekyll, which has no Mr Hyde facet at all.
India must relook hard at this colonial legacy, the services and its utility; and maybe redraw the entire approach to identifying, creating and training a set of people who, unelected and unanswerable directly to people, have extraordinary powers over them but largely remain hidden behind a tape — a red tape — and identified best by the white Turkish towels draped over their chairs....