At worst, it’s a criminal conspiracy; and at best, it’s cynical politics. Either way, nothing can possibly justify the suspension of Uttar Pradesh IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal by the Samajwadi Party government. Even going by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s explanation that action against her was taken as the government anticipated communal trouble after an illegally constructed wall of a mosque was demolished under her supervision, the hastily-ordered suspension makes no sense. While the villagers are upset at the demolition of the wall, they also insist there is no danger of violence. The most charitable explanation for Ms Nagpal’s suspension would have to be that the SP is trying to play politics with the religious sentiments of the people. But at what cost? Though there is no evidence of Ms Nagpal having acted illegally or irresponsibly, Mr. Yadav appears to have based his decision on the petty political calculations of a local ruling party MLA, Narinder Bhati, who nurses ambitions of standing from the area for the Lok Sabha. Sadly for the Muslims of U.P., politicians seeking the votes of the community do so on the basis of protection racket politics rather than actually working to improve the living conditions of ordinary Muslims. As we head towards 2014, it is apparent the Samajwadi Party intends to pursue this approach.

What makes Ms Nagpal’s suspension as the Gautambudhnagar sub-divisional magistrate doubly alarming is that she was active in the crackdown against illegal sand mining on the Yamuna and Hindon river banks. The IAS officer had made enemies of the politically powerful sand and building mafia by organising special squads against illicit mining and seizing their illegal loads. Whether it was Mr. Bhati who chose to take political advantage of the mosque wall demolition or it was the sand mining mafia that used the mosque issue as an opportunity to get rid of an inconvenient officer, the unmistakable fact is that Ms Nagpal is a victim of political machinations. The rules governing tenure for the bureaucracy, including all-India services like the IAS, are complicated. While there is no easy way for the Central government to intervene in favour of Ms Nagpal, as suggested by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Uttar Pradesh government must realise its mistake and revoke the suspension immediately. The facts being what they are, this is not a matter that ought to be escalated as a dispute between the Centre and the State; hopefully, Chief Minister Yadav will see sense, and not sacrifice the interests of governance and administrative efficiency for some imaginary political gain.

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