The Indian Civil Service (ICS) came into being after the passage the Government of India Act, 1858. The immediate trigger for passing the Act was the Indian rebellion of 1857, what the British called the Sepoy Mutiny. This new administrative structure, in turn, helped annex new territories.
Youngsters in the first five decades of independent India got enticed by the residual goodwill of ICS, which catapulted them into the higher echelons of society. The “social prestige” associated with the service became a fatal attraction and enrolment in the civil service a tour de force.
Initially, the entrants were drawn from the presidency towns; then from other State capitals. Subsequently, students who had education in vernacular medium also joined the service in droves, enriching it, with their sound commonsense.
There is a felt need to stand out in a crowd of 121 crore Indians. Selection into civil service instantly satiates this need. To an insecure mind it provides eternal solace. Shakespeare said that “Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy” and entry into the civil service helps obliterates insecurity.
Jawaharlal Nehru often ridiculed the ICS for its support of British policies. He noted that someone had once defined the ICS, “with which we are unfortunately still afflicted in this country, as neither Indian, nor civil, nor a service.”
As Prime Minister, he retained the structure and its top people, albeit with a change of title to the “Indian Administrative Service.”
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In post-liberalised India, the All-India Services (AIS) are ordained the role of a facilitator, and not necessarily one of a regulator. This took the sheen off AIS and its pre-eminence in economic decision-making is being encumbered.
Besides, in the past three decades regional parties have taken over the reins at the State level and the immediacy of the next election drove the agendas of these parties in power.
The AIS officers are made to toe the line of the political bosses. The concept of a “committed bureaucracy” is being encouraged subtly.
Furthermore, the ethos of society itself is getting metamorphosed. Ill-gotten wealth now bestows instant respectability.
The AIS officers, who always had a ringside view of this process of ill-gotten wealth in the Licence-Quota-Permit Raj, started collaborating with political masters. The percentage of officers who are in this collusive collaboration is increasing by the day.
The parties in power bestow favouritism on civil servants loyal to them. As is evident, from the recent incidents even “Lady Officers” have joined the party. It is no more true that women officers are more honest, they have made news for the wrong reasons.
The cardinal principles of civil service, viz. professionalism, anonymity, integrity and neutrality, are slowly withering.
The chains with which the AIS binds itself are self-acquired, the links were non-existent at the entry, the links are slowly forged and the chains formed. The process is full of compromises, both intellectual and fiscal.
Civil servants taking to politics is a detestable phenomenon. One even rose to become a Chief Minister. This trend severally compromises neutrality during their tenure in service. Traditionally, civil servants were sent as Governors, post-retirement. Now even for this honour civil servants are cultivating politicians unabashedly. Most of the evils perpetuated by ‘to-retire’ civil servants are their craving for post-retirement sinecures.
Ronald Reagan once said “politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession; I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” Perhaps had he worked with the AIS in close quarters, he would have extended the courtesy of comparison to civil servants also.
Vinod Mehta, in his book The Lucknow Boy, pays tribute to E.A.S. Sarma, who fought the PMO to uphold steadfastly what, he thought, was in the larger interest of the nation.
Recently, in Andhra Pradesh, some officers who withstood the onslaught of a former CM are breathing easy, and their successors who obeyed the ‘diktats’ of the former CM are under the CBI scanner.
Noam Chomsky in Deterring Democracy predicted that the unholy businessman-politician nexus will undermine democracy. No party is wholesome, now, without the media. The politician-business-media house nexus, with the tentacles in the bureaucratic network, is a heady mix. Now, well heeled, highly-networked women in the media coalesced into business groups and when caught, vociferously pleaded an “error of judgment” and got away with the egregious. Where does this leave the civil services — in the fox holes?
Judicial activism is yet another new dimension. Now, a few high profile cases against the AIS get so much adverse publicity that it becomes a feed forward mechanism for the judiciary to indulge in more activism.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “the only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” The destiny of civil servants is in the conduct of its own brethren. Unless we steadfastly return to the old edicts of professionalism, anonymity, integrity and neutrality, the evanescent goodwill will be completely eroded.
The need of the hour is silent hard work. One should leave the system unheard, unsung and unwept and while in the system one should sbe free, fair and frank.
Off with the fetters
That chafe and restrain
Off with the chains…(anonymous)
It is worth recalling the most famous ‘Pogo’ quotation: “we have met the enemy and he is us.” The civil servants we wish ‘to be or not to be’ are within us.
(The writer is an IAS officer of Bihar cadre)