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IAS in the corner office

Businessman looking at city through office window.  

On February 10, replying to the debate on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that private sector bashing was no longer politically expedient.

“If one becomes an IAS officer, will he also run a fertilizer factory … will he run a chemical factory too … will he fly aeroplanes? ... What are we going to achieve by placing the country in the hands of babus,” he quipped.

If you honestly ask an IAS officer if he wants to run a fertilizer factory or a chemical enterprise, most likely he will lob a rhetorical question back at you: “Did I ask for it?”

Reluctant managers

Ironically though, the reply to Mr. Modi’s rhetorical questions is yes. The IAS officers in the past had willy-nilly run fertilizer and cement factories, textile and spinning mills, automobile manufacturing units, hotels and hospitality enterprises and others. They did not perhaps ask for it, but had to do it anyway in pursuit of the vision of the then executive authorities.

It cannot be gainsaid that the young men and women joining the IAS are among the brightest of the country. Of late, many come from diverse professional disciplines such as engineering, medicine, management, law and commerce. However, the IAS cadre is expected to be a jack of all trades and master of none. Shuttling from agriculture to archives and fisheries to finance, they collect a unique bouquet of experiences and develop a distinctive lateral-thinking acumen. Their field experience, gained while working at the grassroots, is nonpareil. For these reasons, post-retirement, they are inducted on the boards of private companies.

The reverse is also true. Eminent experts and professionals from the non-government sector, from time to time in the past, had occupied the exalted ranks of the Secretary to the Government of India in the Finance Ministry and others. Lately, lateral entry has been formalised and young persons are being directly inducted into the government at the senior level. It is expected to introduce a breath of fresh air in administration.

In the ultimate analysis, IAS officers are indeed not entrepreneurs but only a flavour enhancer, comparable to MSG, or mono-sodium glutamate, used in food. The real ingredients are the people and their representatives. Though a little amount of MSG imparts savour, its overuse may lead to health problems. The need to use the IAS not only appropriately but also sparingly cannot, therefore, be overstated. Hence the motto: minimum government, maximum governance.

Finally, though the IAS officers are wary of postings in public sector enterprises, it is a different story post-retirement. Apart from getting inducted as independent directors in companies, they never tire of gloating over their achievements while running fertilizer and cement factories.

(The author is a former Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha)

vkagnihotri25@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 1:49:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/ias-in-the-corner-office/article34004553.ece

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