SE­DUC­TION OF POWER

India Today - - SIGNATURE - KAVEREE BAMZAI

ROUGH CUT

In 1997, when Rathikant Basu quit as sec­re­tary, Elec­tron­ics, to run Star TV for Ru­pert Mur­doch, it cre­ated con­ster­na­tion in the govern­ment. Basu had sought the best le­gal and po­lit­i­cal ad­vice from Ram Jethmalani and I.K. Gu­jral. He had joined Star af­ter a three-month cool­ing off pe­riod and had fore­gone his pen­sion, yet there was a whiff of some­thing un­eth­i­cal about it. The govern­ment of the day went af­ter him, start­ing a CBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him for dis­pro­por­tion­ate as­sets, drown­ing him in a tor­rent of head­lines ques­tion­ing his com­mit­ment to na­tional in­ter­est and block­ing Star TV’s en­try into DTH broad­cast­ing. Within two years, 35 of­fi­cers took vol­un­tary re­tire­ment from the govern­ment to join var­i­ous pri­vate chan­nels which were burst­ing at the seams with money and pos­si­bil­ity in the first flush of me­dia lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. Yet, now there is hardly a mur­mur when se­nior bu­reau­crats seek vol­un­tary re­tire­ment or quit su­per­an­nu­a­tion sinecures to join the BJP. Satya­pal Singh, the com­mis­sioner of po­lice in Mum­bai, was to re­tire in 2015, but he was in such haste to join BJP that the new Com­mis­sioner Rakesh Maria didn’t even have any­one to take a han­dover from. R.S. Pandey quit his com­mis­sion as in­ter­locu­tor for peace talks with the Na­gas to join the BJP. R.K. Singh, who re­tired as home sec­re­tary in June, also joined the BJP in De­cem­ber. All say they want to serve the na­tion—the very po­etic Satya­pal even says he wants to work for world peace.

Great, but per­haps it is time in In­dia to of­fi­cially in­au­gu­rate the Amer­i­can spoils sys­tem. Ask Har­ish Salve about this, and he replies, in ex­as­per­a­tion, there is al­ready a de facto spoils sys­tem in oper­a­tion in In­dia, and that is his bug­bear. In­deed it is, he is fight­ing a case for for­mer DG of the Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force Prakash Singh, who be­lieves there should be a manda­tory two-year cool­ing off pe­riod for all bu­reau­crats be­fore they work else­where. In IN­DIA TO­DAY, we have re­ported on the se­ries of sinecures bu­reau­crats have cre­ated for them­selves within the govern­ment, care­fully colonis­ing reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties, in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sions, and even gu­ber­na­to­rial po­si­tions. But the de­sire of bu­reau­crats to take over pol­i­tics is a new phe­nom­e­non al­to­gether. The last such high-pro­file tran­si­tion hap­pened in 1991, when T.N. Chaturvedi joined the BJP af­ter serv­ing as comp­trol­ler and au­di­tor gen­eral. In fact, when Congress politi­cians wanted to at­tack CAG Vinod Rai, they would ques­tion his po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions and point to Chaturvedi’s prece­dent. So far, Mr Rai has not obliged them, and is liv­ing a quiet, re­tired life in his Vas­ant Vi­har home in Delhi, re­sist­ing the temptations of­fered both by Aam Aadmi Party and BJP. Ser­vice rules for­bid him from be­ing re-em­ployed in the govern­ment, so that win­dow of per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment with the govern­ment is out.

There are two ques­tions here: Should bu­reau­crats have the right to re­de­ploy their ex­per­tise in pol­i­tics and the cor­po­rate world with­out the req­ui­site cool­ing off pe­riod, tak­ing with them the knowl­edge earned on tax­pay­ers’ money? And should po­lit­i­cal par­ties not have the right to cherry-pick se­nior bu­reau­crats and make them can­di­dates in an en­vi­ron­ment when tra­di­tional vote banks are erod­ing and new re­quire­ments are emerg­ing—of cred­i­ble pro­fes­sion­als who can deliver on gov­er­nance? Per­haps, but the lack of rules gov­ern­ing this grey area of post-re­tire­ment po­si­tions has cost sev­eral up­right bu­reau­crats their rep­u­ta­tions. Pradeep Bai­jal, who served as tele­com sec­re­tary and then as TRAI chair­man, is the most prom­i­nent who is cur­rently fac­ing a CBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the Ni­ira Ra­dia tapes case over his ap­point­ment to a Pipe­line Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee that al­legedly favoured Re­liance In­dus­tries. How will his­tory view some­one like R.K. Singh, es­pe­cially as he at­tacks his for­mer min­is­ter Sushilku­mar Shinde on po­lit­i­cal grounds? Un­for­tu­nately, the cur­rent Govern­ment has so dis­cred­ited it­self by us­ing in­stru­ments of state to trap its po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and nearly wreck­ing the sen­si­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the CBI and the In­tel­li­gence Bureau in the process, that it has few sym­pa­this­ers left—from within the Govern­ment, in the up­per ech­e­lons of the bu­reau­cracy, or even with­out, among those who have re­cently re­tired.

IT’S TIME TO OF­FI­CIALLY IN­AU­GU­RATE THE AMER­I­CAN SPOILS SYS­TEM IN IN­DIA. THE LACK OF RULES IN THIS GREY AREA OF POSTRE­TIRE­MENT PO­SI­TIONS HAS COST SEV­ERAL UP­RIGHT BU­REAU­CRATS THEIR REP­U­TA­TIONS.

Il­lus­tra­tion by SAU­RABH SINGH

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