SEDUCTION OF POWER
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.