PRAB­HAT KU­MAR THE TIES BE­TWEEN BU­REAU­CRACY & PO­LIT­I­CAL SYS­TEM

An ef­fec­tive and hon­est civil ser­vice can­not co­ex­ist with a self seek­ing po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and a re­spon­si­ble demo­cratic sys­tem has to be based on the prin­ci­ples of ethics of gov­er­nance. These are more so im­por­tant in light of the re­cent con­tro­versy in­volvi

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Anew chap­ter was re­cently added to the old de­bate on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive and the se­nior bu­reau­cracy when the Chief Sec­re­tary of Na­tional Ter­ri­tory of Delhi ac­cused a cou­ple of leg­is­la­tors of the rul­ing party of as­sault­ing him in the pres­ence of the Chief Min­is­ter and the Deputy Chief Min­is­ter. Not­with­stand­ing the spe­cial sta­tus of Delhi as a Union Ter­ri­tory State with con­fu­sion about the supremacy of the elected gov­ern­ment, it was a mo­ment of reck­on­ing for civil ser­vants. And hav­ing spent a large part of my life in gov­ern­ment, it set me think­ing on the sub­ject of co­ex­is­tence of politi­cians and civil ser­vants in a demo­cratic set up. It has been my re­cur­rent dis­con­tent that the civil ser­vants do not pay much at­ten­tion to re­flect­ing on the essence of pub­lic ser­vice ad­e­quately, and that they have failed to cre­ate suf­fi­cient en­ergy in their trans­ac­tions with the cit­i­zen. They do not see the need to force changes in the ex­ist­ing mode of ad­min­is­tra­tion. They un­der­es­ti­mate their des­ig­nated role in the sys­tem and are con­tent to live in their com­fort zones. They do not re­alise that their ac­tion re­in­forces the sta­tus quo. It is a tru­ism that the craft of state build­ing re­quires both a po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive to en­vi­sion the wishes of the peo­ple and a per­ma­nent civil ser­vice to help trans­late them into re­al­ity. It is also true that the sub­ject of politi­cian-bu­reau­crat re­la­tion­ship has not at­tracted much at­ten­tion from the po­lit­i­cal thinkers in our coun­try. I for one con­sider this re­la­tion­ship as crit­i­cal in a grow­ing democ­racy like In­dia. Since the politi­cian does not show much in­ter­est in re­solv­ing the prob­lem, the civil ser­vant will have to try to steer the re­la­tion­ship in the best in­ter­est of the State while keep­ing the in­sti­tu­tional in­tegrity in­tact. Over the years, a num­ber of in­ci­dents re­lat­ing to the un­set­tled re­la­tions be­tween the po­lit­i­cal bosses and bureau­crats have been mak­ing news. Top civil ser­vants be­ing shown the door un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously and pub­lic scold­ing of dis­trict of­fi­cials by the min­is­ters are com­mon oc­cur­rences in some states. There have been sev­eral cases of con­struc­tive co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two in acts of or­gan­ised cor­rup­tion. But an al­le­ga­tion of phys­i­cal as­sault on the chief of the civil ser­vice in a State was some­thing un­usual. I re­frain from ex­press­ing my views on the in­ci­dent be­cause the facts are un­clear and ve­he­mently dis­puted. This com­prises one of the three cardinal mis­takes the se­nior civil ser­vants of In­dia have been mak­ing for decades. The other two are act­ing alone and not hav­ing a co­gent vi­sion of the In­dian civil ser­vice. But they are a sub­ject for an­other day. Po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive in a par­lia­men­tary democ­racy are, by de­sign, the in­stru­ments of the elected gov­ern­ment to re­alise the as­pi­ra­tions of the elec­torate. They hold their po­si­tions be­cause they have won the ver­dict of the peo­ple on pub­lic pol­icy. They are ex­pected to be will­ing

and able to work to see that the wishes of the peo­ple are im­ple­mented at the agency level in ac­cor­dance with law and reg­u­la­tion. They per­form a crit­i­cal func­tion: work­ing to trans­late the wishes of the peo­ple into pol­icy ini­tia­tives. Ca­reer civil ser­vants per­form a very dif­fer­ent role. They im­ple­ment pol­icy, be­sides help­ing to make it. They pro­vide con­ti­nu­ity and spe­cialised ex­per­tise based on in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. Tra­di­tion­ally, most of them spend their en­tire work­ing ca­reers in gov­ern­ment, al­though in our coun­try nowa­days it seems to be chang­ing.

My first hy­poth­e­sis is that these roles are sep­a­rate, and it’s im­por­tant to do all we can to keep them sep­a­rate. And this must be re­alised by both the ac­tors. The model of We­be­rian bu­reau­cracy, which has largely been adopted by us, in­sists on a per­ma­nent civil ser­vice with stan­dards of ef­fi­ciency, in­tegrity, ob­jec­tiv- ity, po­lit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence and do­main knowl­edge. It has also the ca­pa­bil­ity to trans­fer its ex­per­tise and loy­alty from one elected gov­ern­ment to an­other. The last fea­ture of We­be­rian bu­reau­cracy poses prob­lems. While it does not mat­ter much in an es­tab­lished democ­racy where main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties have set­tled agen­das, the In­dian scene with its ca­cophony of ide­olo­gies re­quires a chameleon like civil ser­vice. I have been per­son­ally a wit­ness and an ac­com­plice in the game of shift­ing loy­al­ties. In the seven­ties I was in­stru­men­tal, in a small way, of jus­ti­fy­ing the im­po­si­tion of Emer­gency by Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi, and later un­der Janata gov­ern­ment, of tak­ing ac­tion in cases of Emer­gency ex­cesses. This type of sit­u­a­tion is ex­pe­ri­enced by hun­dreds of civil ser­vants to­day. And the new phe­nom­e­non of coali­tion gov­ern­ments has made mat­ters even more com­pli­cated. I have seen the last days of a healthy syn­ergy be­tween po­lit­i­cal mas­ters and civil ser­vants in the ini­tial years of In­dian

Po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive in a par­lia­men­tary democ­racy per­forms a crit­i­cal func­tion: work­ing to trans­late the wishes of the peo­ple into pol­icy ini­tia­tives. Ca­reer civil ser­vants per­form a very dif­fer­ent role. They im­ple­ment pol­icy, be­sides help­ing to make it

democ­racy. It was a pe­riod of uni­for­mity within the ex­ec­u­tive, when both the limbs worked with a shared pur­pose of build­ing the na­tion. Sev­eral in­stances come to my mind when ca­reer bureau­crats ad­vised the min­is­ters against their cho­sen course of ac­tion and their ad­vice was heeded to. There are in­stances of the two sit­ting to­gether and de­cid­ing on schemes and pro­grammes for the peo­ple in the field. An el­e­gant ex­am­ple of con­struc­tive co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two was the great green revo­lu­tion of the six­ties. There was hardly any com­plaint of po­lit­i­cal favouritism or of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion. Dis­trict of­fi­cers were not shifted at the be­hest of lo­cal politi­cians be­fore or af­ter elec­tions. Po­lit­i­cal trans­fer of sec­re­tar­iat of­fi­cers was un­heard of. Al­most in­vari­ably an hon­est and up­right dis­trict mag­is­trate was sup­ported by the state gov­ern­ment. The civil ser­vant re­spected the po­lit­i­cal leader, whether in or out of power, for his lead­er­ship qual­i­ties and his in­flu­ence on the masses cul­ti­vated and nur­tured dur­ing the free­dom strug­gle. The politi­cian was aware of the needs of the peo­ple at the mi­cro level, could iden­tify with them and feel their pulse. He was prag­matic and pur­pose­ful. The politi­cian re­spected the civil ser­vant for his im­par­tial­ity, ad­her­ence to law­ful author­ity, up­right­ness, in­tegrity and knowl­edge of the sub­ject. He could rely on the bu­reau­crat work­ing un­der him for right ad­vice and faith­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion. When the two started work­ing to­gether, it was ex­pected that the re­spec­tive roles would be de­fined and fur­ther re­fined. In­ten­si­fy­ing demo­cratic pro­cesses should have been ac­com­pa­nied by role def­i­ni­tion, which un­for­tu­nately did not hap­pen. Merely say­ing that ‘the politi­cians take de­ci­sions and the babus ad­vise and im­ple­ment’ was not enough. It left room for ar­bi­trari­ness and sloth. The vaguely de­fined rule of demo­cratic supremacy of the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive in de­ci­sion-mak­ing un­for­tu­nately de­scended and per­me­ated into the lower ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment, where the role of the civil ser­vants was cru­cial to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the de­ci­sions taken up­stairs.

Thus the syn­ergy be­tween the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive and the per­ma­nent civil ser­vice that ex­isted in the fifties and the six­ties has been largely eroded over the years. It has had a very dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on the qual­ity of gov­er­nance in the states and also in the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. It has given way to mu­tual dis­trust and at times, even to open con­flict. Ear­lier, dif­fer­ence of views be­tween the po­lit­i­cal mas­ter and se­nior civil ser­vants were nor­mal and fre­quent. When Sar­dar Pa­tel was asked whether he would re­move his sec­re­tary if he ex­pressed con­flict­ing views, Sar­dar replied, ‘No, but if he al­ways agreed with me I will def­i­nitely re­move him’. The in­ter­nal syn­ergy came un­der strain for sev­eral rea­sons. Min­is­ters did not like sec­re­taries voic­ing their dis­agree­ment ei­ther in dis­cus­sions or in the files. There were in­stances where min­is­ters pre­vailed on Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Ap­point­ments to change sec­re­taries of their min­istries. Se­nior of­fi­cers stopped tak­ing proac­tive ac­tions in pol­icy mak­ing and de­cid­ing im­por­tant cases. They are doubt­ful whether their ac­tions would be sup­ported by min­is­ters in en­quiries in­sti­tuted in fu­ture. It did not hap­pen sud­denly. It was like the boil­ing frog syn­drome. It was the grad­ual in­tro­duc­tion of temp­ta­tion in gov­er­nance. It was an ex­tra­ne­ous im­pulse

mainly from emerg­ing trade and in­dus­try. The take off time of In­dian econ­omy her­alded an era of greed. Soon we were in a no-holds barred, all stops pulled game of prof­its. Con­se­quently the top of the gov­ern­ment started fall­ing and then the bot­tom gave way too. Trust turned into dis­trust, mu­tual re­spect into un­easy co­ex­is­tence with per­ilous con­se­quences for the work­ing of a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment. The politi­cians and the bureau­crats to­gether brought down the mono­lithic struc­ture like a cas­tle of cards. My sec­ond hy­poth­e­sis is: An ef­fec­tive and hon­est civil ser­vice can­not co­ex­ist with a self seek­ing po­lit­i­cal sys­tem or a flawed busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. As the former Speaker Som­nath Chatterjee said in the Na­tional Sum­mit on Restora­tion of Na­tional Val­ues, “We can­not get good gov­er­nance from bad pol­i­tics.” And it is equally true for bu­reau­cracy. The rea­son is sim­ple. Where there ex­ists a syn­ergy be­tween the two arms of the ex­ec­u­tive, pol­icy mak­ing is a smooth process and there is rarely re­sent­ment among the civil ser­vants re­gard­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment. You do not hear of pref­er­en­tial post­ings on the ba­sis of favouritism. There is no de­mand for a civil ser­vice board to de­cide on post­ings and trans­fers. The re­la­tion­ship is based on trust as it should be in a re­spon­si­ble demo­cratic sys­tem. And that brings me to my third hy­poth­e­sis: That a re­spon­si­ble demo­cratic sys­tem has to be based on the prin­ci­ples of ethics of gov­er­nance.

Iwas in­tro­duced to the term ‘ ethics of pub­lic gov­er­nance’ when I was in the gov­ern­ment and learned about an in­ter­na­tional col­lo­quium on the sub­ject in Brazil to­wards the end of the cen­tury. Since then it has been stud­ied by a num­ber of thinkers in the World Bank and UNDP. The lit­er­a­ture on the sub­ject is grow­ing. The Cen­tre for Gov­er­nance, with which I am as­so­ci­ated, has been run­ning pro­grammes for the last more than a decade on ‘ ethics of gov­er­nance’ for se­nior civil ser­vants with promis­ing re­sults. I think there is a need to ex­pose the mem­bers of the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive to sim­i­lar pro­grammes. One of the State gov­ern­ments had shown in­ter­est of train­ing the mem­bers of State As­sem­bly in ethics of gov­er­nance. It is our be­lief that such ori­en­ta­tion pro­grammes would help in recre­at­ing a sem­blance of the in­ter­nal con­sis­tency in the gov­ern­ment.

End­point: We must re­mem­ber that there is noth­ing trick­ier to em­bark on or more un­cer­tain than re­ar­rang­ing the equa­tion be­tween the elected and the se­lected.

The take off time of In­dian econ­omy her­alded an era of greed. Soon we were in a no-holds barred, all stops pulled game of prof­its. Con­se­quently the top of the gov­ern­ment started fall­ing and then the bot­tom gave way too. Trust turned into dis­trust, mu­tual re­spect into un­easy co­ex­is­tence with per­ilous con­se­quences for the work­ing of a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment

Arvind Ke­jri­wal

An­shu Prakash

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