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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Rusted Steel Frame


The occasion for this piece was the open admission of helplessness, by a chief secretary in putting up the file to the government for its order, on my submission, in a matter of grave public importance. 
I wrote this the same evening, in a state of emotional overdrive.  There are many statements which, on more sober reflection, I would like to modify, but I am posting it as it is, to commemorate the integrity and depth of my emotions.  I shall revert to the matter which triggered this meditative piece in due course of time.


The disappointment with the degenerate world is a necessary accompaniment to the process of ageing.  What many of us – retired, or about to retire, civil servants – often fail to see, or deliberately overlook, is our own contribution to the deterioration.  The de rigour refrain – things were different in “our time” – begs the question:  who is responsible for leaving it different.  Did the rot set in overnight?   How did we occupy ourselves while the grass was growing right under our feet? 

This post tries to lend some clarity to my own muddled, confused thoughts on the issue of abdication of both courage and responsibility at the highest level of civil service. 

Intellectuals have a major role to play in the civil society – by civil society I mean that area of intellectual independence and political neutrality where issues are deliberated for their intrinsic worth.  In Bihar, in a limited sense of the term, the higher civil service was also an extension of the civil society; the official file was both a crucible for intellectual honesty as well as a site for resistance.  The opinions of the civil servants, which often ran contrary to the wishes of the chief political executive, expressed fearlessly and with conviction became part of the folklore.  Their careers were as important to them as anyone else, but there was a certain detachment and stoicism about it in the best of them. 

The Indian Administrative Service consciously modelled itself after its more illustrious predecessors in the ICS whom Philip Woodruff described as, “a ruling class, a class apart.  They were hard working in a debilitating climate, incorruptible in a society riddled with bribery, celibate until middle age in a subcontinent which married at puberty.  Above all they were intellectuals. 

Being an intellectual brought in its wake the responsibility to speak "truth to power", in the famous phrase of Julian Benda.  And in the early years of independence, many did conform to these ideals .  They were the Praetorian guards, defending the public service against the onslaughts of corrupt elements from below and above.  Incrementally, but not imperceptibly, the service has lost its independence of thought and, thereby, its identity. 
The steady process of diminution has been noticed by all, but no collective effort has been made to stem the rot.  The service not only rubbishes well-founded criticisms of servility and capitulation, it felicitates itself loudly even though it is aware of the merit of the criticism all the time.  The other strategy to deflect criticism is to outwit and silence the critic with a more vehement self-critical diatribe, an anguished self-loathing of their own, as if the act of advertising could, in itself, absolve the service of all the sins that were being advertised. 

For the Guardians – that is how the ancestor service had been conceived, and the descendants are quick to flaunt their lineage – moral and ethical standards were the first line of defence.  Peer opinion came next.  The deterrence posed by laws figures at the bottom of the pile.  But there are no gold standards now. 

The pursuit of that “bitch-goddess  success” has become part of a collective, coercive creed, so much so that anyone who refuses to believe in it finds himself ostracized. 

The new role models are also the new power brokers in our society, whose non-traditional ascents to key positions in government have challenged the established orthodoxy honesty is the best policy or professional competence can take you to the top.  Stripped of their moral authority, they nevertheless still strut with a phony majesty.  Many of them, their egos already inflated past safety level, are generally a deluded lot who think that they cast a shadow on the world stage, disproportionate to their size and importance.  (Disproportionate wealth would be nearer the truth, but we invariably miss that point.)  

There are, of course, still some – I would not expose them – who have resisted the temptation, in a tragic, almost masochistic, adherence to values which the rest of the service has long since jettisoned.  They are so rare that you have to have the instinct of an archaeologist or the skill of a scuba diver to prise them out.  Or go about in the darkness at noon, like the Athenian cynic Diogenes, lantern in hand looking for courageous civil servants.  

11 comments:

Gokul said...

A running and live commentary on our pathetic governance. If one of the most respected and senior most IPS officer, who recently retired cannot get a file moving, then there is little hope for the common man. The civil servants in general, have pawned their self esteem , integrity and honesty and has failed the Nation at various levels of governance. Before we blame the self seeking politician , we must blame the Babus who are under oath for fair governance. They immorally and unethically compromised the welfare of the Nation for petty personal gains.
Sri Nath who sacrificed his career a great deal to walk the path of truth, must use his great wisdom, vision, skills and above all patritotism to inspire our people to fight graft and misgovernance. I hope he joins the likes of Gen Kapoor and contributes his share to clean up the accumulated filth.
People like him can help bring the past glory of Bharat

Er. AMOD KUMAR said...

Respected Sir,
Very excellent post you have posted about the present scenario . you have well defined "truth to power", and so many real facts in this post.
With Kind Regards

Er. AMOD KUMAR said...

Respected Sir,
Very excellent post you have posted about the present scenario . you have well defined "truth to power", and so many real facts in this post.
With Kind Regards

रजनीश said...

It's an excellent and factual writing.

रजनीश said...

It's an excellent and factual writing. A lesser in English must have a dictionary while reading this article.

ajoyipsbhr85 said...

the best part of this masterpiece is the concern for preservation of the endangered species called ethically courageous civil servant...
disclosing their names would have made them face greater ire from the society... and their deflated pockets..
we have heard the main idea time and again, but it is here that we come across a master narrator.. who remains dignified even in frustration

ajoyipsbhr85 said...

the best part of this masterpiece is the consideration for the endangered species called ethically steadfast civil servant.. as listing a few names would have resulted in their facing greater ire from the society...
the idea moved here is not new, but here lies the magic of the master narrator.. who remains dignified even in frustration..

Manoje Nath said...

Ajay,
Before I address myself to your comments , you an explanation for your loooooong absence. Your comments are so pertinent and help light up certain aspects of the post which i myself may not have thought. Thanks.

aawaz said...

In the starting of this blog when u rightly commented on "things were different in our time" mentality, i recalled legendary hindi author Premchand, "बुड्ढों के लिए अतीत के सुख, वर्त्तमान के दुःख और भविष्य के सर्वनाश से बेहतर और कोई मनपसंद वार्त्तालाप का विषय नहीं हो सकता "...i agree with u whenever anyone starts talking like "IN OUR TIME", it symbolizes their conservativeness and " not to be changed" attitude..i agree that IAS, IPS or other coveted services have been deteriorated from what they once used to be. I also fully respect your account as truthful one but still i hv some hope if not pride in the service. because i think still much can be done for the betterment of people at least at junior level ( i agree with u sir, at senior level things may be worse but at junior level there is still a hope, though the question to be answered is how things get worsened in the process.) i personally think, any service itself is neither good or bad, there are people who make it so. our values have been deteriorating and this is reflecting in every sphere of life and so in services also...but i think a 'perhaps' is still a better way than a 'no-no'.

Neeraj Singh said...

Well written Manojeji. Yourself being an upright officer, One can understand the plight you have narrated, thru this tale. Problem is 2 fold, I think. Corrupt always work together unlike the fiery, upright ones who always dare others single handedly. It is one of the primary reasons why some of the great warriors lost to the British in defending our nation. The only example that one can think of where people were brought together, was to fight against Alexander, by Chanakya (based on my limited knowledge & understanding of history). Had he not played the role of the "Sutradhar", results could have been much different.

Political class always keep these cronies together - "Mil Baant ke khao" - types scheme where everyone is provided a share hence keeping the dark forces intact. When people like Arvind Kejriwal fight a good battle, trying to bring the good forces together, which I support as a cause but not as an idea of satisfying his political ambitions thru this platform, they get tormented easily because they seem to loose the larger path very quickly & make the battle personalized instead of fighting a larger battle against the system.

Wouldn't it be a good idea to get all serving & retired upright IAS officers together & fight the battle collectively.

We just need a "Sutradhar"!!!

Neeraj Singh
http://www.uttishthabharat.com/

Neeraj Singh said...

Well Written Manojeji. We just need a "Sutradhar". Battles can be lost or won - that's really immaterial till the time we have the resolve to have a word in that. You had your word until the time you remained in Service & that's important. It happens with all those who want to play the game fairly. You knew before you began, that you will not win all battles, you will be persecuted, You will be challenged at every level. Question is not if this file couldn't move at ur level so what would happen to a person who is much below in the ladder. Question is what can be done so that the files move irrespective of one's position.

Neeraj Singh
http://www.uttishthabharat.com/