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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Resurrected from Retirement

For the last several decades ambitious political leaders have sought to create fiercely loyal battalions of bureaucratic palace guards who, if they pass the loyalty test, are exempted from every other. The idea of the neutrality of civil service has long since been jettisoned in practice and the civil servant and political masters often show the internal cohesion of predatory gangs. Occasionally civil servants reveal themselves to have been secret party moles by seeking elections at an appropriate juncture on party ticket or being nominated to legislative bodies. Governments, regardless of political persuasion, are now ruthless even palpably unjust and vindictive in their approach when it comes to dealing with those who do not have the talent to please  or have nothing but their professionalism and commitment to fall back upon. The perils of independence are unacceptable, the rewards of collaboration unimaginable.

 The very best of civil servants – assuming that those who reach the top are the best –acquire a ‘”palimpsest identity composed of a series of snap shots painted one over the other.” It comes in handy in passing the loyalty test of mutually hostile regimes and speeds up their upward journey. By reaching the top they become doubly blessed. The ripe old age of 60 opens for them the opportunities for the various sine cure assignments, carrying huge responsibilities and countervailing powers, privileges and immunities. In some measure on their efficient and impartial functioning depends the strength of our democracy.
Montaigne who died at the relatively young age of 59 felt that, “aging diminishes us each day in a way that, when death finally arrives, it takes away only a quarter or half the man.” At sixty the ravages of time and the effects of fighting many a succession battles  reduces the successful civil servant to one quarter of a man and three quarters of moral vacuum. His outward appearance however is closer to Levi Strauss’s description who felt like a ‘shattered hologram’ that had lost its unity but still retained an image of the whole self. The image of the whole self of the civil servant also hides the evolutionary miracle of his regression to the stage of invertebrates.  Rendered intellectually supple and morally maneuverable, he is a handful of putty in the hands of governments who appoints them.

The political class is in a win win situation .On paper they can boast of the most progressive and forward looking oversight agencies. Central Vigilance Commission, Information Commission etc which are tools of empowerment for the people, but one supplicating incumbent heading such a body actually works to disempower the people.  Just one instance of the scandal relating to the recent appointment of a CVC will jog the public memory about the general malaise. There were credible allegations against the Chief Information Commissioner of a state, a compulsive post retirement office grabber, of having killed the RTI. The political class laughs all the way because by placing one reliable pawn it can have at its command one whole compliant institution. And should someone like the present CAG, who heeds to the call of his conscience and does what his charter commands him to do, e a general murmur of disappointment and betrayal is heard all around in the corridors of power!

By the way has anyone ever wondered that despite an overwhelmingly large population of young men and women why do we end up having a whole geriatric community, comprising of decrepit civil servants, presiding over the crucial institutions on whose performance the health and hygiene of our democracy depends? Would a young and conscientious lawyer make a worse CVC than, say a retired telecom secretary? What special skill does he bring to a job that a young and politically uncommitted lawyer cannot? Is a social activist or a teacher less suitable than a cabinet secretary who may have engineered several palace coups to head the Election Commission? This is where the civil service comes in handy. Making of rules is a typically bureaucratic industry; unmaking it or finding a suitable exception to suit every contingency is an art form of which they are the greatest exponents. The inbred system resists injection of fresh blood and stifles creative possibilities.
 The appointment of even class four employees is strictly regulated but the governments have arrogated to themselves huge powers to appoint such functionaries many of which do not require any parliamentary oversight or consultation. This is an ideal situation for breeding political and bureaucratic corruption and the likes of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare would be equally well occupied in ensuring that what is given to the people by the right hand by various progressive legislations etc is not taken away by the left hand of the government.