"Has the country failed the IAS?" Published in PIONEER On may 15 , 2022
Last evening I posted it on twitter and with in no time I received many messages- from some IAS officers I knew and some others whom I did not - hugely complimenting me for my article but demanding, in the very next breath- an equally trenchant and hard hitting article on IPS . The IAS and the IPS - they are a funny pair: parity is the zest of of an IPS officer's life. He spends the best part of his career seeking this impossible goal. I never knew IAS officers too seek parity in some circumstances . Here is the text of the article.
Officers of the Indian Administrative Service ( IAS) who demonstrate the capability to make money from the system ,and make it fast , inevitably endear themselves to people in power. So , whatever the outcome of the ongoing investigation against Jharkhand Mines and Industry secretary Pooja Singhal, IAS , it will not interfere with the chances of her appointment as Chief Secretary of Jharkhand , when her time comes. In its brief history of twenty years as a separate state, Jharkhand has honoured three such IAS officers by appointing them as Chief Secretaries . Among officers so appointed was a gentleman who was facing trial in two cases related to financial irregularities in purchase of fertilizer. Another one had spent many months in jail on charges of forcing entrepreneurs to donate money to his NGOs and finally won a reprieve from the Supreme Court . A third officer who was convicted in an animal husbandry case, and perhaps died in jail, had two stints as chief secretary of Jharkhand. Jharkhand’s case may be an exception, but in popular imagination IAS officers can make money not only with impunity but with honour .
There are two standard explanations for the steady diminution of the stature and prestige of the IAS . The first consists of playing down the well-founded criticisms of servility and capitulation, corruption and chicanery. Even though sometimes the merit of the criticism is granted , its significant contribution to the polity and society is dwelt upon at great length; distortions and aberrations that may have crept in are laid at the door of the many extenuating circumstances.
"If the IAS has failed it is because the country has failed ( or is failing at an accelerated rate) ," is only the extreme formulation of such an approach. The other strategy is to deflect- and devalue - the criticism by outwitting and silencing 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.
The IAS, according to one view, requires a particular kind of society to function to its full potential , something like the idylls of Nehruvian era. The post-Independence leaders and influencers like Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Ambedkar, Madan Mohan Malviya, T T Krishnamachari, Acharya Kriplani, Jyoti Basu, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaiprakash Narayan ( to mention just a handful); industrialists like JRD Tata, Jamnalal Bajaj, Dinshaw Petit and GD Birla; editors like Desmond Doig, Arun Shourie, Sunanda K Dattaray, Kushwant Singh, Frank Moraes and Russi Karanjia have been mostly replaced by pygmies and carpet baggers. These people may win elections, make billion of dollars in one year or run up huge TRP ratings, but they are incapable of promoting public values or morals, or establishing ethical corporate standards, or writing an editorial ( let alone investigating a story).
But that is hardly the case .The IAS has not only been quick to limber up to the changed political realities, it has scripted an even more indispensable role for itself in the era of “pygmies and carpetbaggers.”
Politics, to appropriate Balzac’s remark , has become like ,“Soldiering, … chiefly a financial undertaking, you need gold in order to do battle, and you need to do battle in order to get gold.” Some governments are( were ) headed by leaders from newly emergent political classes for whom English was not the language of choice, who did not feel constrained by rules, regulations etc and were quite upfront about their intentions to abuse their office for personal gains.
The longevity of governments challenged the myths that the IAS had forged out of isolated life stories of a young collector telling off a CM, a chief secretary recording his dissent in days long gone by, myths that made them intelligible to themselves, provided them with their reassurance during times of self-doubt. Governments were there to stay; they were here today, they were going to be here tomorrow. How long could they wait out in the cold?
Though supposed to be unaligned, personally free and subject to the executive authority only within a defined area, they choose to be incorporated in the apparatus of political power . Commitment to rule based governance , are pragmatically abandoned by such officers . They are for the government , the government is for them.
An interesting example from marine biology will serve as an apt metaphor. In the Bay of Naples, a common sea slug medusa , and a snail, start off as independent organisms but on close encounter become conjoined in such a manner that both the jellyfish and the snail shed off a lot of themselves. A small portion of the snail gets permanently affixed to the ventral surface near the mouth of the jellyfish to become one single organism. They get along nicely in a symbiotic arrangement, exploiting each other’s biological capabilities and yet retain their specific otherness.
A clutch of trusted officers-the drastically edited version of service , the cadre may have hundreds of officers , in an arrangement reminiscent of the medusa and the snail, handle the core sectors of the governments as also the entire range of political purpose. The others are kept in a state of idle splendour. But like an Englishman the IAS is “never at a loss for an effective moral attitude … you will never find … them in the wrong.” It is responsible for the marginalisation of its own service and yet persists with the complaint of political interference.
There is a wide recognition that the creation of the IAS was one of the cardinal follies of the wise. It is irrelevant to the people at large but it has made itself hugely useful to the political class . In an unusual consensus, cutting across their ideological divide , they have found them to be even more valuable after retirement than they are in service. As heads of all the accountability institutions , all those roadblocks to arbitrary exercise of executive power, they render them defunct . In many states you can find officers recruited in the 60s , 70s, 80s making themselves useful to their political masters in a myriad ways. To stand an old saying on its head , “the dead lion is even more valuable than the living donkey .”
The alliance of these two major institutions has significantly altered the balance of power much to the detriment of democracy.