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Civil servants must be true to their job, not political masters

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Civil servants must be true to their job, not political masters

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The tendency to go overboard to please the politician, is evident in a number of civil servants. It may bring temporary “rewards” but could be devastating in the long run.

Civil servants must be true to their job, not political masters
Sameer Wankhede, an Indian Revenue Service officer, now on deputation to Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB), is not the first officer getting caught in political cross fire but it is somewhat different and much more sinister.
There have been number of instances in the past where civil servants got caught in political crossfire and ended up being penalized for no fault of theirs. Harish Chandra Gupta’s is a classic case where, as a consequence of the change in the government at the Centre, he was hauled for the alleged coal scam as the ultimate decision maker (the then Prime Minister who held the charge of Coal Ministry) deserted him and the new government wanted to nail someone.
There have been many such instances both at the Centre and in the States where officers have suffered. At the Centre it is a recent occurrence but in the States like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh this has been going on for a while. There were indeed many cases where the civil servants themselves responsible for their miseries but in a large number of cases, they weren’t. Yet, they suffered.
Then how is the current trend different from what was happening earlier? And, what is the likely fallout of this development?
So far it was the change in the government that resulted in action against civil servants who were deemed to be close to the previous government that triggered such an action. However, now it is on account of an unprecedented “war” going on between the Centre and the State. It all started with West Bengal where the Chief Secretary did not attend the meeting of the Prime Minister at the behest of the Chief Minister.
The Chief Secretary belonged to Indian Administrative Service but was serving the State Government when the incident happened. What were the options available with him? He should have and perhaps would have attended the meeting but for being specifically being asked not to attend. He was at that point in time under the supervision and control of the State Government. He had no option but to abide by the directives of the Chief Minster. However, now he has been issued all sorts of notices from the Central Government.
The manner in which the Central Government enforcement agencies are perceived to be selectively picking up individuals and institutions for “raids”, inquiries and actions has a similar fallout though a trifle different in nature. The Central Government officers are now being perceived as “agents” carrying out the insidious designs of the Central Government. The case of Sameer Wankhede falls in this category. Unfortunately, now the past of this officer is being dug out to somehow embarrass him. It is free for all and has the potential of derailing administration that could go in for a free fall. With a Minister of the State Government joining the issue, it could even be worse. Truth becomes biggest casualty in such political dramas.
Officers may be serving the Central Government but they belong to a particular state. They have their families/relatives living there. If not-so-friendly State Governments do decide to go after the families of these officers as was done by the Central Government in case of an Election Commissioner (who ultimately succumbed to the pressure and resigned), administration could go into a tail-spin. All these developments do not augur well. The ongoing war has to come to an end. Someone has to display much needed sagacity to take the initiative. This is what is expected of the politicians. Whether this will happen or not is a million-dollar question. However, what can a civil servant do to save his back-side.
In the following tweets that I had hosted not very long ago lies the answer:
“Unfortunately, Civil Servants are and will continue to pay this and heavier price on account of political cross-fire. Hence, it is necessary that they don’t go overboard and act according to the Constitution and their conscience and not become puppets of politicians both at the Centre and the States”
“Civil Servants must realise that no politician, whether at the Centre or in the States will stand by them if they get into trouble. Hence, if they don’t strictly follow the law, they can themselves be in trouble in these troubled times. Try not to be ‘used’. ‘Ardh Satya’ is still the truth”
“Civil Servants must realise that even their own colleagues will not come to their rescue when they fall from grace and are hounded. Hence, their actions should be as per the law with their conscience as the compass and not whims of the politicians they serve and crumbs they offer”
A Civil Servant can’t do much to prevent the “war” but he can do a lot not to get caught in the political crossfire. The tendency to go overboard to please the politician, as is evident in a number of civil servants, is best avoided. It may bring temporary “rewards” but could be devastating in the long run. He should not blame the system when he suffers on account of his own “misdeeds’.
Any illegal order or an order that does not conform to extant rules should be politely turned down. It is worth taking a transfer than suffer in the long run. If a civil servant gets into the trap of “accommodating” the wrong, then there is no redemption. In this sense “Ardh Satya” is still the ultimate truth. The politician will not relent. He will continue to push the officer to do more wrongs. And, finally the law will catch up with him someday. There are many such examples where civil servants have suffered. Best is to evolve as a professional. Such Civil Servants are respected in the long run and even desired. They are considered as role models like Julio Ribiero.
The final choice is that of the Civil Servant. He has no control over the surroundings and circumstances but he can still decide what he wants for himself.
–Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book 'Not Just A Civil Servant'. The views expressed are personal.
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