After Kejriwal, it is Ashok Khemka who is breaking news.
If Kejriwal’s grand plan is to demolish the political system that is corrupt to the core, Khemka went to national TV out of sheer helplessness and frustration of being an upright IAS officer in the rotting political-administrative complex of India.
That Vadragate and the sheer callousness with which the Congress chief minister of Haryana handled him and the venom that the union cabinet ministers spewed on Kejriwal are incidentally a common thread.
Khemka is not an exception, but the rule.
It has always been the rule and will continue to be the rule — that a civil servant in India is a tool in the hands of the politicians to implement what they want. Mega deals and lucrative transfers are the main priority; governance is just incidental. That is precisely why land deals in Gurgaon happen in day while our ration card takes months.
The congenitally corrupt and the pliant fall in straight away and enjoy a headstart in fringe benefits, while the others take time in internalising and eventually succumbing.
A few like Khemka will never get it right and stick out like a sore thumb. They are occasionally celebrated by the media and pale into insignificant lives either in dingy offices, back of the beyond places or in courtrooms and tribunals fighting cases. Some even disappear from the face of the earth as happened in Bihar and Maharashtra.
The IAS officer is an unavoidable link in the almanac of corruption in India — both for and against. Without their mandatory seal of approval, politicians need them in executing their corrupt plans. Therefore, they do have an option in taking a stand and saying no, but majority of them don’t exercise it for obvious reasons.
Naturally, we see a senior (retired) officer like Siddhardh Behura spending almost a year in jail as an under-trial along with his political master A Raja in the 2G scam. Or another (IPS) officer form Tamil Nadu getting arrested by the CBI in Delhi in a forex trading scam and many get listed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner as “permission pending” for prosecution. What about public sector undertakings and institutions such as the Railway Board?
Some of the offices do take a stand and work the system, but in the end it is the cunning politicians who win and push the upright officer into extremely difficult or dangerous situations. Take for example, the case of Umashankar, an extremely efficient officer in Tamil Nadu, who not only fought corruption but also played a vital role in e-governance and cleaning up systems wherever he was posted. In the end, he became an enemy of both the principal ruling parties and a Facebook hero.
Two years after joining service in 1990, he exposed the irregularities in cyclone relief work in a district where he was an assistant collector. His string of transfers began there. He then took on an AIADMK minister in the cremation ground scandal in 1995 and got transferred. When the DMK came to power in 1996, sensing his utility to target the AIADMK, Karunanidhi made him the joint vigilance commissioner to pursue cases against Jayalalithaa and AIADMK leaders.
He served the political purpose and was soon shunted out. When the AIADMK came to power, he was sent to an innocuous post in a district and was the target of silly enquiries.
The DMK sought his utility again when it came back to power. But, finally when he questioned the alleged irregularities of the DMK government itself, he was suspended and pushed into court cases. He was also a pawn in the hands of the DMK when the powerful and rich Marans had briefly fallen out with Karunanidhi family.
Elsewhere in Arunachal Pradesh, an officer investigating a multicrore PDS scam mysteriously went missing on Tuesday, that too from a crowded public place.
U Sagayam, who exposed the granite scam in Madurai in which union minister MK Alagiri’s son is on the run, is another victim of transfers and persecutions. He has seen 16 transfers in 20 years and as soon as he sent a letter on the scam to the government early this year, he was transferred.
Although the transfer policies of government prescribe tenures for most posts under normal circumstances, it is mostly observed in breach. The governments always can cite exceptional circumstances. Some posts do not have a tenure at all.
When the UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav assumed office, all the officers on the 5th floor of the secretariat who served Mayawati, were forced to go on leave. Subsequently, they were placed in innocuous departments one by one. The former principal secretary to the chief minister today is a principal secretary to the homeguards!
If one thought the new wave of transparency and leaks would cleanse the system and restrain the ruling politicians, one is mistaken. In fact, the threats to their supremacy has made them more cunning and brazen. Nothing else could explain the action against Khemka by the Haryana government when Vadragate was so much in public attention.
This brazenness is almost a license to kill, which some execute.
The politicians of late have also enhanced their level of control of the officers to make them totally servile to them. For instance, for central deputation, IAS officers from the states earlier had to meet their administrative head, the cabinet secretary, and request him/her for a position in Delhi.
But now, for posts above that of joint secretary, ministers decide the appointments, which means if you are not in a camp, or are not willing to be used by a camp, you have no chance either in the states or in Delhi. You are a gone case like Khemka or Umashankar.
For such “losers”, there is not even a chance to wangle a post in World Bank or the UN because they too are indirectly controlled by the governments. The only other option is to register for a PhD in public administration or criminal justice.
So, in a nutshell, you are damned if you are not close to politicians and you are also damned if you are close to them. In between, there are Khemkas whose children will have to study in 12 schools till they pass out. Among the former, some might end up owning large real estate assets as an ADGP rank official did in Tamil Nadu or end up in jail as Behura.
Unfortunately, victims like Khemkas are created by his own colleagues. For every upright officer, there are countless others who are willing to betray their peers and bend over backwards to reap the fringe benefits of politicians’ excesses. With people like Kejriwal and Sagayam blowing the whistle, one would expect them to be tamed; but they are not. They are more brazen than before.
The IAS officer played Abhay Deol in the movie Shanghai, who manipulates the system in taking on the politician-officer nexus could be a great lesson for upright officers that is not taught at Mussoorie.
Work the system like a cunning fox. Use the same tool to trap them.
But, then the question is will we have a critical number to make a difference? Most probably not. That is one of the biggest administrative collateral damages that our corrupt political rulers have caused.