Don't blame only netas for Durga Shakti Nagpal's plight

 

Nagpal is still under suspension presently. Image courtesy: Ibnlive

Nagpal is still under suspension presently. Image courtesy: Ibnlive

Why these fake tears for Durga Shakti Nagpal? Do we really care? If we did, we would think better than getting into the routine ritual of politician bashing, the country’s favourite pastime.

She is certainly not the first honest officer in the country to be victimised by the ruling dispensation, nor will she be last one. If anyone ever bothered to look back at earlier cases, one would realise the periodic outpouring of public anger is only a farce. If we were really serious we would already have an elaborate, well-defined system to protect the honest, from both the political class and corrupt fellow officers.

When an honest officer is victimized, our first reaction is to pounce on the politicians. They are the country’s favourite punching bag. Anything goes wrong anywhere, punch them hard and long. It takes the burden of guilt off us, makes us look good and conscientious. Of course, we would be muted in our criticism of fellow bureaucrats who routinely fail to stand up for the courageous. It is a class thing after all. Don’t they belong to us? Frankly, we are an incredibly hypocritical people.

Politicians will defend and promote their interests, legal or illegal. It is thus no surprise that bureaucrats they are uncomfortable with are booted around in every state, and the passive ones among them favoured. The pliable ones land plum postings and almost invariably manage to make it to the top.

If this has become more a rule than an exception in the country, the problem does not lie with the politicians, it lies with the former, who either lack the spine to stand up to their political bosses, are too corrupt or too indifferent to care.

Political corruption does not happen in a vacuum. It has to take place with the connivance of bureaucrats since the latter are conversant with legalities and technicalities of the issues involved. They are in a position to twist or tweak and interpret guidelines to the liking of their political masters. The officers who are good at it always land the better career deals.

If the bureaucrats decide to stand up to the politicians, corruption would have no leg to stand on. However, that rarely happens. Surely, the Indian Civil Services do not produce many officers with integrity any more. The case of the state civil services is far worse.

The CBI has registered 31 corruption cases against IAS and IPS officers since 2011, by the government's own admission. However, this number can only be the tip of the iceberg.

According to a report of Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd, a respected Singapore-based consultancy firm, published last year, the Indian bureaucracy is the worst in Asia when it comes to corruption. It had a rating of 9.21 out of 10 while countries such as China, Japan and South Korea came far lower with ratings of 7.11, 5.77 and 5.87.

According to some surveys, people perceive bureaucrats to be more corrupt than politicians. The latter are at least accountable to people since they have to face people during elections, but the former have no such problem. They can be easily protected by superiors and the quid pro quo nexus within the system.

Who will protect people like Durga Shakti Nagpal or Ashok Khemka, who exposed the dubious land deals of Robert Vadra in Haryana, or Arun Bhatia, who was transferred numerous number of times only for doing his duty? Surely, not everyone coming out of the Indian Administrative Service could be lacking in moral integrity. In fact, most of them want to be part of the IAS or the IPS with a burning passion to serve the country and its people. However, the moral compass goes haywire once the ‘system’ starts consuming them. It is a ‘system’ that works through an elaborate system of favours, patronages and unspoken threats. The few who retain a moral compass are forced into irrelevance.

Politicians won’t change the ‘system’. It is foolish to expect them to do that. The answer has to come from within the bureaucracy. In 1996, in a unique move, the IAS Association of Uttar Pradesh had conducted a secret ballot to identify the three most corrupt IAS officers in the state. It was a self-cleansing drive aimed at shaming corrupt officers.

However, it imploded under pressure from within the ranks and lost momentum gradually. Shaming is no foolproof solution, yet it would keep the corrupt on their toes. Adequate protection to whistleblowers from organisational harassment is another good way to tackle the problem. Of course, there must be public opposition, led by civil society organisations, to bureaucratic lapses.

The idea is to take the battle to the bureaucrats directly. After all, these are the people who man the delivery mechanism in the country and hence deal with us directly. They should not be allowed to hide in the shadow of the political class. We must shift focus from politicians to the real culprits. That’s if we really care.