Nitish Kumar should curb revolt by IAS officers playing crass politics to exploit instability

Few chief ministers in India were as vilified as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was for being pro-bureaucracy. In his stint as the chief minister, he was all along accused of being influenced more by bureaucrats than politicians on the issue of governance. His style of governance is perceived to be bureaucracy-centric.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. PTI file image

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. PTI file image

This assumes significance in the context of the ongoing tussle between the Bihar government and the state’s IAS association after the arrest of Sudhir Kumar, chairman Bihar Staff Selection Commission, on the charges of corruption. According to the police, there was incontrovertible evidence to implicate Sudhir Kumar in leaking the examination papers meant for recruitment of clerks. The arrest triggered a protest by 50-odd IAS officers who threatened not to obey verbal orders from their political masters.

Perhaps this silent insurrection against the authority of the government is too ominous a signal to be ignored. And luckily Nitish chose not to ignore it and is inclined to take it head on. In his speech in the state assembly on Monday, Nitish gave a clear signal that the defiance of the constitutionally elected government would not go unpunished. “I have not yet got the memorandum of the IAS association. The moment I get it I will act on it in great details and set a milestone for governance in future,” he told the state assembly.

Of course, Kumar is quite peeved by the manner in which a group of IAS officials conducted themselves on the issue. The manner in which the IAS officers walked to the Raj Bhavan to present memorandum against the so-called persecution of a fellow IAS officer reflected the conduct of a trade union activity. The question arises as to how this cozy equation between civil servants, particularly IAS, and the state government came under strain?

The answer to this query can be easily found if one carefully looks at the complex political equations in the state. In his first term as the chief minister after 2005, Nitish was up against the uphill task of resurrecting the state which became not only defunct but was buried deep into morass and sloth under Lalu-Rabri regime. Since Nitish enjoyed unfettered power in alliance with the BJP, he empowered the bureaucracy to regain the lost glory of the state. Remember the manner in which an IPS officer slapped a defiant warlord Anand Mohan Singh to put across the message loud and clear that the rule of law would prevail. The district magistrates and superintendents of police in the state were instructed not to get influenced by any pressure from political executives.

Contrast this with the scenario in the Lalu-Rabri regime where successive chief secretaries were reduced to the status of retainers of the chief minister’s residence. There are umpteen stories about a chief secretary holding spittoon for Lalu Yadav to spit out betel juice! The state secretariat was resonated with the slogan 12 baje tak late nahin 3 ke baad bhent nahin (It is not late to come office at 12 noon and no work will be done after 3 PM)”. In Rabri Devi’s time, the chief minister’s office was rarely opened as the chief minister was never interested in attending to her official work in the office. At home, her husband was de facto king.

Nitish’s resurrection of the state presented a cultural contrast that shocked the state’s political class which was adept at manipulating the system through the bureaucracy. In Nitish Kumar’s time, the pendulum indeed swung to the other side as civil servants acquired the status of omnipotent. Nitish received flak within the party for encouraging the bureaucracy which tends to indulge in unbridled corruption. Since the state funding to infrastructure projects enhanced significantly and social spending was done under various central and state schemes, the reports of large-scale bureaucratic corruption multiplied.

In fact what has encouraged the bureaucracy is the incompatible nature of the political alliance between the RJD and JD (U). As of now, there are umpteen reports of many health centres and other government facilities turning out to be a source of extortion for a certain RJD ministers. In an atmosphere of uncertainty, a large section of civil servants has been switching loyalties and finding shelter in parallel power centres that have emerged at Patna.

The defiant march of IAS officials at Patna Raj Bhavan in support of the arrested Sudhir Kumar was only an indication of unsettled power equations in Bihar. By all indication, the protest by the IAS association was “crass politics” and intended to exploit the situation which is inherently unstable. Nitish was astute enough to diagnose the malaise and conveyed in unambiguous terms that he would use this opportunity to initiate measures that would set “milestone” for governance. The sooner he does so it will be better for Bihar and the rest of the country.

Updated Date: Mar 02, 2017 21:36 PM

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