Delhi chief secretary 'assaulted' by AAP MLAs: By stalling work and hampering governance, bureaucracy acting like permanent Opposition

The raging tempest between the elected state government in Delhi and the local bureaucracy hit a veritable rock-bottom when, on Monday, the Delhi Government Employees Association — one of the many such cabals of its ilk — came out with a strongly worded demand that the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia need to publicly apologise for the alleged assault of the Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash by two AAP MLAs.

File image of Delhi chief secretary Anshu Prakash. PTI

File image of Delhi chief secretary Anshu Prakash. PTI

A few days prior, a senior IAS officer wrote a muddled op-ed in a renowned publication demanding, rather speciously, the dismissal of the AAP government in Delhi on largely unsubstantiated grounds. Over the past couple of weeks, numerous ‘shadow’ Twitter handles have been set up by the aforementioned apolitical associations to expend political views antithetical to the ruling dispensation in Delhi that is the AAP. In Independent India, the relationship between the political executive and the civil services has always been fraught with tension beneath the ostensibly calm surface. However, the incidents mentioned above are unparalleled and unprecedented in their design and purpose in the annals of democratic politics. To get to the core of this response from the bureaucracy, it is pertinent that one ask a few important questions of these associations:

  1. Is it not true that this open and public display of animosity by officers towards the political executive is a violation of the Section 7 of The All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, which expressly prohibits criticism of the government through mediums of public communication?
  2. These associations are supposed to be the flag-bearers of the issues pertaining to the welfare of officers and employees. Why, then, they did not speak up when Rajendra Kumar, a senior IAS officer, one of their own and who most would confess to be a paragon of honesty and integrity, was hounded by the CBI on politically motivated charges? The flimsiness of the case filed against him can be judged from the fact that central government agencies over the past two years have been unable to even file the chargesheet in a court of law?
  3. On the eve of the Delhi government’s ‘Odd-Even’ Road rationing exercise — which proved to be a success on many counts — over 200 officials went on strike to protest the suspension of two of their colleagues. Did the officers involved realise that had the strike succeeded, it would have dealt a body-blow to the ‘Odd-Even’ experiment which was much needed to ameliorate Delhi’s deteriorating pollution levels?
  4. Is it not true that long and circumlocutory file notings have often been deployed as a crutch by many officers, under political pressure from the masters that be, to stall/slow-down the work of marquee projects of the Delhi government like the much appreciated Mohalla Clinics or the radical doorstep delivery of public services scheme?

Truth be told, it would be wrong to apportion blame to individuals, many of whom are fine and brilliant officers. Rather, it is these associations, which act as cliques of self-motivated interests and, rather than honestly representing the welfare of officers, are readily available to be deployed as an armament in a political skirmish between the BJP-led central government and the AAP-led Delhi government, that should really be held accountable.

These associations have, over the past few days, complained that the AAP government in Delhi has, in the past, allegedly put officers under duress for not implementing key schemes, politicised policy-making and shown immaturity in governance.

This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the division of powers vested in the political executive and the bureaucracy. It is this very distinction between the political and bureaucratic boundaries that affects the incentive structure facing both the politicians and the bureaucrats.

Jim Hacker, in the marvellous British satire Yes Minister, remarks to his Permanent Secretary Humphrey Appelby, that the civil services have three articles of faith: It is more expensive to do things cheaply; it is slower to do things quickly and it is more democratic to do things in secret.

The same translates to India as well. In other words, the Whitehall system of bureaucracy that we follow in India is intended to not only conform to status quo but also cultivate and nurture it. Which is not to say it is a redundant task. Au de contraire, maintenance of the status quo lies at the very core of steady and predictable governance.

However, the common citizens rarely crave the indulgence of such status quo-ist regimes for so long. People want change: Tangible change and progress. The central premise of democratic accountability is that citizens elect politicians in order to hold the unelected bureaucrats accountable. That is precisely why we have elections: To vote to office political leaders who can provide that change to the populace and may not necessarily be aligned to the status quo way of doing things. And when in office, accountability is a key lever of performance and governance. After all, when one is elected to office, one is stood up for scrutiny in the court of the masses every 5 years. And history is witness to what an angry public can do.

Even research shows that political leadership over bureaucratic lassitude can dramatically improve the implementation of critical development programmes. Is it then wrong if the democratically elected government takes decisions which are not to the liking of the bureaucrats and instructs them to execute projects much to their chagrin? Can that be construed as duress or politicising policy-making?

It is time that these officers’ associations stopped acting as the permanent Opposition in residence by stalling work and resorting to dilatory tactics by holding daily press conferences. And it is time for the BJP-led central government to stop abetting these associations by keeping silent as the cadre-controlling authority and indulging in a naked game of political skulduggery.

Pranav Jain works with the AAP on key issues. He can be reached on Twitter at @pranavj142.

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2018 18:40:52 IST

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