Recently, over two dozen civil servants were forcibly retired by the Central government, so to say in public interest. Reasons being often quoted in such circumstances, which led to that sort of detachment from the nation’s steel frame, include non-productivity, non-performance, inefficiency and dishonesty.
Do such steps genuinely cure or minimise the maladies that the nation has been being afflicted with? Is the steel frame really of such pivotal importance as though there is no other system which is sine qua non or extremely critical for good governance that warrants meticulous periodical review and constant monitoring? If bureaucracy is supervised so watchfully, who will supervise the supervisors?
In an apparent reference to the issue of limiting the unbridled power of the persons in political authority; Juvenal, a Roman poet of the first century, posed a timeless question, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (Who will watch the watchmen)?” Juvenal’s satire has relevance in regard to an ancient Sanskrit sloka, “Yatha Raja Tatha Praja (As the king, so the people).” Again, the sloka’s intention for a good ruler can be authenticated by none other than Plato, who asserted that the king should always be a philosopher.
Given the incisive corroborations to the point at issue, it is logical to say that the efficacy of the steel frame depends upon the type of foundation on which it stands. Similarly, the probity of bureaucracy also rests upon the robust character of the ministers under whom it works.
While delineating the standing of bureaucrats under the political governance, the first-ever British Head of the Home Civil Service, Sir Warren Fisher stressed way back in 1930s that the “determination of the policy is the function of the minister and once policy is determined, it is the unquestioned and unquestionable business of the civil servant to strive to carry out the policy with precisely the same energy and precisely with the same goodwill whether he agrees with it or not.”
Such that being in the subordinate footing to the minister who is the political master, a civil servant is after all bound to toe the line as desired and dictated by the former. Hence, it has famously and rightly been remarked by Sardar Patel that the civil service is only a steel frame and we are compelled to infer that there is something else on which the steel frame is erected.
In yet another analogy of human body, we can liken it to the skeletal structure and the political master to the nervous system. Breakdown of the entire body is inevitable if there is the malfunctioning not in the skeletal structure but in the nervous system in terms of non-response, immobility, blackout, seizures, etc.
Questions for Political Masters
Same way, slump in socioeconomic situation can be attributed to the failure of the political top brass in their vision, process and performance. Then how come that we have since long been concerned more about the less empowered bureaucrats turning a Nelson’s eye to the political masters’ misjudged wisdom, deepening devaluation of morals and ethics and appalling fall in honesty?
Hence, the steps being taken either in weeding out bureaucratic deadwood or in implementing 360 degree feedback methodology do not in any concrete manner yield quality service to society unless and until the same mechanisms are enacted into legislation and enforced on the working of political masters, who happen to be the makers of laws, policies and decisions that in turn decide and shape the course of the present and the future of the nation.
If they have the political authority to execute any decision in public interest, the public also does have the democratic right to ask the following questions and the like in national interest:
• Have the political masters discharged their duties to the utmost satisfaction of the people in respect of bridging the vast gap between the rich and the poor?
• Have they passed any structurally reformative law to eradicate social inequalities that have been perpetuating till date since ages?
• Have they honestly come out with any constructive and proactive modalities to do away with and thwart the escalating disruptive tendencies like terrorism, Maoism, communalism, casteism and regionalism?
• Why can’t their performance be periodically reviewed in national interest?
While presenting the draft of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar said expressing his concerns, “However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution doesn’t depend wholly upon the nature of Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties that they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.”
Thus it can be surmised that the manner in which the nation progresses relies more on the working of the political parties rather than on the bureaucracy of secondary importance because the quality of human integrity at the top always takes precedence over systemic functioning and conversely the failure of human mind outweighs the systemic faults in accountability. Therefore, the political master-brains behind governance must own the responsibility instead of laying the total blame on others.
The first Chancellor of German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, was vocal in saying that, ‘with bad laws and good civil servants, it is still possible to govern. But with bad civil servants, even the best laws can’t help.’ And in Germany, civil servants include political chiefs too. It ultimately and rightfully qualifies to ask: “if bureaucratic deadwood is being weeded out, why not political deadwood for the same reasons?”
(The author is former DG (Cyber Crimes), Bhopal)