Politics is for politicians for they know how best to play it. It is when politics spreads its wings and moves into areas outside of its own specialised domain that matters start to go seriously awry and merit unfortunately becomes the first casualty.
In India, politics has acquired a canvas that encompasses most areas of activity, even sport, which for long has had its nose bloodied by the insalubrious presence of politics. As politics has intensifi ed, the quality of sport has declined. Areas that politics infiltrates suffer from machinations and realpolitik where truth, honesty, merit and fair play become innocent but grave victims. The nodding acquaintance that politics had with corruption some decades ago has now grown into a full blown, formidable and close relationship and politicians of every hue and colour accumulate and openly flaunt their riches with arrogance, glee and impunity. Parliament does not now hesitate to place its legislative powers in the hands of those who are either criminals or crorepatis or both. Regrettably, the civil services are also now submerged in an ethos of politics and corruption, whose close affi nity is freely exploited. It is rare to come across morally upright and principled bureaucrats. The government’s culture of the fi fties, sixties and early seventies has drastically changed both at the centre and in the states. In the heady post-independence days a people, whose moral fibre had grown in strength and character during the long drawn out struggle against extreme odds in the fi ght for justice and freedom, were consumed by a desire to create a fair, equitable and secular society. In those days, civil servants at the centre would, on occasions, show favour to colleagues who came from their part of the country but merit was not sacrifi ced and a semblance of fair play was sustained. A corrupt offi cial caused great surprise, created indignation and made unwelcome news. Today, it’s just the opposite.
An honest officer makes news but ends up being ostracised. Worthiness and value do not appear to count for much. Even when an offi cers annual confi dential reports are rated as outstanding, the government feels no guilt or remorse at denying the offi cer a promotion or an important assignment even when his seniority and merit place him above others who are also in contention. Nowadays, public servants generally rely more on their links with political stalwarts who can either espouse their cause or take the all-important decision in their favour, and on their ability to buy the posting of their choice instead of doing a job well and being rewarded for it. They often control and manipulate the media to undermine the competition and promote themselves. Money changes hands, favours are done and promises for the future are made. When a promotion or choice posting is in the offing intense lobbying takes place with aspirants working at it for months in advance. At such times, civil servants tend to shift their focus away from their responsibility and spend a large part of their time in public relations and garnering support by knocking at doors in the corridors of power, obliging the decision makers and paying obeisance to the high and mighty. Effectively, they do everything that will help them to secure their goal, which they may least deserve. The civil servants nearing retirement start working weeks ahead to manoeuvre an extension failing which an assignment that would add some more years to their working life in government. If they are close to those who wield appropriate political clout, an extension is secured irrespective of the merits of the case, but it obviously comes at the cost of those who are next in seniority. These offi cials are deprived of what might have been their life’s ambition as they often end up retiring before the extended tenure of their senior concludes. Civil servants, as the term implies, are rigorously selected to serve the people and the country. They are not expected to cosy up to politicians of the day and line their own pockets. While the politician’s come and go, it is the civil servant that is there to stay.
The government needs to take a long hard look at the culture it is cultivating and the parasitical behaviour and sycophantic attitude and approach it is not only condoning but also promoting. If the character of civil servants is allowed to be seriously compromised, the administrative machinery would be bedevilled by ineffi ciency and incompetence and in time rot would set in. It will not augur well either for the progress of the country or for the prosperity of its people