Never before has the Indian Administrative Service, the successor to the famed Indian Civil Service (ICS) come under such sharp and invasive attack as this newly-published book has done, so convincingly, now. This is not the work of an outsider; nor is it a reflection of one'sanimus towards one'scolleagues. Sanjoy Bagchi joined the IAS in 1953, served it for two decades abroad, before returning to India, only to find his beloved service of which he was so proud was going to pieces. Shocked, he sought the views of his contemporaries and colleagues to check out whether his assessment of the IAS was right. To his dismay, he learnt that what he thought was the steady decay of the IAS was only too true. He attributes it to the Emergency declared in 1975 by Indira Gandhi.
If, as Bagchi sees it, any one person can be charged with distorting the image of the IAS, it was Indira Gandhi. He writes: ? A reincarnation of despotic Mughal durbar had been created in the Prime Minister's house; the rule of law has broken down and the wishes of the Empress and her minions, lawful or otherwise, became the directives of state policy. Personal freedom was severely circumscribed; the press was muzzled and the most atrocious deeds were perpetrated by the state agencies?.
As Bagehi saw it, for the IAS, the desire to please the dictator at all costs had become the prime motive. Sycophancy ruled the roost. The IAS tended to be ?highly politicised and increasingly corrupt?. No longer did the public trust the honesty, integrity and devotion to duty of the IAS. Writes Bagchi, with seeming contempt: ?The differdent (IAS) youngster of the early idealistic years, in course of time is transformed into an arrogant senior, fond of throwing his weight around; he becomes a conceited pig?. Harsh words, surely and unlikely to be applicable to all IAS officers and indeed Bagchi concedes that. But he insists that ?the knowledge about corrupt IAS officers is spontaneously known to their superiors and ministers?, the ?real problem? being that ?it is difficult to take disciplinary action against a corrupt IAS officer because he is entitled to protection according to principles of natural justice?.
All the avenues were open for the corrupt officer to escape punishment. Bagchi is very critical of the CBI as well, and writes: ?In recent years, the CBI has been dismal comprehensively?, adding that ?the CBI has increasingly started resorting to framing false cases, with a shrewd eye on the political who'swho?. The book has to be read to be believed. Bagchi fearlessly proclaims that, ?the overall performance of the Service has reached such low depths that a change in controlling structure has become imperative?. To tell the truth, the book is not one long, long wail against the IAS. Bagchi traces the history of the Civil Service starting from the days of the East India Company and the role that the District Collector had to play for decades.
It is a detailed study of the administrative structure in India, throughout the British regime. There has never been anything like the ICS in India, in any part of the world, and in that sense, the ICS was unique. No matter how much one hated the British rule, the fact remained that the ICS was held in high esteem because it was accessible to the common people in the rural areas. It was admired for its impartiality and efficiency. It had no political axe to grind. Independence and the rise of political parties changed the contours of the IAS which followed its predecessor ICS. Vallabhbhai Patel who was responsible for the setting of the IAS would be now crying in shame to see what has happened to the IAS which he fought to establish. Begchi is clear that the IAS today is not the meritocratic entity which one would associate with the premier civil service, is not the lean and Compact organisation which it was when first it came into existence, has no shared vision and it has now become customary for IAS officers to attach themselves to sub-goals like caste, communal or political assignments. So where do we go from here? Bagchi quotes a ?very senior IAS officer who has distinguished himself throughout his service career as saying, after careful analysis of current conditions of the Service that the moot question is ?whether the IAS as a potential tool should be allowed to degenerate and destroy itself or whether corrective measures are still possible?.
Of course, corrective measures are always possible, anywhere, any time despite a current extreme view ?that the IAS has degenerated beyond redemption?, has served its purpose in the past, and the time has come to disband it. Bagchi asks a very sensible question: ?Should there be a brand new service to take the place of the IAS, avoiding the defects that have been plaguing it?? The Central and State governments reportedly have often argued that there really is no need for the IAS. That, in one'sopinion, is wrong. We need a central service to remind regional governments that the ultimate power lies in Delhi which is the final authority in a united India. Under no circumstances should the IAS be dissolved. Indeed, Bagchi agrees with this when he states that ?it is evident that winding up the IAS without finding a substitute service is not a workable proposition, particularly in view of the complexity and diversity of the huge country with varying economic and political conditions in the states?.
Bagchi also very rightly points out that ?the brutal reality must be recognised at the outset that the present time is not at all propitious for the birth of a news service for administrative delivery?. What comes as a relief is to hear him say that ?the IAS does not seem to be beyond redemption?. If that is the case, there is still hope. This country is not deficient in idealistic young men and women. Only they are waiting for leadership but not from acknowledged corrupt political parties, which have no hesitation in compelling IAS to do their evil biddings.
Bagchi does not specify any single political party. But the objective of reform should be to specify the nature and functions of the IAS and to make it completely professional in competence, absolutely unimpeachable in integrity and thoroughly neutral amidst differing political ideologies and configurations. Any politician who crosses the Lakshman rekha should be ruthlessly exposed and summarily dealt with. Meanwhile, here is a book which is an eye-opener, and which our netas and concerned citizens as well, should read page by page and line by line. It will act as a revelation. Certainly Bagchi has done a great service to his country. Action should follow. Otherwise, we will fail our duties as citizens of a great democratic nation.
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