New Delhi: Mamata Banerjee’s famous one-liner to Civil Service officers in 2016, “Your career begins in the state and will end here” has turned prophetic at least for one individual.
Alapan Bandyopadhyay, West Bengal chief secretary, making news rather for the wrong reasons might have surprised the Indian political circle and the media. But those in the know say West Bengal babudom has been mostly fashioned and used as convenient tools of the political bosses.
Of course, those who ruled the state for 34 years – the Leftists ought to get their share of the credit or blame. According to a former Secretary and a retired officer in the state, the likes of Anish Majumdar, N Krishnamurthi, Rathin Sengupta and T C Dutt were made Chief Secretaries during the erstwhile Basu government because they were “either not given to taking a tough stance or they were viewed as the pro-communists”.
The state also had a unique cadre of officials and ‘sympathisers’ called the “street cadre”.
Similar vice might have existed in other states and perhaps still exists, but in West Bengal often senior-most IAS officers missed the coveted Chief Secretary’s post over very ordinary or inane issues. Even Forward Bloc ministers during the Jyoti Basu regime often confronted with senior members of the civil service.In the late 1960s, it is said, so much was the animosity that prominent CPI-M Minister Hare Krishna Konar (during United Front coalition regime with Bangla Congress), had described the bureaucrats as “gutter vermin”.
Some Left leaders also described the babudom as a “necessary evil” with whom “uprightness” was a deadwood. Another official familiar with the style and standards of governance in the eastern state said, the steel frame was hardly able to be firm and thus in most cases they crumbled under pressure. In the 1990s, Somnath Chatterjee, a former Lok Sabha Speaker, had made news in Kolkata as the chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation when he “got rid of” the managing director.
Another Marxist leader Sankar Sen, also the state Power Minister, had declined to ‘accept’ an officer whom he found difficult to ‘discipline and handle’.
Ever since she became Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee started discouraging state cadre officials opting fo central deputation. Thus, in 2011, West Bengal had 35 officers of the state cadre at the Centre and by 2017-18, it came down to seven.
Even in the incumbent Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay’s case, BJP leader Survendu Adhikari says he was pressurised by the political bosses. Bandyopadhyay had shocked state Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar earlier this month when he went to meet the Governor on summoning but did not submit any formal report to him on post-poll violence.
So much has been Bandyopadhyay’s confidence in the Chief Minister, that he even sought to show disrespect to the office of the Prime Minister. “We saw in front of our eyes how the PM was treated on Friday. This never happens in any state. The chief minister and chief secretary insulted the PM and governor,” Adhikari said. BJP sources say Prime Minister Modi waited for about 15 minutes and had enquired whether Mamata Banerjee and her chief secretary would be arriving.
Those who are familiar with the functioning of Indian bureaucracy would easily tell the tales of ‘political patronage’ or otherwise in Maharashtra. The western Indian state once was considered as a ‘role model’ for efficiency of the babudom in other states. But in the 1990s, the tag ‘Pawar man’ seemed to have made all the difference.
Even in northeast, babus made news. Late Nagaland Governor M M Thomas declined to ‘sign’ suspension order of a Chief Secretary despite the directives of the then Narasimha Rao government and was later ‘replaced’.
In Assam, once after election results when there was change of government, for days the Chief Secretary and DGP were “untraceable” and even reported as missing. In 2016, in a surprise move, former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar was made the new Principal Secretary in the state Information Technology Department by the Mamata regime. This post is normally the preserve of IAS cadre officers.
And not to forget, in 2019, Chief Minister staged a dharna extending moral support to Rajeev Kumar vis-a-vis Saradha chit fund scam probe by the CBI.
A day after swearing-in for the third time as the chief minister of West Bengal earlier this month, Mamata Banerjee quickly made several changes in the ranks of IAS and IPS officers. In December 2020, the West Bengal government remained ‘defiant’ and decided not to send the state’s chief secretary Bandyopadhyay and police chief to New Delhi in compliance with Union Home Ministry’s summons in the wake of a mob attack on BJP chief J P Nadda’s convoy.