The political bureaucracyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/web-edits/the-political-bureaucracy/

The political bureaucracy

Appointment of P J Thomas is a blot on functioning of DoPT and a clear example of the rampant politicisation of the Indian bureaucracy.

Besides,the political snitching within the UPA government over the disastrous appointment of P J Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner,the controversy is a blot on the functioning of the Department of Personnel,the main processor of all such postings,and a clear example of the rampant politicisation of the Indian bureaucracy.

Although since the day he took over as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been giving long lectures on the urgent need to depoliticize the bureaucracy on each Civil Services Day,the facts unfortunately are to the contrary.

Manmohan Singh has told the Rajya Sabha that he was not aware that Thomas was involved in the 1991-92 Palmolien import case when his name was being considered for the CVC’s job. The PM said that the then Minister of State (Personnel) Prithviraj Chavan did not place this critical fact on the record. Now Maharashtra Chief Minister,Chavan on his part blamed the Kerala government for not bringing this fact his notice. But Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan has blown a huge hole into Chavan’s justification by releasing the very letter that informed about Thomas’ involvement in the Palmolien case. Now it does not require rocket science to understand that Chavan,a known Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist,was acting under party instructions or coalition compulsions and so were the PM and the Home Minister P Chidambaram when they met Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj to decide on the CVC appointment last year.

Thomas was obviously not Mr Chidambaram’s candidate or his detractors led by Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh would have taken pot shots at him in order to embarrass him. Had it not been for the Supreme Court,Thomas would have been judging government servants on corruption and vigilance issues despite being himself being involved in the same muck.

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Thomas is not the only example of the behind the scenes political wrangling in key bureaucratic appointments both at the Centre and State level. It is not merit but political exigency and ideological convergence that prevail in such appointments. In Indian bureaucracy,it is said that “you show me the person and I will show you the rule.”

Bureaucrats get rewarded for acts of omission but more than often penalized for acts of commission. For political masters it is all about comfort levels with bureaucrats and not about individual initiative or merit. And there is no retirement age for a select few as it is a system of spoils ironically in Parliamentary system of governance. Consider this:

* The NDA government gave two year fixed tenure to the Cabinet Secretary on grounds of continuity at the top. The Manmohan Singh government first amended the fundamental rules to allow three year tenure for Bal Krishan Chaturvedi and amended it yet again to give present incumbent K M Chandrasekhran an unprecedented four year fixed term. Albeit his fixed term expires this March 31,another extension is not ruled out until the government wants to appoint Pulok Chatterjee,former private secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi,as the next head of Indian bureaucracy even if its involves kicking up babus senior to him in sundry jobs. It is another matter that Chaturvedi has been adjusted in the Planning Commission and Chandrasekhran is in line for a gubernatorial posting.

* Shantanu Consul,the former secretary of DOPT,who processed the appointment of Thomas as the CVC is now given a post retirement job of assisting the V.K. Shunglu committee probing the Commonwealth Games scandal.

* E.S.L. Narasimhan,protégé of former NSA and now West Bengal governor M.K. Narayanan,was made first governor of Chattisgarh and now Andhra Pradesh governor despite his one year eleven month tenure as Intelligence Bureau director was marred by serial bomb blast virtually every three months.

* Narasimhan was given 23 month fixed tenure to fix B.K. Haldar as the next Intelligence Bureau Director. He is now the government’s interlocutor for Gorkha dialogue despite the fact that it was during his tenure that 26/11 took place.

* The appointment of Mr Ashok Chaturvedi as RAW chief during his relative B.K. Chaturvedi’s regime was also not without controversy and involved cleaning up of records of the intelligence officer.

These are just a couple of examples as the list is long and unending. It is not that only the UPA government is to be blamed but even state governments of Uttar Pradesh,Gujarat,Punjab,Rajasthan,Tamil Nadu,Kerala etc. The fact is that whatever the PM may profess,the plum postings and post-retirement jobs are always reserved for politically plaint officers for the ruling party in power. In fact one wonders whether the government should seriously consider certain top appointments like Cabinet Secretary political and co-terminus with the government in power.

UP Chief Minister Mayawati has already taken a lead in this direction by appointing Shashank Shekhar Singh,a non IAS officer,as Cabinet Secretary. Perhaps even this façade of merit and hard work should be removed for future bureaucratic postings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has an opportunity to restore order into this chaos as all his top babus are slated for retirement in the coming four months. Chandrasekhran and Finance Secretary Sushma Nath are due to retire on March 31,2011.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai,Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao retire on June 30 and July 31 respectively. Just as he proposes to do a serious Cabinet reshuffle after the Assembly election results this May,the Prime Minister may like to re-jig his bureaucracy so that merit prevails over political patronage this time.