Showing Modi spine can harm one's career, Bastar officer learns the hard way

What Amit Kataria, the Chhattisgarh IAS official, seems to have got wrong is not his attire but his demeanour.

 |  3-minute read |   17-05-2015
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Do we as a nation survive on flattery, rooted in hierarchy?

Yes.

Sarkar is our mai-baap. We bend and touch the feet of political leaders because it leads to real gains. We ingratiate ourselves not because it is ingrained in us but because the system otherwise does not deliver.

On a recent padyatra by Rahul Gandhi in Telangana, farmers’ families threw themselves at his feet. He carried cheques for five families whose breadwinners committed suicide last month. It seems the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government visited the same families that Rahul was scheduled to meet to assure them of relief. That money should have reached earlier and without such high-profile political intervention is the point those governing us miss.

Sunday’s newspapers carry a photograph of a well-dressed, or should I say, "suited-booted" businessman bent double in front of Prime Minister Modi at a gathering of Indians in Shanghai. "A businessman seeking blessings of the PM", reads the Press Trust of India (PTI) caption, reproduced by most publications. It is not immediately clear why those blessings were necessary from a year-old prime minister whose report card reads "satisfactory but not brilliant".

Modi’s expression in that photo is that of a giver. Wherever our politicians go, we line up in front of them, bending, stooping, shuffling, touching their feet.

Amit Kataria, on the other hand, did not bend over. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer based in Bastar greeted the prime minister while standing ramrod straight, extending his hand in a firm handshake. Apparently, that did not go down well. His attire was frowned upon; why was he wearing sunglasses, why a shirt and not a bandhgala?

But there is a sub-text to that greeting. What Kataria seems to have got wrong is not his attire but his demeanour. "I serve the nation, not any politician" is what he seems to say.

That’s not the way to play it, Kataria.

As a sign of loyalty, of humility, we bend in front of political leaders. In office, we are yes-men, rarely speaking out. We are taught to respect age and experience with this constant bending and shuffling.

That this spinelessness is good for the ego of those at the top but makes India a damn difficult country to do business in is besides the point. An independent advertising guru has told me he finds it tough to get any opinion on his offering in Indian companies because everyone in the room is afraid to speak up. They all look towards the chief executive and wait. He looks back at them for someone to open his mouth and speak up. The whole room is silent. This can continue for hours.

So rare is this behaviour of pride in our office or confidence in the way we think that Amit Kataria trended on social media. His Facebook page collected 26,830 likes, the curve spiking compared to last week. The comments from the public hailed him as an upright IAS officer.

So while those at the top like suppliance, those lower down the pecking order look up at a bit of backbone. It is up to IAS officers to choose which section they want to please.

Writer

Aparna Kalra Aparna Kalra @apkal

The writer is a journalist and Delhi School of Economics alumnus who reports often on education and gender.

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