How bureaucrats went wrong in Arvind Kejriwal versus L-G battle

Political battles can be fought by the politicians, but the civil service must never be seen, even by imputation, as assisting these battles.

 |  4-minute read |   20-06-2018
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In the heat and dust of Delhi, a battle rages over who has the right to govern this famed capital of an aspiring nation on the threshold of being counted as a world power.

Yes, indeed on the threshold it has been for over a decade and a half and if the Reserve Bank of India's analysis of the future is to be believed, then it has only another 10 years left to cross the threshold.

However, for the present, we seem to be staring at the ruins of all edifices of governance.

People decide who the guilty party is based on their party leanings.

But for the citizens, who have rumours, gossips, newspapers or the breaking news channels as their source of news, the landscape is blurred.

The daily slanging and shouting does not help to clear the dusty air we collectively breathe. Sometimes, it looks as if the politicians are engaged in the theatre of the absurd and sometimes the bureaucracy comes across as insincere if not downright obdurate in its posturing.

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Politics, in general, is theatre and grandstanding. The players mostly act as dream merchants, much like merchant bankers, and spin utopian yarns for gullible voters.

The bureaucracy, by contrast, works for the people in anonymity with all state assets at its disposal.

Sure, some chafe at the anonymity and seek limelight, but they are usually those who have climbed on the shoulders of their better performing colleagues. It is another matter that this tribe is growing, but we still have the country held together and this is largely because of the 'anonymous' performer.

Well, anonymity, the genuinely civil part of the services, has now been compromised with bureaucrats holding pressers and giving bland justifications of working as per the constitutional script. The constitutional script has been altered by all sides to suit their cause. The consequences are dangerous whichever way we see it.

Sure the scheme of things in the capital is structured to give primacy to the lieutenant governor but he is the 'friend, philosopher and guide' to the holders of political office under his jurisdiction and not an adversary and, certainly not someone with a mission entrusted by holders of a political office of another dispensation.

The instruments of state governance, on the other hand, are playing with fire. Whatever be the truth of their posturing of performance, the very idea of a civil service is being put to the sword. The choreographed resistance in the disguise of victimhood is a collective distortion of their presumed neutrality.

Ministers and politicians have been confronted before, but on principle with integrity of the bureaucrat as the only weapon and in each such contest the civil servant's dignity prevailed. If the credibility of the entire class of bureaucrats is eroded, an irredeemable price will be paid and it will be to the disadvantage of the services.

Political and party battles can be fought by the politicians and their supporters in public, but the civil service must never be seen, even by imputation, as assisting these battles.

The capital is in a huge mess. The local government (municipal authority) has been a singularly outstanding example of non-performance. Here is the capital of an aspiring world power, which cannot even get its master plan right at any level. What about waste management, what about water management, what about civic infrastructure, what about local measures to combat dust in the atmosphere. Why should action be initiated only when the prime minister or the home minister or the governor induces the administrators to perform mandated tasks?

Sure, climate complications cannot be controlled but measures to combat its impact on public can be set in motion systemically. The system is broken.

The welfare of the city and public interest cannot be held in abeyance any longer.

The struggle for existence is already an uphill climb for most people, but to accentuate the miseries by disingenuous pretensions of the concerned players is complicating the problem.

Also read: My wife was cheated of Rs 40k in a bank fraud. What are RBI's rules for?

Writer

RMS Liberhan RMS Liberhan

Former director, India Habitat Centre and a former civil servant and writes on public issues.

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