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Confronting our ghosts

The recent incident of the CM Assam publicly pulling up/ rebuking the Deputy Commissioner


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  20 Jan 2022 3:34 AM GMT

Shantanu Thakur


The recent incident of the CM Assam publicly pulling up/ rebuking the Deputy Commissioner, the Nagaon district over a traffic management issue has received wide attention generating controversial, contradictory opinions in the print as well as the visual media. Normally, such incidents are good grist to the news-mill, but this time the coverage seems to have missed out on some of the major angles. As the CM himself has later said, no public servant is above questioning; whether the recipient was an all-India-cadre officer, or, someone less humble, should not, perhaps, be the moot point. District officials are answerable to the government in power and the CM has the authority to question. However, what should be important is whether the flare-up in public helps in any way to solve the problem in the first place. Traffic arrangements during visits of VIPs such as a CM have been similar as far as public memory will recollect. It was different during the tenure of late Sarat Chandra Sinha as CM, but ever since, and, especially during and after the Hiteswar Saikia regime, they have been just like what was happening at Nagaon that day. VVIP visits have hardly been known to be sensitive to the convenience of the general public. Therefore, if things are to change for the better, they have to be appropriately changed/altered/amended from the state headquarters with necessary fiats and protocols. Else, things are likely to remain the same and the Nagaon incident might as well evaporate into thin air with unpleasant after-tastes lingering. Secondly, it is the SP of a district who supervises these traffic arrangements, not only during VVIP visits but also in normal times. The DC, our experience tells us, is hardly consulted on this. Moreover, if the SP of the district was off-duty that day, some other senior police officer of the district must have been shouldering the duties on behalf of the SP. That the DC had to bear the full brunt of the extempore rage, is both funny and sad at the same time. A lot also needs to be thought over and done on the DC-SP equation in the districts. The concern of a CM towards the convenience of the general public, unnecessarily left stranded on a road, is understandable and appreciable, but, the changes in protocols, where necessary, has to be put in place by his government in a time if the hue and cry are not to simply evaporate and fade over time. Our bureaucracy is known for its love for established procedures as much as for its thick skin. Things will just fall back into business as usual. A CM has every right to pull up officials if they are found to be failing in their duties. However, how, when, and where he does it, and with what permanent results is more important to good governance and public service. This incident is not without far worse precedents that had occurred in our country earlier. One only has to recall the way in which a senior police officer was asked to hold a spittoon for a public representative in one of our states. After all, although we have taken the Westminster model for governance, we hardly expect our leaders to act and behave as Jim Hacker, nor do we expect our bureaucrats to be like Humphrey Appleby.

Some things will rear their heads, however hard we try to brush them under the carpet. The skeletons in the cupboard have a tendency to tumble out when you least expect them to. The truth will out, they say. Frictions between the elected government and the bureaucracy are not unheard of. They have raised their ugly heads often. Public memory is proverbially short, but not eternally so. Memories of the unsavoury incident of alleged assault on the Chief Secretary of Delhi a few years ago (in 2018) have not completely been wiped out yet from public consciousness. In October 2018, Kejriwal, Sisodia and nine other AAP MLAs were granted bail in the case by the court. Former Delhi Chief Secretary has challenged this order in a higher court and a Special Judge of Rose Avenue District Court has listed the revision plea and issued notices to those alleged to have been involved, including Kejriwal. The final outcome is not known as of now and the litigation is likely to be protracted.

The quality and content of our governments have often been seen to be in decline for quite some time now. The legislature, as well as the bureaucracy, equally shares the spoils. The visible erosion in values and practices probably opened up during the infamous Emergency of the seventies. The report of the Shah Commission (now forgotten) should suffice to reveal the mess that started during those deplorable times. As one coverage puts it: "The report found that most Indian Administrative Service officers accepted orders even though they thought these orders were improper and had political motives."

It said, "Even the cream of the talent in the country in the administrative field often collapses at the slightest pressure". It described cases of IAS officers practizing "forging of records, fabrication of ground[s] of detention, ante-dating detention orders, and the callous disregard of the rights of detainees as regards revocation, parole, etc." The overall picture is that the civil servants felt that they had to show loyalty to the party in power in order to advance their careers." Some of these officials later went on to bag lucrative postings as well. L.K Advani's ringing comment on the media of the day could as well be applied to much of the bureaucracy as well: "You were asked only to bend, but you crawled."

The subject of concern is that politicians and bureaucrats, both equally try to draw unfair advantage out of each other as and when it suits them and also take vicarious pleasure in insinuation and humiliation when the tide turns. It should not be a case of which side to switch on to as per convenience and rejoice at each other's discomfiture. They owe the country and the countrymen a healthy, decent culture of governance. Like it has been so eloquently said by W.H. Auden:

"Let us honour if we can

The vertical man

Though we value none

But the horizontal one."

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