AJAY SINGH YADAV
Why I wrote this book
I realize that the title of the book may call for some kind of explanation. When Bertrand Russell wrote -“why I am not a Civil Servant."
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Ajay Singh Yadav was born in 1954. He joined the Indian Administrative services in 1976 and served as a civil servant in various capacities. He retired voluntarily from the service in December 1997. He now works as a farmer a freelance writer and a champion of unpopular cause like the abolition of caste. As mentioned in the original text (if after reading the book you wish to communicate with him, email can be sent to him at Ajatshatru27@yahoo.com.)
I realize that the title of the book may call for some kind of explanation. When Bertrand Russell wrote -“why I am not a Christian”, he meant his book to be a systematic refutation of a creed which claimed that it could be proved by unaided reason alone without references to revealed dogma. I have a similar polemical purpose. My purpose in writing this book is to debunk civil service elitism. Russell was of course a famous philosopher and I am only an unknown citizen, but I do think my two decades long experience of the civil service and the intrinsic important of the subject gives me a right to divagate into print.
When I announced my decision to leave the civil service my friends and colleagues all had one question for me- what are you going to do now- how are you going to fill your days? This was said variously in tones of exasperation, commission and incomprehension. So persistent did the questioning grow and so obvious was their bafflement at something which appeared at something which appeared to them to be an act of pure folly that I was forced to tell them finally – “I shall live on until I die”. The humor of this remake was not appreciated but I quote this here because the words are not my own but were uttered by a famous statesman in circumstances that deserve to be retold here.
Everyone has heard of Clemenceau –the great French statesmen and Prime Minister who led his country to victory in the First World War –after tremendous suffering and sacrifice. Clemenceau was known as “The Tiger”, because of his fierce pride, honesty and intolerance of humbug.
After winning the war Clemenceau retired from public life, to love out his old age in a modest rented apartment. He was offered a state pension and other honors, but true to character, he scored the trappings of authority as mere bauble, unworthy of a great statement. He was proud of his poverty and apt to come down heavily on those who came to commiserate with him on this account. When one officious French journalist asked him the same question –what are you doing to do now he answered testily; “why, I am going to live on until I die.”
I cite this incident, not because I put myself on the same footing as Clemenceau, but because his perfect contempt for really splendid. His pride in his status as a free citizen, not dependent on handouts from the state is the very basis of the civic virtue so essential in the creation of a civil society. I cannot attempt to disguise from the reader of this truthful chronicle the fact that I feel the same contempt for those of my former colleagues who makes this their main objective in life. I think this degrading lust for the plums of office has been the undoing of the civil service. The social consequences of this attitude deserve to be put down in plain words, for it has had a disastrous effect on the quality of governance in this country in this book I have done so.
The reader will therefore come across many structures on the civil service in the course of this book and all of them are well deserve and to the point. Indeed, if have if anything been too mild in chronicling this story of decline and decadence. But I do not want to give the impression that the civil service does not have men and women of honor and integrity. It has people of the highest caliber, but my regret is these people are still too small a minority.
They do not set the moral tone of the civil service, they are tolerated rather than admired, and they retain their character and values only as a heroic commitment to a personal code of honor, which has neither ant official sanction nor any general approbation. Indeed the clever careerist looks upon these honorable exception as irrelevant and out of date fossils. All of which makes me sad. That is why I have written this book.
When I left the Indian administrative service in 1993, I still had more than sixteen years of services left before superannuation. I was in fact only slightly past the half way mark, in my career. Although I did not possess that mixture of moderate ability and immoderate ambition that leads on to success in the civil service, I was not entirely unsuccessful. I had been collector for a reasonable length of time had been head of many departments and I retired voluntarily from service, was secretary of government. My career had therefore followed the usual course, and I could look forward to another two decades, more or less, of time bound promotion, time scale pay rises and comfortable mediocrity, had I stuck it out. After retirement, had I been like the average civil servant, I could have wangled an extension of service, or sought some other sinecure. For your true civil servant never retires, he just becomes a governor, or an ambassador, of chairman of some statutory body, commission, tribunal or committee; if nothing else, he becomes the administrative head of the local chapter of the Boy Scout or the Red Cross. Life without the trappings of office seems to be inconceivable for all but the few.
I was not however like the average officer; I say this in all humanity, as a confession rather than a claim. What distinguished me from other was not however superior ability. It was rather an inability to obey order without examination their rationale, to take things on sufferance, to accept conventional wisdom without question. I think if you do not have an instinctive veneration for authority, you are not really cut out to
be a civil servant. The civil servant accepts certain loss of personal freedom and independence, in return for a certain measure of authority. Most people in fact do not know what to do with their freedom; all that they crave is authority. They think the exchange well worth their while. I did not think so. I had no regards for authority as such, and I valued my freedom, all that they crave is authority, they think the exchange well worth their while. I did not think so. I had no regards for authority as such, and I valued my freedom a great deal. This was my problem. Allied it this was a restless intellect, a vein of irreverent humor and habit of putting across my views in a blunt and unvarnished manner, without the usual circumstances and qualification. As a result of these temperamental angularities I found myself in almost perpetual revolt against the norms and conventions of the civil service. In every gathering I was the outsider, in every meeting I was the devil’s advocate. I felt I was in an organization whose values I did not accept, and which in turn had little use for my peculiar abilities and talents. It was thus a formal acceptance of this natural parting of the ways, which led to my retirement.
This is not however a book of reminiscences, this is in fact a philosophical work. I have included biographical details in this narrative only when they throw some light upon the characters and texture of life in the service. This is relevant to my purpose. These details will show the reader why I failed to fit into the ethos of the civil service. I have used the civil service as metaphor to symbolize the general reverence of power and authority which is sapping away the vitals of our society.
This is not therefore an indictment of the civil service. It is an indictment of civil service elitism; symbolized by the Indian Administrative service. Elitism is of course a well known historical phenomenon. In the civil service context this is characterized by a hierarchical organization stricture, restriction of lateral entry into the elite cadre, thus making it a closed caste, and the cult of the generalist. Elite have their
Elite have their use of courses. Elitism is justified when it leads to a high standard of conduct and when the elite is required for the attainment of some overwhelming purpose. This is the case when an empire needs a selective band of officials to maintain its authority over a large territory. Or when an organization threatened with mortal danger, needs a praetorian guard to defeat the hostile forces. The Chinese mandarins fall into the first category. The society of Jesus brought into being to protect into the second category. The Indian civil service falls into the first category. The Indian administrative service does not fall into any category because it does not have this larger purpose.
All elites stand in the danger of losing their elan and becoming mere guardians of the status quo once this purpose is lost. In order to maintain morale and to give the rank and file something to live for, elites disguise their real purpose. They formulate a morally elevating creed to provide them with a sense of mission. In the case of Chinese mandarins, this was provides by the Confucian creed, in the case of the Indian civil services it was provided by the notion of the, “white man’s burden”. This creed is really only a smoke screen to hide the real purpose of the elite which is always a conservative one. , but the rank and file believes in the mission in spite of themselves. The best member of the civil service is always too intelligent to be taken in by any comforting illusion, but these members are too high minded in any case to behave with anything but complete commitment and dedication. It is the behavior of the average member which is determined the official ethos of the service The greatness of the Indian civil services was the average member of the service, in spite of notions of racial arrogance, still maintained a high level of conduct and integrity.
Its greatness is increased by the fact that it also able to produce a large number of people who were willing to jeopardize their career prospects rather than compromise with their principles.
However even these self willed individual were able to achieve something only because their authority was unchallenged. This is the point to be remembered. They were successful because their word was law. Therefore those rare beings that were uncorrupted by the power or unmindful of the policy objectives of the central government were able to impose their own will on the course of events and translate their own good intentions into reality. Perhaps if the same autocratic power granted to member of the IAS, some of them may be able to do as good as job. Indeed those few officers who have been able to do some good work in the field, are again opinionated rather than looked to the state government for guidance. When I reflect on my own career, I realized that my own achievement, such as they are, have been due to my disregards for any authority other than my own conscience and conviction. However, when I acted as if I was an autonomous centre of authority, I was over reaching myself. In a democracy an unelected official has no right to act in this manner. My behavior was therefore quite inexcusable. The irony is, there is no other way to make use of civil service elitism. It works only when an official is willing to use power creatively, but such use of is outside the score of his legitimate authority. This is the existentialist dilemma of elitist civil service.
Therefore civil service elitism can work only when the civil service enjoys unchallenged political dominance, and has sufficient number of men willing to defy authority, to satisfy their own craving of conscience.
Such a combination of circumstances is rare. For the most part, elitism is practice, boils down to a sterilize obsession with rank, status and the trappings of power. This is especially true in cases where, the over-riding purpose or mission has been attained, and the political authority that stands behind the civil service is no longer seriously threatened. Having attained this purpose, the civil service does not wither away, as one might think. It becomes a self perpetuating organism, and its central purpose becomes, the preservation of its own privilege. This is the fate of all elitist civil services. But the situation is even worse is democratic countries, because here civil service elitism does not have the same sense of mission even at the very beginning. Deprived of this larger political purpose, here the civil service becomes a conservative enterprise right from the start, obsessed with niggling details of and status. It ends up as a collection of small minded snobs.
The philosophical justification for civil service elitism is provided by Cardinal Newman, in a famous essay on the nature of the so called liberal education. This education is defined by Newman as- “it (the liberal education) teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle of skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit and to master any subject with facility.
This system of education according to Newman, “does not make physician, surgeon, or engineers or soldiers, or bankers, or merchants, but it makes men.
We have to ask ourselves if this romantic idealization of a defunct system of education is really to the point. A system that believes that a person who has acquired the benefits of this so called liberal education can really come to grips with any job.
However complex is out of touch with the complexities of the modern world. It is based on a distrust of the professional and a denigration of the specialist. This is again at bottom a snobbish attitude. There is no reason why an amateur should be better than a professional at the same job, except that this attitude appealed to the class prejudices of the British ruling class which shunned and looked down on all useful work and idolized the gentlemanly idler. Civil service elitism is based on caste feeling and has the same drawbacks as caste. Both deserve to be overthrown for the same reason.
The antidote to caste is castelessness, the antithesis of hierarchy is to throw public service opens to all comers and to find the right man for the job at all levels. Why should all jobs of joint secretary and above not be open to all suitable candidates? This would at least provide an opportunity to all those generals, and police officers and doctors and engineers to reach the top of their professional, who are told at present that they do not know their own jobs well enough to be really put in charge. It would in fact do more. To the more enterprising professionals it would provide an opportunity to prove their mettle in other jobs as well. This would prove the maxim that it is only when you can do your own job well that you can do any other job properly. This would be a fitting rejoinder to the banal snobbery symbolized by the cult of the generalist.
Such a rejoinder is necessary because the attitude behind the cult of the generalist have important social consequences. The glorification of the amateur at the expense of the specials means in practice the disparagement of all intellectual attainment and scholarship. It means that the downloading of science and technology, because science and technology depends on specialized knowledge. It is not surprising that Indian’s academic institutions are in terminal decline because of the wholesale adoption of the civil service culture of petty intrigue and jockeying for power.
No wonders little origin; research is done anywhere and no Indian has the Nobel Prize for science since C.V. Raman. A civilization where the impulse for innovation and enterprise has atrophied and where the search for knowledge is not actively encouraged is without the means of progress and advancement. It is a society doomed to stagnation and decline.
It is also a society which lacks the means for economic growth and innovation. The preference for the civil servicemen as that young men and women put security above all things. It means that no one is willing to strike out on his own, to make his fortune, to build an empire, to found a new sector create a new utopia. Economic growth thrives on the spirit of enterprise. A society where it is the dream of every young man to secure salaried employment with the government is a society which looks down on trade and enterprise as second rate occupation. In such a society no on dreams of founding his fortune of innovation or creativity. What people dream of is rising to the top after a life time’s deference to the culture of conformity. Such a society is again without dynamism and is headed for economic catastrophe.
But this is not to say that the business of governance is not important. It is. That is why I argue that the high minded generalist who is really inspired with the ethics of public service should join politics. This is the area which desperately needs men of faith and conviction. As long as the summits of build life are occupied by smugglers and bootleggers, no civil service in the world can improve matters. That is why we should give up our fascination with number two jobs like the civil service and start opting for the number one job that is politics. That is the message of this book.
I should like to set down here a bare factual account of my experience of the civil service. Unlike other authors of reminiscences I shall resist the temptation to dwell on my own achievements, such as they are. I am restrained not merely by innate modesty, but by regards for the sound juridical principle that “no man should be a judge in his own cause’. Unlike many other memoirists I also wish to avoid being anecdotal, I think I have not yet declined into that state of mind called anecdotage, into which so many of my former colleagues, rendered prematurely senile by their lifelong subordination, descends betimes. My concern is simply to isolate those general propositions, which can be inferred from the incidents and happening that occurred in the course of a fairly typical career. I am aware of course, that though my career was fairly typical, as a person, in terms of characters and temperament I was really a misfit in the service. But then I was not the only square peg in a round hole. There are many other who start out in a similar fashion but loses their ‘squareness’ by the time they reach the end of their innings. Where I differed from the other was in the fact that I did not lose my angularity with the passage of time and remained uncompromising square till the very end. In this I was certainly not typical, but for that very person, my observation about the civil service may have a certain value.
To being at the beginning than, let me go back to the years 1975. I was a post-graduate student of English literature at Delhi University doing rather poorly studies. Like most other young men I had other things on my mind.
It is not that I did not have scholastic aptitude, but that I spent my time in reading Bertrand Russell G.E Moore and other philosopher when I should have been reading critical works on Yeats and Eliot. There was thus every chance that I would not be able to improve upon my performance in the final examination. If you want to answer examination question on literature, it is better not to be too fond of it. I thus found that I had been too busy reading Shakespeare to take much note of the various textual variation in the folio editions, or the seven types of ambiguity found in the Metaphysical poets. This is how matters stood when my father summoned me to a fateful interview, one May morning in 1975.My father was an officer in the Indian police service. Being a police officer, he had often been at the receiving end of the arrogant presumption of the IAS officers and had probably come to believe in the myth of their superiority. I mention this as background information which may serve to explain the conversation that followed. My father told me that my academic performance had been less than impressive and my future prospects were not very good. I was forced that this was indeed the case. My father then said that considering my poor academic record and the lack of any particular professional aptitude there were really only two options before me- I could either become a clerk or become a civil servant. Both these jobs did not require any particular technical accomplishment. All that was needed was the ability to get through the entrance examination. The examination itself was a bit of a gamble and the system of evaluation was not really based on academic ability. In fact the duffers stood as good as chance as the brilliant student. Once selected the rest was smooth sailing.
He might have added that a civil servant was only a sort of glorified clerk but did not. He left me to discover that at my own cost.
I took my father’s advice, took the civil service examination in October 75 and was selected. I also eventually passed my M.A. examination in the third division as foreseen by my father. But by then I had already become a civil servant.
My career in the civil service started with a long training course at the national academy of administration at Mussoorie. I should like to narrate this experience, because it is of interest on two counts. First it gives one an insight into the minds of a larger number of young men and women about to set forth on their voyage of life and as yet uncorrupted by the influence of power. Second, it gives one a chance to observe all the men and women selected for the civil service in a given year, one whole batch as it is called in civil service parlance, as a collective entity. Once the period of training is over, the officer proceeds to their places of posting scattered all over country, and never come together again to live a corporate life under a single roof. The sociologist who wants to observe the civil service, not as a group of individual but as a class, the civil service, not as a group of individual but as a class, can do no better than to start his enquiry at Mussoorie, where in the cloisters of the academy, the newly selected candidates come together to form a new sodality, as exclusive as a monastic order, ostensible dedicated to a life public service.
There are two other reasons why this matter is interesting. First there is the historical interest. After the old academy building burden down in the early eighties, the old way of life, of which the quaint old structure was a symbol, has disappeared forever.
The concrete and stucco of the modern building which has replaced the old wooden structure, is in a way more impressive, but it isn’t the same thing. Of course the director’s lodge and the officer block have survived and the reader can gather some idea of the old structure from these relics. But the old library, with its wonderful collection of books on the Himalaya, among other things, and the old lounge with its old world graciousness and the panoramic view of the eternal snow to the north is gone, and it may not be out of place say a few words by way of a personal tribute in remembrance of time past. The second reason is that the national academy of administration is the nearest thing the IAS has to an alma mater. It should therefore be a repository of the tradition and value of the service and for this reason alone deserve some space in a book on the civil service. What o offer here is however, a personal and perhaps idiosyncratic recollection and the reader should turn to other source to supplement his knowledge, if he finds his curiosity aroused.
The journey to Mussoorie begins at Dehradoon, a town with a park like ambience, nestling in the Verdurous Doon valley. Dehradoon has many old buildings; many of them are rambling colonial structure which stands in huge compounds. Dehradoon itself is surrounded by a thick forest and the road from Delhi winds through a particular attractive section of the Shivalik Mountains a particular attractive section of the Shivalik Mountains, before reaching Dehradoon. The Shivalik are clad with a an evergreen forest of sal and other trees, and the road crisscrosses the broad bed of a mountain stream,: dry, except in the rains, when it turns into a raging torrents. After climbing for the about an hour through this charming landscape, the road descends into a wooded valley, where Dehradoon is glimpsed for the first time. Reaching the town, one has the feeling of reaching a safe haven after a perilous journey.
It was in Dehradoon that I arrived on my way to Mussoorie one morning in July 1976. I have always been a lover of hills and it was with a pleasant sense of anticipation that I boarded the bus to Mussoorie. Nor was I disappointed. The road to Mussoorie is a steep ghat road, that twist and turns over green pine clad hills while climbing all the time. The gradient is steep and climb of almost five thousand feet is accomplished in a little over two hours. A little more than half way up the town of Barlowgunj appears over the brow of hill. Thereafter the character of the scenery changes a little, the typical oak forest of Mussoorie interspersed with the Deodar and fir makes its appearance. To some one visiting the Himalaya for the first time, the mountain seems impossibly large and steep. Their summits remote and distant, piercing the heavens. All this naturally heightened my sense of anticipation.
On arrival in Mussorrie, one alights at the library square, so named after the old municipal library, a venerable old colonial building, and standing on tall cast iron pillars over a shopping arcade, and approached by a rickety winding staircase. The building is frail but picturesque, melancholy, yet with an oddly defiant and jaunty air. A note typical of Mussoorie. The library square is no longer than a couple of tennis court joined together yet it has a sense of being a meeting place where roads converge and journey end and begin. From here on follows the mall road, keeping close to the winding hill side, with the green moss encrusted cliffs on one side and a deep valley on the other. This road like most of the road in Mussoriie, is in abundantly all over the hills. About a kilometer west to the library, after rounding a bend, one sees for the first time a truly unforgettable prospect.
A vast valley, whose flour is shrouded in impenetrable shadow lies before one, and at the far end of the valley, rising fold upon fold till they merge into summit of Nag Tibba are the middle Himalayas, and above and beyond towering over the whole scene and covering the entire horizon from west to east are lofty summits covered in eternal snows, the incredible panorama of the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalaya. It is a scene of wondrous beauty, of awesome grandeur, and timeless serenity. Anyone coming up from the hot and dusty plains and casting his eyes upon such scene cannot fail to be impressed. I was naturally enraptured.
A short distance from this is the entrance to the academy itself, an oddly prosaic cement and concrete gateway, surmount by a steel arch which identifies the place. Going past the gateway, and after a moderate climb, one arrives at the academy. This is group of building forming a small quadrangle is a large expanse of lawn, with a clump of noble deodar trees standing on it. The building are all made of timbre and cast iron, embellished with gables and steeples and all painted a dull green. These buildings are unlike any other official building in India; they merge quietly into the beauty of the landscape and do not call attention to themselves. Their low outlines reveal rather than hide the landscape, their dull green color matches the green and tranquil beauty of the surroundings, and their conical roofs seem an extension of the conifers all around.
The southern side of the quadrangle is taken up by the office block which still stands, but it was the northern side of the quadrangle which housed the most romantic building, this was the old library, the lounge and the old dining hall. The lounge was the focal point of the place. This was a large hall, cavernous yet cozy, with old Victorian furniture, overstuffed sofas and so on, whose most remarkable feature was the balcony on the north side, which looked out on the panoramic view which I have just described. The balcony seemed to hang over the valley which falls below one, in steep gorge.
The topography of the place was equally interesting and deserves a brief description. The main buildings are situated at the end of an elevated promontory of land, on three sides of which the ground slopes downwards. On the northern side the slopes are steep, the escarpment forming one side of the deep valley describes above. On the south side the land falls away sharply for about a hundred feet to end the land falls away sharply for about a hundred feet to end in a small valley, which is aptly named the happy valley. On the western side the promontory continues after a gradual decline and ends abruptly in a narrow island connected to the promontory by a thin strip of land. This island has vertiginous sides and is crowned by a small shrine dedicated to some local divinity. On the eastern side is the approach to the academy when I have just described above. The approach road is boarded by the happy valley on one side and a small hill on the other side, which is surrounded by a real castle, known as Katesar castle after the chief Katesar, who built it. This castle is build of grey sandstone, has turrets and battlement like a real castle, and a coat of arms over the portal. From the window in the tower one can see far over the north, towards the panorama of snows. Katesar castle is like a gingerbread castle, a piece of pure fantasy. All the hills and the valley described herein are covered in a forest of oak and deodar.
The residential blocks, where the probationers have their rooms are situated on the slope over the happy valley. A fortunate few also get to stay in Katesar castle. There are also several large houses scattered about the eastern entrance, which have been acquired by the academy and serve as residences. They have evocative names like Stapleton, Pleasance and so forth.
From the road there are small bridle paths leading down into the valley or trails wandering off into the forest or leading up to the various summits. The hill side in Mussoorie is dotted with old bungalows, with chalets, with mock castle and gothic structure and other picturesque dwellings, but none have a better situation or a more pleasing aspect than the academy building. These building and the bustling bazaar, restaurants, theatres and cinema add an air of civilized amenity to the grand romantic scenery and the touch of Himalaya wilderness that one experience in Mussoorie. In short the place is as close as you can get to an earthly paradise.
It may be interesting to describe the daily routine that I followed in this place. My lifestyle and habits were quite different from most other probationers, who spent most of the day time in attending the officially schedules lecture and other programmers lay out by the academy staff.
As far I was concerned, anytime not spent out of doors, was time wasted. Accordingly after breakfast, I set out with a particular friend of mine, from whom alas I have not heard since then; and wandered out over the many trails. Our peregrination usually ended up in place called the company gardens. This is a small garden, nestling into the hill side at the south western end of Mussoorie. Here over countless cups of coffee and cigarettes we debated the various problem of life set forth notes about our experiences. About noon we set forth again and usually visited a café called Waverly that stood at the top of the hill. This café had a delightful collection of old songs as well as delightful menu of snacks and another hour was passed in eating, and pleasant rumination. About lunch time, after having spent the entire morning and early afternoon in these mild dissipations, we reacted our way to the academy. On the way back we usually ran into our course director, coming back after a hard day’s work.
But this great man never asked us how we had spent our day. But this great man never asked us how we had spent our day. All that we received was a knowing smile. This tolerance of minor delinquencies is rare in senior civil servant. This course director was a man of rare mettle and later proved himself in various more responsible positions.
My afternoon I passed in the library. This had an excellent collection of works about the Himalayas. These were accounts of expedition to all the major peaks in the hindukush, the karakoram, as well as the Garwah and Kumaon Himalayas. It was particularly thrilling to read these works within sight of many of the great peaks described by them. But the travel book which impressed me most deeply was Doughty’s “Arabia Deserta”. This book has a romance all its own. There was an also a good collection of book on literally criticism, as well as philosophy, politics and history. Enough to afford several months of absorbing reading. The instruction that one got here was more edifying than that provided in the class rooms; and I do not regret the many hours that I spent in the library at Mussoorie.
The evening was another round of civilized pleasure. I did not frequent the fashionable places in Landour or library square, where most of my colleagues spent their evenings. My favorite haunts were some small dives in happy valley, run by Tibetans. Their traditional rice beer, called ‘chhang’ is a mild brew, and has to be taken in gallon to induce even mild intoxication, but there is no better way to pass a long evening when you are young and in congenial company. May a pleasant evening have I passed there, consuming not glasses or bottles but whole jerry cans of chhang. The propensity of this drink to intoxicate without inebriation and to leave the intellect unclouded by the swinish stupor induced by grosser spirits is wonderful.
Dinner, taken in a large hall over the library, was usually a sumptuous affair, but the focal points of the evening were the after dinner gathering in the lounge. Most people were in a mellow mood, induced by a good dinner if nothing else and in no time the room was echoing with the lively hum of animated conversation. In one corner the gramophone played old numbers, sentimental gazals, or mournful melodies, it hardly mattered what. Outside on moonlit night one could see the great snowy peaks to the north. There was youth and romance in the air. Most young and women, then looking forward to the fut5ure with such bright and cheerful faces, hardly realized that most of them would be soon parted, perhaps never to meet again. These were moments of poetry that one recollects with pure nostalgia.
So the days passed pleasantly. There were several remarkable things that happened to me in Mussoorie, but no one will believe them, therefore it is better to pass over them in silence. Before I come to more mundane things however, let me narrates one incident.
At the south western end of Mussoorie is a rather singular peak, known a benog. The peak is separated from happy valley by a deep gorge and stands about five miles distant from the academy, as the crow flies, to the south west. This is certainly the loftiest peak in the vicinity of the academy; it is probably higher than lal tibba, which is popularly known as the highest peak in Mussoorie. This peak is densely covered with forest up to about their fourth of the ways up, but the last quarter of the peak, the highest portion, sports only a light growth of stalwart tress, mostly oak. On the North Slope near a small saddle, stand a white dome like building, no bigger than a roq’s egg, which is said to be an observatory.
Except for this remarkable structure, there is no sign of human habitation on the peak. It is clearly visible from the academy, rising up in lonely eminence, with an indefinable air of mystery about it. I do not think any one of my colleagues spared so much as moments’s thought to the peak, but to me it seemed to throw a challenge which seemed irresistible. But to climb a few thousand feet of a comparatively gentle slope is hardly a heroic undertaking. To make this task interesting I decide to do the climb, on a moonlit night, alone and unaccompanied. Benog is approached from the east over a narrow ridge, which connects it to Vincent hill, the hill where the company gardens are situated. The last house on the way is a large rambling structure, with the evocative name of ‘clouds End’. It was already quite late when I set out on my quest, one night in late September. The moon was up and lighting up the peaks, through the valley was still deep in shadow. A little past Cloud’s End, on the narrow ridge, just mentioned above, is a small forest. Just as I had entered this forest I saw an indistinct form, standing over the path. On coming closer I saw an indistinct form, standing over the path. On coming closer I saw that it was a woman, who stood on a small knoll by the side on the road. As I came nearer and find shelter if I so desired. There was no man anywhere in sight. This woman wore the dress of a hill woman, and was obviously a local person. However her presence at this lonely spot, was a little strange and I decided to ignore her offer of hospitality and continue on my way. A little while later I came across another strange phenomenon. Deep in the woods, but clearly visible nonetheless, was the intense red glow of a fire which seemed to be burning within hallow in the forest floor.
On getting closer I saw that this came, not from the eye of some cyclopean creature, but from a small furnace or kiln built by charcoal makers who seemed to frequent this part of the forest. As I climbed higher the forest thinned out, the moonlight seemed to grow more intense, the silence deeper. Large trees cast enormous shadows on the turf. As I gained the top of the hill I came upon a strange and moving memorial. Here were three Christian graves, simply three grassy mounds, each with a wooden cross standing at the head. One cross was smaller than the other two, signifying that this was the grave of a child. There was an ineffable pathos and mystery about these graves. Who was it who had sought to be buried in this benighted –place in this unconsecrated earth. I felt like a intruder, disturbing an inviolate sanctuary. Some large animal seemed to dash off into the forest just a few hundred yards away, one could hear the undergrowth rustling for a while. As I set off for the return journey. I felt consider ably more nervous than before. I remembered wordsworth’s lines:-
I heard among the solitary hills
Low breathing coming after me, and sounds
Of undistinguishable motion, step
Almost as silence as the turf they trod.
I hurried back, looking back over my shoulder frequently. The return journey however was without any singular event. To this date I have no satisfactory explanation for the presence of the woman in that lonely place, in the dead of night. I narrate this incident to show that even the most humdrum and eventful life has its moments of mystery, provides one has the inclination to wander off the beaten tracks.
I did find my colleagues over eager to follow my example. When I narrated this story to some friends they looked upon me as a dangerous crank. I did not mind this accolade. In my eyes it is better to be a crank than a cynic. Cynicism, I found was the besetting sin of my friends and colleagues. They all seemed to be very worldly wise and well informed about official matter. Their dreams were already of official success, of a plums posting and career advancement. They knew how the system worked, and who should be approached for securing the desired posting etc. even those few who seemed to show intellectual brilliance of a superficial kind seemed to know how to put their abilities to the rest own advantage did not figure largely.
These are serious faults, but to this let me add an even more serious flaw. This was their indifference to the glorious scenery of Mussoorie. Many of them felt that the academy should have been situated at Delhi. Imagine preferring the heat and dust of Delhi to the heavenly ambience of Mussoorie. This indifference to the beauty of nature is more than a want of sensibility. It shows a spiritual torpor, an atrophy of the soul; a moral deadness, that in my eyes is the mother of all other crimes.
Let me now return to more serious matters. Going by what I have described so far, the reader may well imagine that I led a completely lotus eater existence and had absolutely no interest in what went on in the class rooms of the academy. But this would not be true. I look just sufficient interest in the official curriculum to ensure that, I would be able to pass the required examination. I did not consider that the course of study followed in the academy justified more serious application on my part. Too serious an attitude to study in a young man argues a want of spirit. But quite apart from this, I did not think there was a anything in the course content that was intellectually Challenging or stimulating.
On the other hand it seemed to suffer from a curious confusion and lack of direction.
I believe this confusion came about the authorities at the academy were not clear whether the training should focus on purely professional matters, or whether it should also includes some moral instruction. By moral instruction I mean some intrusion about strategic and long term issues including the goal and mission of the civil service. It is this which builds up espririt de crops, required to sustain morale and to induce a high standards to conduct in an elite cadre.
As far as professional instruction went this was of a very general nature. As the land tenure systems, the revenue codes and other laws are different in every state, this was perhaps inevitable. What could have been done was as to include in depth studies of selected states. This would have given the probationers some standards of comparison when they arrived in their own states. The states of India are like sovereign countries without diplomatic relation with each other. We know less about the systems of governance and the official policies of our neighboring country. Once an officer is allotted to a particular state cadre, there is very little chance for him to visit other states, albeit he may occasionally spend time at the central government. This being the case, a comparative study of different states would have provided useful information. This training could also include some content about the systems in vogue in different countries. This would offer a corrective to the insularity and egocentric world view from which all elitist organization suffer.
However the actual course content includes only a general study of the Indian penal code and the code of criminal procedure. A very general study of bureaucracy based on the theories of Max Weber. Almost nothing on public finance and theories of economic growth. In short the professional and academic part of the training tended to be of undergraduate level and rather amateurish.
As far as moral instruction was concerned, there was nothing of this beyond a few pious platitudes about the ethics of service and so on. An elitist civil service should be a sort of secular priesthood, inspired with an evangelical zeal for public service. But for this to happen, they must have a proper conception of their role and it’s important. They must have before them some overriding purpose which transcends small aspiration based on career and personal advancement. They should moreover be completely unapologetic about their elite status.
Of course it has to be said, that no kind of training or any other system devised to foster talent can ever be really successful. In the civil service, excellence is really a matter of character, not intelligence. The really first rate civil servant is also a first rate human being. There is a definite ethical dimension involved here and no system, and no hierarchy certainly; can nurture excellence of this kind. It should be understood that these qualities are ultimately imponderable and the number of men of character that the system can throw up is an index of the quality, not merely of that system, but also of that culture and that civilization.
What a system of training can do however is to foster a collective ethos that puts a premium on certain norms of behavior. That builds up good traditions and establishes a code of honors that makes it difficult for member of service to stray from the straight and narrow path. But all this can be done only when one has a certain sense of vocation, a sense of mission, of being involved in a momentous collective enterprise. The IAS lacks this sense of vocation. It is not surprising therefore that the course of training is also an aimless exercise.
It followers therefore that the academy is not a real ammeters, a place that house the holy grail of scared traditions but simply a pleasant place which provides a lovely setting for a thoroughly enjoyable sojourn at an impressionable age.
They say a man has three personalities; that which he tries to project before other, that which he thinks he is, and that which he really is. No man can really know what he appears to other, because the view from the outside is always different from the view from the inside. It always surprised me therefore when I was told by my respondents, that the emotion I chiefly inspired as an administrator, was fear. I have always believed that I have a fault, it is that I am too kind hearted and loath to punish people. But there is no rationality in these matters and analysis is useless. Let me therefore take you to the high point of my official career, my tenure as collector, without further ado, and leave this matter to your judgment.The post of collector is a legacy of colonial rule. It still evokes visions of Pucca sahib in a pith helmet astride a horse and surrounded by supplicating ryots. There is no doubt that this post epitomizes a paternalistic vision, a certain view of themselves which the British had. The trappings that go with the post leave one in no doubt that it has an imperialist background and history. But it would be a mistake to regards it merely as a colonial imposition. The British merely grafted their own notion of governance upon exiting practices and institutions. They also brought to the business of governance a certain moral earnestness and evangelical fervor. This too is now a part of the history of the post. It is not therefore a case of one type of deposition superimposed upon another. It is rather a view of despotism tempered with a regard for the rule of law and the welfare of the governed.
I think this moral leaven makes the post unique. it is as close as you can get to Plato’s Guardians, without bringing in the less benign aspects of his system. There is no other post which offers such opportunities for doing well. The people used to look upon the collector as the Mai Baap. Literally as their mother and father. While this undiluted paternalism may be offensive to liberal sentiment, this is how things stood when I was collector. The people had total faith in the power of the collectors to redress their wrongs. Whether one was a victim of the tyranny of petty officials or of the local landlord, whether one had a land dispute or some other problem of a personal nature, it often came before the collectors for solution. The authority of the collector has now been weakened greatly and the balance of power has shifted in favor of politicians. This is all to the good. I support these developments wholeheartedly. However I speak of days when the Mai Baap sarkar was a still a reality. No officer with a conscience could let down such touching faith. I was certainly resolved to uphold it to the fullest extent.
In my opinion there are three types of collectors. The first type is the conscience civil servant, keen to do good, but strictly within the narrow bounds of official propriety and without rocking the boat in any way. This officer likes to play by the rules, he would not be a party to wrong doing, but nor would he be willing to go out of the way to help someone in distress. His Good Samaritan instincts are kept well in check by a scrupulous regards for official decorum and by unwillingness to risk of his own career in any way. The civil service is a hierarchy where the opinion of senior officers has some impact on the career of a civil servant than the sentiments of the people whom one is supposed to serve. Hierarchies favor conformity with conventional wisdom. This being the case the conscience civil servant is forced to circumscribe his finger feeling within pretty narrow boundaries.
The second officer is the outright cynic who dismisses all moral consideration and agrees to be a total stooge of politicians, in return for the favor which they alone can bestow. In the civil service, an officer is only as good as the post he holds. No account is taken of a man’s ability and character. It is a complete amoral system where personal advancement is the only ethical creed. In spite of all rhetoric and pious platitudes, this is the sad truth. Now there is a vast difference between different posts which are nominally is the same grade. For instance the Chief Secretary and the President of the Board of revenue are nominally in the same grade, but while the Chief Secretary wields a lot of power, the PBR is only a figurehead. The politicians know this, and as all posting are in their hands, they have been quick to exploit this weakness to manipulate the civil service. The irony of the situation is that independence and political neutrality are still considered the core value of the civil service, and a bogus pretence of neutrality is still sought to keep up. The politicians enjoy this irony. They are not taken in by the pretence- they laugh at it. It only provides a convenient cloak for official complicity in ministerial malfeasance. All this applies with even more force to the post to collector.
The second type then agrees to sell his soul to the politicians for forty pieces of silver, or whatever we consider its modern equivalent. He ignores the tradition of politic neutrality. He is not only blatantly partisan; he is often corrupt as well. He obviously enjoys the trappings of power. In fact vulgar ostentation is his forte. The sad truth is not that this type of officer is increasingly coming to dominate the service, but that people are so redesigned to their lot that they do not expect anything better.
This brings me to the third type this is the benevolent despot, the original archetypal collector during the days of the Raj, but now a vanishing breed. This is a man (for woman) who lives by his own rules. He is often eccentric, wayward and prone to megalomania, but he is nonetheless the best representative of the bureaucrat as a ruler. It would seem the easiest thing in the world to be depot but this particular type needs more courage of convenience and moral integrity than any other type. The reason is not difficult to see. To be worth your salt as collector you are required to act independently and not be seen as an agent of the state government. This is unlikely to endear you to your bureaucracy.
As the career prospects of a civil servant depend entirely on the opinion of his seniors and politician in power, it would require an unusual degree of commitment to an ideal to risk one’s for the stake of some belief. There are however still many civil servant who are driven by their own inner conviction and who do not mind incurring the displeasure of the power that be, for the sake of making the most of the opportunity that is provided by this office. Let me however add a classification. I do not want to give the impression that the word ‘depot’ which I have used in this context, signifies some hidden craving for power. Those who are driven by a desire for power are always willing to make compromises for its own sake. The possession of power requires a certain submission. Submission - not only to those who are nominally in superior position, but also to popular prejudice and rulings conventions.
But an officer of this type never makes compromise for the sake of expediency. He is a depot only in the sense that he uses his authority, his very considerable authority to the fullest extent, in order to deliver justice. What this means in practice, I shall explain presently. As far as I am concerned, I was lucky in the sense that I had I did not have to face any moral dilemmas. I had made up my mind to quit the service as soon as I was eligible for a pension. My career did not interest me. In any case, given my temperamental angularities I did not have any career prospects. I did not aspire to be the chief secretary. I was without ambitions of this kind. Consequently it was easy for me to decide the issue. My decision was to use my authority in the widest possible way. I had also decided to keep as little contact with the state government as possible and not to cede any of my influence and authority to politicians.
To those of you who are not familiar with this office it may be interesting to know the kind of life a collector leads. As I have already said, it is an imperial legacy and outwardly the most obvious signs are the trappings of this colonial heritage. My official residence for example, was a rambling old bungalow that had once been occupied by the political agents. It stood in a compound that was several noble old trees and clumps of giant bamboo that formed a small wildness. At the back of the house were fields which stretched away as far as the small river which flowed through the town. by the side of the river was a jetty where a paddle boat was permanently moored. The house itself was the usual colonial affair, with cavernous high ceiling rooms and large verandhan in front. Although it was kept in good repair its splendor was a rather faded. The ballroom had been converted into a meeting hall. The parquet flooring had lost its shine. The yellow plaster was flaking off here from the wall. The liveried servant, the bowing and the scraping, were still there but the grandiose pose seemed to have lost its meaning.
I should like to set down my recollection of how a collector’s time is apportioned between various activities. My own estimate of my work schedule would be a follows:-
· Meeting people 50%
· Case work 10%
· Disposal of flies 10%
· Touring 20%
· Meetings 10%
My chief recollection of my tenure as collector is of being surrounded by people all the time. These people were not the local grandees, or the important people of the district. Nor were they the hangers on and the power brokers who surround those in authority. They were by and large the common people of the district- the farmers, the laborers, and the mechanics and factory workers who constituted the bulk of the population. They came as usual with all kinds of problems and they expected me to solve them. Many of them came from far corners of the district, some brought their own bundles of firewood with them, knowing that they would not be able to get back the same day and prepared for an overnight stay. Many came clutching bundles of papers yellowed with age, dog eared and begrimed with much use. These papers were usually orders passed in their favor by some court or authority –order which had perhaps still not been implemented. The sight of old limbs burden with such a weight of woe, old eyes clouded with so much despair was enough to touch any heart, however hardened.
However I do not want to give the impression that a sentimental regards for the people is all that is needed to make a success of the job. There is much more to it than that. The people of India are as shrewd and canny as people anywhere. They are good judge of character and have an actual political consciousness. They can see through humbug and can’t quite easily and appreciate firmness and the capacity to enforce tough decision. What they look up to is the strong arm of the state to protect them, but it still has to be a strong arm.
The other important thing about the job is that it is a territorial charge. One is conscious of the large size of the territory in one’s jurisdiction and the sheer length and breadth of the geographical area which forms the testing ground of one’s ability. This large size of most district means touring of indispensable if an officer is to keep abreast of development in his district. Luckily for me I enjoy touring. I much prefer it to sitting in an office, however comfortable that office might be. I like the feeling of being on the open road, out in the country, with a long way to cover and miles to go before I sleep’. I like the sight and sound of the Indian country side, and its changing hues that change with the seasons. The sight of steak trees in flower in the winter, when the cloud of dust colored blossoms envelop the trees or the fragrance of the myriads sal tree is bedecked with panicles of fragrant flower in glorious profusion, when all else is withered with the heat. I have a cast of mind that is peculiarly susceptible to the romance of strange places and the beauty of nature. And though I have trouble remembering faces, my memory is peculiarly tenacious when it comes to geographical feature. I can still remember the name of the innumerable rivers and stream and rivulets that one encounter on a given stretch of country.
I also remember the names of most the village that I have visited even once, and many of these names have the evocative power to recreate the original sensation which one felt on first visiting them.
However touring is not only about covering terrain and geographical distance. It is about people. Even in the remotest forest one finds some settlement, whose denizens require your attention. And there are innumerable administrative problem which are solved simple by virtue of your being on the spot. It is the only way to a deeper involvement with the people of the district. It is therefore this combination of purposeful activity and innocent enjoyment which makes touring so pleasant.
Touring can come in useful in unexpected ways. To give you some idea of how this can happen let me tell you an incident that happened when I was collector of Sehore district. The year was 1985. The month was November. I had just returned to the district after attending a trai9ning course, when I was received news that a child had been killed by strange animal in Ashta Tehsil. This incident occurred in broad daylight. A man and his wife were working in a field on the edge of forest. Their only son , a boy of about eight, was playing a little distance away. It was a little after mid-day and the man and his wife just opened their afternoon repast when they heard a strange cry and on looking up saw an animal carrying off their boy into the forest. They ran after the animal shouting and brandishing their laathi, but they were already too late. When they reached their boy they saw that they he was already in the throes of death. His stomach had been torn open and the entrails were hanging out. An animal which looked like a hyena scampered off into the forest at their approach. The agony of parents losing their child in this ghastly way, before their very eyes, can be imagined.
The news of this incident travelled all over the tehsil like wild fire but before the authorities had any time to react another incident occurred a little over twenty kilometers from this village. A woman was working in filed in front of her house, which was a little distance away from the village. Her small child was sleeping in a makeshift hammock slung between two trees. When the women returned from her work to pick up her child, she found the hammock empty. There was a small splash of blood nearby, apart from this there was no other sign to indicate what had happed, however the news of the first incident had reached the village and the same animal or animals were suspected to be behind this incident. A search party was soon organized, but apart from finding the garment which the boy had been wearing, they had no other success. The boy’s body was never found.
This incident naturally led the whole area being put in a state of panic. An undeclared curfew was observed over the entire Ashta Tehsil. As soon as evening fell people locked themselves indoor. Mother did not leave their child alone, keeping watch over them. However as the strange animals only attacked during the hours of daylight and children can never be tied down completely, these precautions did not seems to work and in a space of a little over two month, seventeen children were killed over an area of roughly four hundred square miles.
I should like to give the reader some idea of the area in which this incident took place. Those of you who have travelled from Bhopal to Indore will remember Ashta. It is a small tehsil town about mid way between Bhopal and Indore. A few miles further south west of Ashta, the road come across a small plateau. This plateau extends for about ten kilometer along the road. As one decade from the far side a vast panorama of rolling hills and a wide valley lying between them opens out to the west and the south.
This broad valley is drained by the Dudhi River, a seasonal torrent with a rocky bed which is dry after the rai9ny season. The valley is roughly bisected by the Indore Bhopal highway running east to west. To the north and south are low hills of the kind already described? On the far western side the road ascends very gradually, till it enters the forest of Dewas distract. The vast amphitheatre, roughly twenty kilometers across, on either side was the scene of the tragedies which I have just mentioned.
Investigations by the forest department revealed that the killer animal was a wolf. At this stage it was not suspected that a whole pack of wolves, rather than a single animal was involved. This fact emerged later. Initially our suspicions were confined to ma single wolf of giant size whose pug marks were found near the site of one accident. The whole story of how this pack was eliminated is an interesting narrative, but here I only wish to show how many intimate knowledge of the geography of the area played a part in accounting for one of the animals. A few miles to the south-east of the small village of Dodi there is a bend in the Dudhi River which contains a deep pool of water serves as a water hole for various animals during the dry season. Further south of the river are fields of jowar and a little beyond is a small hill at the foot of which runs a dirt track much frequented by animals as well humans. I suspected that the wolf we were looking for used the water hole for drinking and must therefore sooner or later turn up at this spot. As the dirt track was much used by animals it was reasonable to suppose that this wolf would also use it.
The little hill I have spoken off commanded a good view of the dirt track and any animal using it could not escape notice if there was enough light to see it. However it was quite possible that the wolf being a man eater would use the cover of darkness to quench its thirst.
It was necessary therefore to set a little trap. Our plan was to use a small dummy of a human child to bait the wolf. As the wolf was used to hunting during day light it was quite possible that it would approach the dummy while there was enough light to shoot by. In order to confuse the wolf the dummy was clad in cloths recently used by a child. This would ensure that the cloths had the human smell which would entice the wolf. To complete the deception we also recorded the crying of a child and used the tape recorder to create the impression of a child crying his head off. Having thus completed the trap we took our station behind some bushes a little distance from the dummy. There were three of us, sitting over the dummy. There was the district judge who, apart from his legal acumen also possessed a keen interest in shikar, and there was the Assistant Conservator of Forest who was there at there at the call of duty. The three of us sat in a wide semicircle. All of us were armed with .12 bore shot guns and flashlight.
Imagine the scene then. The dirt track passing at the foot of the hill and being lost to sight beyond a bend that looks it behind us. Field of jowar , standing as tall as a man, stretching away to the west and the sun setting beyond them over the brow of another low hill. It was tranquil scene. As the twilight deepened the silence became deeper. Suddenly the tranquility was shattered by the eerie long draw out wail of a wolf. There is something uncanny about the cry of a wolf; it is like the tortured wailing of a human soul in agony. I think all of us felt little tremor of anticipation as well as apprehension at the cry.
This cry was however followed by silence. By now it was completely dark. I switched on the tape recorder to set up the crying of the child. After a while I switched off the machine so that we could hear the animal. Should it fall into our trap?
But we heard nothing. The silence was by now palpable. Just to relieve the tension I switched on the flashlight and shone it to the dummy. It was well that I did so, for there was the wolf, practically in the act of springing on the dummy. Two guns to my right and left spoke simultaneously. The animal was hit twice and was thrown off its feel by the force of the discharge. As it lay writhing, the ACF fired again. After he had emptied both the barrels he ran down and started hitting the animal with the butt of his gun. The wooden butt was soon broken, but the animal was dead. Later a post-modern confirmed our suspicions. Human remains were found in the stomach of the wolf. Pieces of cloth, as well as hair and bone fragments, confirmed that we had indeed killed the man eating wolf of Ashta.
The point of the story is that it was due to my familiarity with the terrain that we were able to choose the right spot to set our ambush. That was the reason why we were able to succeed where many shikaris had failed.
I have recounted this incident to give the reader an idea of the flavor and texture of the life of a collector. It is a life spent mostly out of doors, on the open road, or in upcountry rest houses. It is a life which is subject to periods of inactivity, followed by bouts of feverish activity. But above all it is a life whose meaning and purpose depends on the incumbent. Everything depends on his personality and this dependence on personal factors shows that there is something seriously wrong with the way we have defined this job.
Conventional wisdom holds that the collector is an agent of the state government. The historical antecedents of the post confirm this and the constitutional position of an unelected official in a democratic polity cannot be otherwise. Yet the people expect the collector to be an independent authority above party politics and quite detached from the political agenda of a government, which after all is formed by a political party.
During the British Raj the government was a remote entity which did not have any political rival. The collector was therefore the government of the district. He could afford to be to be neutral when adjudicating between people who did not pose any challenge to the political position of the government. But in this democrtatic day’s government in power have political rivals who also expect to be treated fairly. The demand for neutrality has therefore grown, while the scope of a collector’s discretion and his ability to distance himself from his political master has declined. This has set up a conflict of expectations. The people expect the collector to function in a neutral manner, but the government expects him to toe the line. On the other hand where the collector is expected to take sides and the throw the weight of his authority and influence into the scale – he is often to do so because he does not have a proper conception of his role.
As all the cards are in the government’s hands and as the people have no influence on a civil servants career, it is only natural that most collector’s accept the conventional view and act as agent of the state government. This is a pity, because by doing so they abandon their basic role, which is to deliver justice. By justice I do not mean the sort of justice that deliver justice. By justice I do not mean the sort of justice that follows after a lengthy and expensive course of law. The sort of justice that follows after a lengthy and expensive course of litigation I mean a deliberate attempt to redress the balance of power in favor of the underdog. By justice I mean a pro-active use of state power to help those who are the victims of oppression. This many mean setting aside the involved legal procedure of institutional justice, it may also mean taking recourse to rough and ready means sometimes. But this to my mind is the only way to help those who are often too poor, too ignorant, or simply too weak to help themselves.
Let, me illustrate what I mean by referring to some true incident. One day as I sat in my court receiving petitions, a man appeared before me, bowed down with a weight of woe. His face seemed prematurely wrinkled and aged; and his eyes were clouded with some secret sorrow. He clutched a sheaf of paper in his hand which he thrust at me. On going through his papers I saw that he had a judgment passed in his favor by the High court directing the respondent to pay damage to the petitioner for the death of his son; caused by rash and negligent driving by one of the respondent’s trucks. The judgment was more than two years old. On talking to the man I learn that although he had won damage from the high court, the local authorities were loath to recover this amount from the respondent because he was a powerful man with a dangerous reputation. The Tehsildar had been issuing recovery warrants against the respondent, but very time the notices were brought back without service with the endorsement that the respondent was not to be found at his given address. Finally, when the respondent was forced to appear in court, his plea was that he had no property with which to pay the decreed amount, and this statement was found to be quite true. Though, obviously a rich man, with a fleet of trucks, the respondent owned nothing in his own name.
Here was a nice question for the legal pundits. The poor old man worn down by his grief, had gone from pillar to, post petitioning all the authorities, including the collector, but no one had listened to him. He had neither the money, nor the energy to start another round of litigation. He had come to me, not indeed with hope, but out of sheer desperation. At the same time the respondent: who was a local grandee, held court everyday and walked about with a swagger.
Any one of his fleet of trucks would have yielded more than the amount required, but legally he could not be touched. Here is a case which called for administrative justice in the sense that I have described. What actually happened in this case is another story which, for the sake of modesty I will not recount here.
Let me rather tell another story of political interference which I suspect must have happened to many people in my situation. In the town of ‘S’ was a gentleman who was notorious for his skill as a forger. He had managed to forge a ‘patta’ dating back to state times, in his favor and by virtue of the forged instrument had obtained possession of some prime land in the heart of the town. All this was also a professional litigant, that is, he was able to use the law to his own advantage and to the disadvantage of his adversaries by involving the whole issues in a complex web of law suits. This man had a large circle of friends, and held court every day on the encroached piece of land. This land was so situated that I had the spectacle. In short it was a standing affront to the rule of law and I resolved to do something about it.
I knew that the affair had already gone through a long course of litigation, having gone right up to the Board of revenue, and the last order in the case was passed by the local Tehsildar, confirming the title of the said gentlemen. Nothing daunted. I took up the case in suo motu revision and after a brief hearing posted the case for final judgment. This date fixed on a Friday. The reason being that Saturday and Sunday being holiday, the respondent would be prevented from getting a stay order from any court of law.
This was essential because as I have already mentioned, the respondent was a past master at using the law to delay matters. Things went according to plan I announced the final judgment on Friday, rather late in the day, directing the responded to remove his encroachment within twenty four hours, failing which he was to be evicted by force.
Needless to say, the encroachment was not removed and the demolition was accordingly fixed for Sunday morning. A large contingent of police was kept ready, because the respondent was expected to mobilize his supporters and create trouble. I was all ready to set out when my home guard jawan whose task it was to attend the phone appeared before me, all in a flutter, and said ‘sir! The chief minister is on the line’. This is too was not unexpected, and I had specifically told the man not to take any calls from the state capital, but he had been so overawed by the mention of chief minister’s name that he had forgotten his instruction. I told him to tell the person at the other end that the loin e was very bad and I would call later.
Needless to say I did not call back. There would have been no point. There was trouble expected, but a major part of the encroachment was removed. I have narrated this story to illustrate how administrative justice differs from the justice that is purely legalistic in orientation. Let me add, as a postscript, that the respondent was able again to use the law to his own advantage, and by dint of court orders, albeit from a revenue court this time, he was gradually able to re-establish himself. Today, I am told, he is back to his original position.
It is satisfying to be able to do justice, even in one case. It leaves one with an abiding satisfaction to help out someone who really needs help.
Yet many officers who have been collectors and have paused to reflect on their job will agree with me that most officers complete their tenure with a sense of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction comes about partly from the conflict of expectation that I have already mentioned and partly from the way things are organized in the field. As is only natural in a democracy, the substance of power has now passed on to politicians, but formal authority still remains with the collector. This effort to maintain a bogus pretence is responsible for many of the distortions and falsities that have crept into the system.
This system of make believe is maintained because it suits politicians. Politicians like a system which allows them be to the de facto rulers while keeping up the presence of government by official because it gives them power without responsibility. Power with responsibility has always been, as Churchill said, the prerogative of the harlot down the ages. It is attractive but ultimately fatal. At the same time the civil servants who jump on the bandwagon are able to exercise authority without accountability. Their political godfather ensures that they do not come to any harm for any sins of omission or commission. We thus have the worst of both the worlds.
The politicians like this system for another reason and that is that is enable them to protect their power in the same manner as an autocratic government while keeping up the pretence of democracy. The collector’s officer is after all a relic of colonialism. We have to ask ourselves why the state government needs an agent whereas most democratic governments are able to manage their affairs quite well enough without an unelected official acting as their plenipotentiary. By using the prescriptive authority of this office, the politicians are able to project their power into the far concerns of the state in an autocratic manner. No wonder the most vehement supporter of the office are the Chief Minister.
It is satisfying to be able to do justice, even in one case. It leaves one with an abiding satisfaction to help out someone who really needs help.
The second reason why this system of pretence and humbug survives is due to civil service elitism. It is one of the basic tenets of elitism that a member of the elite is good enough to do any job, whatever the qualifications needed. The demands of functional efficiency and public interest are not taken into account. Consequently the job of collector combines widely divergent function which should be really quite separate. Broadly speaking the collector has two different kinds of responsibilities. First come his statuary responsibilities, conferred on him by the various status and regulations that have multiplied over the course of time. Then come the various powers and responsibilities that have devolved on him by virtue of his position as an agent of the state government. This includes his co-coordinating role in district administration and his status as the repository of the residual power of the state. These two powers were combined in the same person by the British for a good reason. The British raj was an autocracy tempered with legalism, and the collector was therefore a despot who maintained a façade of the rule of law. He was not really a civil servant in the modern sense. To transpose this office to the present day and to graft it on a democratic polity is all but impossible. Yet we have gone through with this false synthesis in the interest of civil service elitism. The way out of this regime of humbug and proxy rule is to separate the two streams of power vested in the collector. The executive authority of the state should be vested in elected councils, as it is in Europe. The Panchayat Raj system has already gone some way towards this and this tendency should be taken to its logical conclusion. At the same time the statutory powers of collector should be vested in a functionary who is outside the control of the state government and can thus act in an independent and unbiased manner.
He may be ultimately accountable top the state legislature or some other bipartisan body, but he should not be subjected to political control in his day to day functioning. This is absolutely imperative if we want to save the rule of law. To give just one example of the flagrant manner in which political control has vitiated the independent statutory authority of the collector one has only to refer to incident of breakdown of law and order where the state government has interfered to the detriment of law as well as public order. The code of criminal procedure does not recognize any authority above that of the district magistrate in matters of law and order, yet most DM’s consult the Chief Minister and proceed on his advice in maters where their own discretion is supreme. In one celebrated incident, where a DM did not use force. Such order, if indeed there were any, did not have any legal sanction. But the poor DM chose to put his own self interest, above the rule of law. This of course is not an isolated incident. Many a time the peace and security of this realm has been violated because of unwarranted and unwarrantable interference by politicians in a matter which should be left to the discretion of a neutral authority. As long as the DM is a creature of the state government such incident will continue to happen.
I am aware that the earlier part of this chapter where I have argued in favor of the collector being a benevolent depot will appear to be in conflict in with the arguments advanced above. Let me therefore explain this apparent inconsistency. When I spoke of the role of the collector being mainly to dispense justice I was speaking from the point of view of a civil servant who wants to make the most of an opportunity that has come his way.
From the perspective of a civil servant who is keen to do well and is not constrained by careerist ambitious or sheer timidity of character this seems to me the only sensible way forward. Therefore given a second inning I would still follow the same policy that I have outlined above. However on reflection, I do not recommend this policy top others, simply because I do not think most civil servant will follow it sense and too much self denial in another. I say too much self assertion because only someone who is willing to stand by dispose to follow the course of action outlined above. Too much self denial, because only a person who is indifferent to the trapping of power and the insidious way in which it corrupt a man’s judgment and discrimination could go on resisting temptation and doing justice to the underdog. Such contrary virtues are seldom found together. One cannot therefore recommend a creed which puts such a strain on human fallibility.
However the latter recommendation regarding the restructuring of the collector’s job is from the stand point of a reformer who has the national freedom to- ‘change this sorry scheme of things entire’. This freedom is the birthright of authors everywhere. Looking at the issue from this angle I have suggested a change in the whole set up for two reasons. First I do not think we should allow our politicians to get away with the irresponsibility of proxy rule any longer. They should be given the executive authority of the sate and should be then held accountable for what they do. No longer should we permit them to pull the strings from behind the scene and pin the blame on bureaucrats when things go wrong.
This would put an end to the regime of humbug and make believe and would be in the internet of official as well as politicians.
Moreover this would prevent Chief Minister from running a personalized autocracy while swearing by democratic principles. They would find it much more difficult to deal with an elected council or a Panchayat than a handpicked official who is beholden to them in the first place.
The second and much more important reason is that it would be a step towards the establishment of civil society. If we accept the principle that a civil society is chiefly distinguished by its reverence for the law enforcement and liberating it from partisan political control would only conduce to the rule of law. It would also put an end to the culture of dependence and force the people to take responsibility for their own lives. When they stop looking to an over mighty official that represents an imperialistic conception of state power and take their destiny in their own hand- that would be truly a change in the direction of freedom and democracy. The time for such a change has come.
Let me now come to the last phase of my career- that of secretary to government. Before becoming secretary, I served as head of various departments. In all these posts I was conscious of a decline in the importance of the kind of work. I was doing, compared to the work I did a s district officer, but it was only when I became secretary to the government, supposedly the pinnacle of one’s career that the sheer futility of the job was brought home to me in all its starkness. The function of a secretary to the government is to aid and advice the minister in the discharge of his responsibility. Which is to say the secretary in effect does nothing? He only advises, and if his advice is rejected, he does not fume and fret, but like a good civil servant takes up some other matter. This system is grounded in the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, a comfortable legal fiction that rests on the premises that the minister takes both the praise and the blame for the functioning of his department and is solely accountable to the functioning of his department and is solely accountable to the legislature. The civil servant who advice him are fearless, anonymously creatures, who are protected from parliamentary censure and public disgrace for their action, even when they happen to commit mistake. The doctrine works in a rather perverse manner in practice, because ministers, while always willing to accept praise are when it comes to criticism, only too willing to find official scapegoats for their own misdeeds. Time without number, one has heard the following dialogues in legislative chamber across the country:-
Member- will the minister assure the house that the matter shall be investigated and those responsible shall be punished?
Minister- I assure the house that this matter shall be investigated thoroughly and those (official) found guilty shall not be spared. In fact I’ll nominated the honorable member as one of the members of the enquiry committee.
On the other hand it is rare these days to hear of a minister accepting responsibility and resigning from office on account of any lapse. So much for the doctrine of ministerial responsibility! The point of citing it here is to highlight its fortunate impact on the quality of advice that is tendered. Ideally this advice should be forthrightness and unequivocal. The minister should of course be presented with a range of options where they are available but he should be left in o doubt as to ever may prove to be costly if things go wrong somehow. Most civil servants has therefore adopted the sos policy. Sos meaning save your own skin. This means that in practice the official advice in seldom forthright, it is usually accompanied by several ifs and buts, and waffling of the on the one hand and on the other hand type’, culminating in a kind of incomprehensible bureaucratic argot caricatured so effectively in ‘yes minister’. This places the onus for decision making on the minister and allow the bureaucrat to wriggle out of responsibility should things go wrong.
But there is another aspect of problem which is ever more negative in its impact. This stem from the fact that on any serious issues, serious in their sense of materially affecting the public interest; decision are usually taken on political consideration and bureaucratic advice is like to be likely of little or no consequence.
Thus a civil servant may find that which his advice a ;to the number of toilets to be built for ladies in the secretarial is likely to be accepted without demur, when it comes to the number of new schools to be opened in a district, the decision is going to be taken on political grounds. No one is likely to take pains over his work when he knows that it is unlikely to receive serious consideration. Let me recount an incident which illustrates this perfectly.
This happened when I was secretary in the tribal welfare department. The state government in its wisdom had decided to introduce the sixth schedule of the constitution in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh. A resolution was rammed through the state legislature and passed without any informed discussion. A proposal was thenceforth forwarded to the government of India recommending the introduction of the eminent academician to demarcate the areas for inclusion in the sixth schedule & to work out the other modalities were thus pretty far advanced. The first thing I did on what I saw shocked me. This was an issue with grave consequences, but it had been dealt with in a most up the senior most civil servant in the state- the chief secretary himself- but that worthy had barely applied his aspect of the problem had not even been formulated let alone discussed. Whatever official nothing were available on the file seemed to uncritically endorse the decision of the political masters. What one witnessed here was more than intellectual dishonesty- it was sycophancy and time serving of the worst kind.
As it happened I was familiar with the issues because I had served earlier in the department. I knew it was a divide hitherto peaceful community on ethics lines and plunge the state into communal discord. The state government was p[laying the politics of division for short term politics gain, it was following the cynical policy of divide and rule followed by the British rulers, but it did not have their excuse and it was going well beyond even what they had contemplated.
What was worse, the state government knew, that the proposal was constitutionally unsound and could never be accepted by the government of India debate on the issue either among the political class or in the media? Thus all the sate, yet they were playing up the matter for all it was worth in the hope of gaining some short lived political advantage. At the same time there was no informed debate on the issue either among the political class or in the media. Thus all the estate of the realm, either thorough connivance or through ignorance seemed to conspire at a proposal which was nothing if not a fraud on the constitution. A few words about the background of the case will make this clear.The constitutional lineage of the fifth and sixth schedules goes back to the constitution of , wherein certain areas in the north east as well as the lahaul spiti valley of himachal pradesh were designated as “wholly excluded areas”. Certain other tribal areas of central India were designated as “areas of modified exclusion”. These provisions were retained in the constitution of 1935, though the nomenclature was slightly modified. They were now called “excluded area”, and “partly excluded areas”. These same provisions were incorporated almost unchanged in the constitution of free India as the fifth and sixth schedules.
The import of this peculiar nomenclature: “excluded areas, is actually clear enough. The intention of the colonial rulers was to keep these areas outside the political mainstream. In these areas, especially in the tribal areas of the north-east missionary influences was strong The British perceived these areas to be well disposed towards their regime and therefore wanted to keep them safe from the contagion of the congress dominated anti-British politics of the rest of India. Thus in the name of safeguarding tribal tradition and autonomy, the traditional system of tribal government was institutionalized, tribal custom was given the force of law and the state restricted itself to a nominal presence. All political rights were confirmed to the tribal, but in an area where almost the entire population was tribal, this was not seen to be unjust.
It will be readily seen, that the sixth schedule is a retrogressive piece of legislation. It look back at some mythical golden age as the aspiration norm to followed and precludes the development of modern political institution and representative democracy. Worse still, it takes no account of the political right of other communities and assumes that society will remain homogeneously tribal for all time to come. Seen in this context, Dr. ambedkar’s view (paraphrased by me) on this legislation, as expressed by him in the constituent assembly do not come as a surprised,:-
“The tribal community of the north east differs from the rest of the country in their culture and ways of life. They may be said to constitute almost a separate nation as the red Indians do in America and likewise should remain confined to its present area. It is not our intention to introduce this anywhere else.”
Dr. Ambedkar’s view clearly shows his own misgivings on this score, misgivings which have been justified by time because the sixth schedule been responsible among other things for keeping the north-east cut off from the national mainstream.
In any case the spirit of our nation constitution is inimical politics institution founded on ethnicity. Therefore no responsible person, even if he be a political adventure, would dream of introducing this measure in Madhya Pradesh, where even in the tribal district of baster, more than thirty percent of the population is non tribal. Yet this was what the state government proposed to do.
The issue was thus grave one. It was not only constitutionally perverse, it was politically gains. The intellectual dishonesty as well as the analytical ineptitude display by the civil service mandarins in this case was depressing. Considering the gravity of the issues one would have expected passionate arguments, rigorous analysis as well as vision and commitments to the long issues which I have just outlined above, in short all that goes into the making of honest advice when it is given in the right spirit by person of caliber. Instead what one witnessed here was worse than incompetence, it was collusion.
The choice before me was therefore clear; I immediately wrote out a long discussing the constitutional background of the case and argued strongly against its adoption by the state. I did not mince my words, the evidence of history, the weight of law, and the force of reason were all on my side, and no reasonable man could turn it down without forsaking reason itself. I took the note to my official superior, a man who enjoyed a reputation for being something of an intellectual.
In such cases, consideration of value is always going to be outweighing by political expediency. What recourse has the hapless civil servant in such cases? The Madhya Pradesh government’s rules of business prescribed that Uncases where the departmental secretary is in disagreement with the minister he can request the minister to send the file to the chief minister for final orders. The discretion, be it noted, is still left with the departmental minister, who may be the delinquently party in the first place. He may or may not send the file to the CM. it all depends on his whims and fancies. In most cases he will fail to oblige the bureaucrat, after all, why should he submit the matter to the arbitration of his political boss, if the decision lies with him. It follows therefore that in the very few cases where upright civil servant disagree with their minister, and resubmit the matter to him for onwards transmission to the CM, the file comes back with the remark that there is no need o do so. This is the extent of government’s commitment to upholding honest advice.
Let me close this chapter with an incident where a very senior civil servant was made to connive at something which, though not illegal, was still in my view gravely improper. This incident happened when I was in a department, which has a big budget and disbursed a lot of funds to other departments. A case came to our notice where the department minister had gone against the advice of the department, secretary and made a large purchase order at a highly inflated cost. The subordinate officer had either colluded with the minister the minister or been brow beaten into acquiescence. The department secretary had been overruled. The material that was to be supplied had probably never reached its destination. The minister’s guilt as well as the collusion of the subordinate officers was plain to see. We accordingly made out cases for enquiry by the Lok Ayukta and send the file to the CM for approval.
The file was first seen by the chief secretary and the approval of the General administration department was obtained. The chief secretary and the general administration department failed to scrutinize the file carefully and see that a minister was likely to implicate in the matter. We were surprised but quite gleeful. The file was sent to the lok Ayukta and a receipt was obtained. Then we sat back to await development; but within a few hours, the minister got wind of development and it was then that the fatal weakness of civil servant when dealing with politician came into play.
I received a telephone call from my official superior, (not the person previously mentioned), who was then at Delhi. He had been given a dressing down by the CM who had accused him of betrayal and acting with malice aforethought. I commiserated with him. We both felt that we had acted rightly. We both felt the glow if righteousness that come from standing up for a cause, even though as it presented to be the case here, it be a lost cause.
The next morning I received a phone call from the chief secretary. After a few polite meaningless words, he came to the point. He wanted me to recall the concerned file from the Lok Ayukta. This I pointed out to him would be highly improper. But he was insistent. I then put up the matter to him in writing, pointing out that such a step would be unprecedented and would bring disrepute to the state government if it became known. But back came my note with a written order that the offending file be recalled. The secretary to the Lok Ayukta, who had been sounded out in advance by the government, proved amenable and returned the file to which he should have clung like a leach.
In this manner a gravely improper thing was allowed to happen, with the captive connivance of no less a person than a chief secretary. The funny thing was that he was also able to argue at the same time that what he was doing was in the public interest. No one can beat the civil servant at giving a high moral tone to their worst misdemeanors, especially when their own interest is involved.
The member of the Indian administrative service constitutes elite. They occupy the highest official posts in both the state and central governments as if they were theirs by prescriptive right. In these positions they are expected to carry out the fiendishly complex business of modern government without knowing very much about the department that they handle. They are lionized by society, feted by the press, and generally have their passage through life made smooth by the various amenities which just fall into their laps along with the plums of office.
With such a premium being put on their service, the country has a legitimate right to expect high standards of service and performance from them. They are expected to be in fact, rather like the guardians of Plato’s Republic, leading a Spartan like of poverty, renouncing their private claims in favor of a life devote to the service of the state, inflexible in their rectitude and unswerving in their commitment to the cause of good governance. Do they in fact measure up o this lofty ideal?
The fact is that they do not. The truth is not that they fall short of the lofty ideal; failure in a difficult undertaking would be no disgrace, but that they do not even accept the existence of these ethical norms. The sad truth in that venality and jobbery are accepted as the norm rather than an exception.
The sad truth is that the Course of self-advancement is dearer to most than the cause of the state and the dictates of politician are obeyed more readily than the dictates of conscience. I am reminded of T.S Eliot’s poem on J. Alfred Prufrock, which sums up the character of the average civil servant rather well:-
No, I am not prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be,
Am an attendant lord, one that’ll do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advice the prince, no doubt an easy tool,
Politics, caution, meticulous,
Full. Of high, but a bit obtuse.
Indeed, at times almost ridiculous.
Almost at times the fool.
This picture of a pompous, vainglorious person, too full of his own importance to realize his own futility sums up the case perfectly. The first character trait o civil servant that comes to mind is obsession with rank and status. This of course is not a failing of civil servant alone but a part for our national character, but it is exaggerated sometimes to ridiculous length in the case of civil servants. To begin with this takes the shape of rather unnatural preoccupation with the outward trappings of authority, like beacon lights on official cars. Many officers, not satisfied with converting their vehicle into a mobile light house, also put a light on the bonnet. As it this were not enough, they also have a plaque affixed over the number plate, which carries their official designation in gilt letters, quite often with a red background for added effect. These tell tale symbols are challan all trucks coming up the road. The traffic jam that took place as a result of his injured vanity stretch nearly for a mile.
This puerile obsession with rank and status often manifests itself in a ludicrous competition to get the best postings, the best official cars, the best official houses and even the best room in the secretariat. I can tell many a tale about this business of room allotments because I was once in charge of this rather sordid matter.. There was, for instance, this officer who cultivated a leftist image, but was rather fond of the trappings of authority. He was not satisfied with his room and by dint of moving formerly occupied by a minister. This new room was apparently large enough to satisfy his vanity, but as luck would have it there was a cabinet expansion a few days later and this room was again allotted to a minister. This new room was apparently large enough to satisfy his vanity, but as luck would have it there was a cabinet expansion a few days later and this room was again allotted to a minister. The bureaucrat was now relegated to a room which was even smaller than his former room. This was an indignity not to be borne and the concerned officer kept badgering me to give him a bigger room. Again purely as matter of coincidence, the room that he had originally occupied again fell vacant, and he was now willing to settle for what had earlier seemed too small to him. There was poetic justice in this.
There is another story about the allotment of rooms in the secretariat which is truly hilarious, but which out of regard for the feeling of those involved I shall omit to narrate. Instead let me tell another story about the allotment of rooms in a circuit house. As everyone knows, most circuit houses in a district town have only two or three decent rooms and problems sometimes arise when VIPs and VVIPs land up all together and ask for rooms. There was once a collector who was transferred because of a minor glitch about the allotment or the non allotment of a room to a minister, but that’s another story.
This one concerns a senior officer whom we shall X. the district where I was posted had a circuit house with only three good rooms. When I was informed by his departmental officers that X was scheduled to arrive the very next day, I was put in a quandary, because out of three rooms in the circuit house one was occupied by the local minister another by the local MP and the third by an officer who was very much senior to X. this left only the fourth room which was much smaller in size as well as rather bare in terms of furnishing. X when he landed up was furious with me for giving him a room that he landed up was furious with me for giving his a room that he did not consider commensurate with his status. He conveniently forgot that he very same protocol, on the strength of which he was making such exaggerated claims on the world, accorded a higher rank to the three individuals who were occupying suits before him. X gave vent to his resentment by a deliberately slighted him. This was a ridiculous charge, which I was prepared to repudiate in equally strong terms. Fortunately for both of us, hearing the commotion, the senior officer, who was in the next room came out and on learning of the problem offered X his own room, as X was accompanied by his wife. This gentleman thus proved himself to be the superior of X, not only in rank, but also in magnanimity, but his gesture was as rare, as X’s outburst was commonplace. Officers like X, puffed up with a sense of their own importance often behave in this manner. The tragedy is, such officers often rise to the top of the civil service.
There is another story which can be mentioned as an interesting side light to show how the official mind works when anything concerning rank and status are involved. Everyone knows that the use of flashing beacon lights on official cars, is a privilege reserved for minister and those officers who are directly involved in law enforcement. In a democracy, the use of such symbols even by minister is not quite right, but in any case others are not permitted to use them.
This is however a privilege that is routinely abused by those who consider themselves important enough to broadcast their status to the world. Senior bureaucrats, politicians who are not minister, high court judges, member of various tribunal and commissions and so on. Some years ago the government of Madhya Pradesh brought out an order, dividing these light users into three classes, the most important people were allowed to use the red lights as before, the second rank people, which included the civil servant were permitted to use yellow lights instead the civil servant were permitted to order, dividing these light users into three classes, the most important people were allowed to use the red light as before, the second rank people, which included the civil servant were permitted to use yellow lights instead of red, and ambulance and other medical service were asked to use blue lights. This grotesque refinement of a basically undemocratic practice is bad enough in it, but now comes an extra twist that makes the whole thing ridiculous. Among the bureaucrats only those directly concerned with law enforcement were allowed to use beacon lights with two exceptions: these exceptions were the home secretary and the chief secretary.
Now both these officers are also deck bound mandarins, like the rest of the secretaries to government, and on the face of it there was no justification in functional terms for them to advice their rank over the heads of the rest of their colleagues. It transpired that both these bureaucrats had cornered this privilege because the concerned file had been processed by them and they were thus able to insist upon exception being made in their case. This is the absurd length to which the civil servant can go in their obsession with rank & status. It does not occur to them, that such display is vulgar and undemocratic. That it revels not a distinguished person but an inferior mind.
They do not remember that in this very country there was a man who used to travel in third class compartments as a point of principle because there was no forth class, and whose simplicity and lack of ostentation was such that the world calls him mahatma. Such are the unworthy inheritors of his legacy.
From this general tendency another character trait can be inferred. People who have so much regard for rank and status are unlikely to have ant regard for those who have neither rank of status, i.e., those who constitute ninety nine percent of the population of this country. I can say from my experience of the civil service as a class that this is true. There are, of course, many well intentioned and committed officers but these again are in a minority. The civil service as an organizational hierarchy and as a class does not take its character from these people. It takes its color and complexion from the kind of people. It takes color and complexion from the kind these people I speak of and these people are curiously disobliging to ordinary people, just as they are extremely obliging to powerful people,. In fact the successful careerist in the bureaucracy is often the man who follows the policy of “ lick above and kick below”. He is obsequious and fawning with senior officers & politician, ruthless and overbearing with subordinates and inaccessible to member of the public. Now it has been a principle with me throughout my career, to be accessible to everyone, and all those who came to see me, seemed top agree on one point, that my colleagues were usually inaccessible to them and in their eyes at least I had the inestimable virtue of being a patient listener, if nothing else. Very often they asked for nothing else.
This lack of sympathy for the common man is the most damning indictment that can be brought against public servant in country like ours, where the majority of the population is without substantial wealth, or influence, yet this is as true of the lower bureaucracy as of the highest civil servant s. go to any office as an ordinary citizen, and you are unlikely to meet with courtesy or consideration.
Everyone, right from the peon and the clerk sitting among disorderly piles of files, to the head of office, invisible in his air conditioned chamber and unusually inaccessible to ordinary people, are all likely to be rude and overbearing. All this does not in any way redeem the conduct of the senior civil servant, for they are after all expected to set the standard.
This lack of regards for the common people is accompanied by excessive servility towards people in authority. A member of the public who had faced the rudeness and condescension of the over mighty bureaucrat will be surprised if he saw them creeping and crawling before a chief minister or a Prime Minister.
There are no other words to describe the undignified posture that I have seen many bureaucrats adopt towards powerful people. Servility of this kind is never an edifying spectacle, but one could laugh it away if it did not have rather unfortunate consequence for the quality of governance in the country. Important people are able to get away with all kinds of folly and stupidity because those who advice them haven’t the nerve to tell them so. I remember one meeting in which all the collectors of a division were to be addressed by the chief secretary. Several secretaries were also asked to be in attendance and I happened to be one of them. This meeting was being held just before a general election and after talking about this and that for some time the chief secretary came to the point. He declared that the forthcoming election would be a verdict, not merely on the performance of the government but also the performance of the collectors, and the result would show who had done well and who had done badly. To my mind this was a most dangerous doctrine. The CS was telling the offices, without putting it in so many words, that they had better ensure the victory of the ruling party. But no one objected. It was left me, as so often, to set the record straight.
I pointed out that the election result would be verdict on the performance of the government as a whole, including the programmer and policies of the government, which were not designed by the collectors. There were also political factors at work in any election, and it was simplistic to reduce the whole exercise to this cracker barrel formula. Faced with this frontal assault the chief secretary did not press the point the point. But even then no spoke up in defense of one of the core value of the civil service-political neutrality- which was under attack here. The habit of sycophancy does not die easily.
To this rather depressing scenario, I must add one more depressing fact. Most civil servant are rather too deeply preoccupied with bread and butter issues and rather too little with matter concerning ideals and value. I had ample proof of this when I was secretary of the Madhya Pradesh IAS association. Some officers once moved a resolution that the age of superannuation for IAS officer should be raised of sixty years, on the grounds that just officers also retired at sixty. This was some years ago, when the age of superannuation was fifty eight years. As secretary of the association I was asked to elicit the views of altered in all the four corner of the state, asking them what they thought of the proposal. Four hundred and odd members of the service scattered in all four corner of the state, asking them what they thought of the proposal. The results were amazing. Among all of extending the retirement age. Many were eager to contribute to fund, which might be set up file a petition in the Supreme Court. Exception for the one honorable exception, even rayon was keen to hang on to the fruit of officer for two more years, no one was keen to obtain his freedom from government to take up politics, or writing, or the cultivation of Pieria roses, or other vocation or avocation. Everyone was happy with the hack work that he was doing and wanted to keep on doing it. Such is the effect of long service in the government on the mind of the civil servants.
On other occasion a meeting was called to discuss the introduction of a code of ethics in the civil service. This was a fall out of the initiative taken by the UP cadre officer in trying to identify the most corrupt officers. Like the UP initiative, this was also a fiasco. I had planned to speak on this occasion, because to my this was a momentous issue. I had decided to speak on the concept of justice and order, two concepts central to any philosophy of the civil service. My argument was that the moral order, at which we must aim, was the equivalent in social and political terms of the cosmic order which prevails in the universe. I had decide to keep the arguments on a rather lofty plane, in keeping with the subject, but as I looked at the faces all around me I had a moment of revelation. I saw ponderous heavy figure, each immured in his own self importance and shallow egotism. Looking at these hard faces I was reminded of Auden’s lines:
Stares from every human face;
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in every eye.”
(Intellectual disgrace denoting indifference to those intangible values that make life worth living, not lack of intelligence as some might think)
One could not discourse on abstract ethical issues to men such as these. I put my speech back in my pocket and decide that I must leave the service as soon as I could.
I have now said all that I had to say I about my own experiences in the civil service and it is time to come to the more general issues which are the main subject matter of the book. Let us start with the concept of the civil servant as a ruler.
There are two conceptions of the civil service that we have to connect with and these two conceptions are very different. The modern conception of the civil servant is basically that of a manager, who is engaged in the performance of a professional task in the service of the community. A post master, a school inspector, or a hospital administrator, are all civil servants according to this definition. This view focuses on the performance of managerial tasks, usually service oriented, as the essence of the civil servants oeuvre. In this view even the mandarins who man the higher echelons of the civil service are simply manager, whose watch word is likely to be efficiency rather than justice and order.
On this showing the civil servant is likely to professional and a specialist rather than a generalist. Although the cult of the generalist is alive and well, there is a growing realization skill. Thus the old notion of the gifted amateur, who will always muddle through, is now beginning to be discarded. The philosophy of muddling through, when one is traversing a veritable minefield, does not appear to be brave and courageous, but seems rather like suicidal folly.
There is of course another conception of the civil service that of a moral and intellectual elite brought together in the service of the state. This state is usually an imperial state. Historically the notion of the civil service as elite has been taken of its highest pitch of development in imperial states, like medieval China, the British raj or the Roman Empire. The chief purpose of these elitist civil services, the very raison de etre in fact, has been to ensure the survival and perpetuation of the empire they served. The word perpetuation is used in say, sung china, or the roman governor in the age of Trajan, there must have been something eternal in the fabric of the state which they served, it is another matter that the high noon of imperial splendor is followed by a collapse, which is as spectacular in its suddenness as the brilliant coruscation of power. But such matters are the domain of prophets and visionaries, and beyond the ken of civil servants, whose business is essentially to preserve and perpetuate.
This is another feature of elitist civil service which should be noted -their conservative nature. Their real purpose is to preserve a dispensation, which though it may should its real purpose in moralistic rhetoric, is not basically benevolent in nature. In such a state the civil servants prerogative to rule does not does not come from the consent of the people, but springs from the power of the state, whose agents they are and such power is usually obtained by conquest and maintained by force. Paradoxically the highest standards of conduct , the most devoted commitment to the ethic of public service, manifests itself in the administration of territories that constitute the remoter outposts of empire, where the ruling power is seen quite clearly as a colonial power.
But this paradox ruler of more apparent than real, because agents of a foreign ruler often find that they are treated as qausi- divine beings by the native over whom they rule and their life then becomes an attempt to live up to this ideal which is partly imposed upon them. The development of the Indian civil service shows these features in a typical form.
We have thus isolated three features of the elitist civil service that may be considered typical- they serve governments that are despotic, they often hide the real purpose of their administration behind lofty moral pronouncements, and they are essentially conservative in nature. To this let us add a fourth feature- admission to their ranks is usually restricted to a single point at the bottom of the hierarchy. Entrance is usually on the basis of an examination that is supposed to test intellectual ability. Once selected the new recruit can look forward to a career within a closed caste, whose membership confers automatic status and privilege. As typical example we can consider the Chinese mandarins and the Indian Civil Service in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
If imperial china has become a byword for bureaucratic government, the reasons are not far to seek. The government of imperial china was always for vigorous authoritarian rule. No form of government other than absolute monarchy has ever flourished in china. The present government of china is also despotism; it is monarchical absolutism in the guise of a communist state; simply old wine in new bottle. But the point is the dividing line between the ruler and the ruled remains as sharp as ever.
If we take the Chinese Empire at its height, say in the Sung period, we find a society stratified into manifold gradation of rank and status. It is reported that even the emperor’s concubines were carefully divided into thirteen different grades! This is the very epitome of a conservative society.
In this society the only professional open to men of rank and status was the civil service, which therefore enjoyed a prestige most surpassing that of the emperor and his court. All the learning and scholarship in society, all the literally, artistic and intellectual talents were to be found in the civil service: other professions were either considered inferior or even proscribed but imperial decree and therefore out of bound for the children of the gentry. We may liken this dispensation to the classical form of bureaucratic government.
The foremost task of this vast bureaucracy was the maintenance on imperial authority throughout the length and breadth of the Chinese realm. This was much more difficult than one might suppose. Twenty centuries of imperial rule may give the impression that monarchical absolutism possessed a monolithic strength which required no support from an elaborated administrative apparatus, but this would be wrong. In china periods of calm and prosperity have often been followed by turbulence and disorder, when the imperial authority has either disappeared altogether or been replaced by squabbling warlords or intriguing pretender. A part from the ever present threat of external aggression, the authority of the Chinese state has been threatened throughout history by three factors, which arise from the peculiar geo-political character of the Chinese empire.
The first factor has been the very large size of the Chinese state, due to which the threat of rebellion by warlords or over mighty provincial governors remained ever present. The Chinese empire during the Han period was divided into a many as 100 provinces and during the T’ang period this number rose to 350. It is clear, that no central authority however efficient could control so large an area.
The danger of rebellion was particularly acute in the outlying provinces, which were often six to seven weeks march from the imperial capital and where an ambitious governor or military commander may easily be tempted to raise system and its replacement by bureaucratic government, with provincial governors being directly appointed by the court from the ranks of the of the permanents civil service, was devised to check this threat. These officials could be shifted from one province to another at the will of the emperor, and could not assume any legal rights over their territory; unlike feudal lords, who could exact fealty from their fiefdoms. The central government also employed a large number of officials to continuously supervise and inspect the work of provincial officials and report on their doings. Despite these precautions, however, imperial authority was often subjected to serious disruption on these accounts.
The second threat to orderly government often arose from the danger of revolts led by disaffected peasants or banditti. The large population of china, the scarcity of arable land, and the possibility of crop failure due to climatic factors have always made agriculture a precarious business and famines have been almost endemic. This has created a large of citizenry, living beyond the plea, as it were, outside the reach of civil authority and subsisting on petty crime. Such elements are ever ready to rise against the establishment authority at the call of any ambitious adventurer and the frequency of peasant revolts in china is explained by this. It has always therefore been one of the basic responsibilities of the provincial governors and local prefects, to keep a sharp watch over all potential troublemakers and to crush any incipient revolt at the very first hint of trouble.
The third danger to the stability of the state arose from the absence of any establishment convention of setting disputed cases of succession.
This lefty the filed open for powerful factions at the imperial court to intrigue and maneuver to set their own candidate on the throne. It allowed elements in the imperial household, eunuchs, and concubines and the relatives of the king to unsettle the peace of the realm by initiating sordid machination with the sole aim of grabbing power. The cases of the empress Wu, who rose from a minor concubine to be the absolute ruler of china due to her capacity for intrigue and ruthlessness, illustrate this perfectly. Whenever there was a weak monarch on the throne, these possibilities multiplied. In such cases the balance of power shifted imperceptible in favor of the powerful civil service, whose peculiar organization as a body corporate, unified by a single hierarchy and a shared ethos, made it thus a prime mover in all attempts to change the equation of power. Thus the very success of the bureaucracy, become in china a cause of instability.
In view of these very real dangers, the real purpose and mission of the state in china was always the strengthening of the state and the preservation of imperial rule. The main task of administration at the level of the prefecture, which was like a district in India, was the dispensation of justice, the collection of revenue, the maintenance of security, the upkeep of communication, the care of state and granaries and the registration of the land and population. All these tasks were carried out, not with any benevolent end in view, but with the central purpose of strengthening the state.
For the same reason, the Chinese system was a vigorously centralized system, where the prefects reported directly to the provincial governors, and the governors to the central government. Below the percepts -were the hereditary headmen, the village elders, the craft guild, and the family system, the whole fabric of customary obligation and interrelationship built up over the centuries, which assisted the established government in the exercise of authority.
The entire system was staffed and operated by member of the bureaucracy, who formed a single corporate body, right from the humblest provincial scribe, to the greatest mandarin at the court-0right up to the chancellor or the imperial secretary he. In this system, the emperor could, like a spider sitting in the centre of a vast web, keep in touch with all the outlying reaches and ramifications of the structure, if he so desired. In practice however things, did not always work out that way.
However no bureaucracy can survive for a long period purely as a conservative enterprise. It requires a moral and philosophical justification for its work. This common creed, inspires in the best elements a truly heroic commitment to public service, keeps the rank and file committed to a decent standard of behavior, and serves at worst as a sort of intellectual fig leaf to cover the real purpose of the government. It has therefore a dual purpose, and is useful both to the cynics and idealist alike. In the case of the Chinese civil service, this creed was provided by the philosophy of Confucius.
It is the fate of philosopher to be used and abused by those who do not share their exalted normal purpose. This has certainly been the fate of Confucius, who was used by the Chinese state to justify absolutism. It has been the practice to label Confucius, as a conservative thinker. This is a vulgar simplification of the same order as the statement that Yehudi Menuhin is a Jewish violinist. Like all vulgar simplifications, it also contains a germ of truth.
Confucius is above all a practical philosopher. He is not too concerned with abstract metaphysical entities. His concern is basically with a code of conduct that could actually be used to sustain a moral order that he considered desirable.
He considers virtuous conduct -conduct that is unselfish, gentle and compassionate, to be the aspiration norm. Such conduct does not depend upon one’s birth or station in life, but on education. Moral precepts can be inculcated by a process of education and not by any other means. Hence the central place assigned to education in the Confucian canon.
Confucius looks upon social relationship as a complex web of obligation and duties. Virtue lies in the rigorous discharge of these obligations. A special place is assigned in this dispensation to the ruler who is looked upon as the vice regent of heaven, sent down to rule the earth in accordance with the Confucian tenets. All goes well so long as the ruler follows the precepts of morality, but the moment he neglects his duties or strays from the path of virtue, disaster befalls him and his subjects. Confucian ethics have been used to justify absolutist government on the one hand, and on the other they have also been able to finish a moral justification for the wholesale changeover of loyalties whenever one dynasty is replaced by another.
The latent authoritarianism of Confucius is qualified by his insistence that government is to be carried out in accordance with moral precepts and its ultimate aim is the welfare of the people. However his writings do not contain any evolved concept of civil liberty or individual rights. Confucius accords a frankly subordinate status to the people, well below that of the sovereign and his advisers. The children of the earth, as he calls them, are looked upon as rather helpless being who have just about enough intelligence to till earth and raise crops. The onerous task of governance is considered well beyond their capacities, and the best that they can do is to enjoy the blessings of orderly rule and leave the difficult task of governance to the sovereign and his advisors.
Confucius assign great importance to the sovereign’s advisors. They are supposed to be a moral and intellectual elite standing apart from their superior abilities. The important things are that the power and privilege which they enjoy; is entirely due to their merit. This doctrine,. Which has furnished the moral justification for civil service elitism ever since, must be considered advanced thinking for the time. We know that until fairly recent times; and in many countries even today, public office is often assigned on the basis of jobbery and nepotism. It is the greatness of Confucius that he propounded this doctrine more than two thousand years ago, and it is the greatness of Chinese culture that this doctrine was put into practice and faithfully followed, for more than two millennia.
The practical result of this doctrine has been the veritable apotheosis of the official scholar class, which has dominated the culture and social life of china down the ages, and which is responsible for great literary and culture accomplishment as well as the subsequent decline and subjection of the Chinese empire. The history of china is therefore a verdict on the elitist model, because in no other country do we find, this model in existence for such a long period, with the civil service in undisturbed possession of social and political pre-eminence.
And this verdict all said and done, must go against the mandarins. It is true that they have played role in maintaining the political unity of china, kept the system going in times of instability and been responsible for disseminating Chinese culture though the length and breadth of china,. Their active participation in Chinese art and letters have given it’s a polish and sophistication that it may not otherwise have acquired. But their overall impact on Chinese history has been mainly that of a conservative force.
This is only to be expected from a corporate body who own their privileged status, to their mastery of ancient literary classics and who derive their prerogatives from an absolute monarch who is seen as the fountainhead of all authority.
One of the consequences of this system was social stagnation. The hierarchical structure of the bureaucracy and the society in the shape of social structure of the bureaucracy and the society in the shape of a social structure stratified into various gradations of rank, each of which tended to form a closed caste. This naturally restricted social mobility and individual freedom. On the other it hand it rank and power rather than moral worth, the measure of a man’s standing, thus subverting the very Confucian ethics on which it was founded.
One can also say that by making power as an end rather than a means of political endeavor, it legitimized tyranny and misrule By actively participating in palace intrigue and the machinations of concubines, eunuchs and ambitious courtiers, it lowered the tone of an ancient civilization and by switching loyalties at the demise of every dynasty it made it easier for foreigner to establish their rule in china. The case of the Manchu dynasty illustrates this very well.
These are serious charges, but the most serious charge against the mandarins, is that they stifled the social and intellectual the mandarins, is that they stifled the social and intellectual life of the country. By shutting out the country, to all new knowledge emanating from the west, they denied the country the fruits of the enlightenment which swept Europe in the fifteenth century. Their typical middle kingdom insularity and arrogance were responsible for the ultimate political humiliation of China and her subjugation by foreign powers.
We come now to the most recent example of the elitist model, the Indian Civil Service, which as the ancestor of the present day civil service in India as well as Britain, deserves study in its own right.
The present day status and prestige of the Indian administrative service is a legacy of the ICS. Government official have always enjoyed a high status in India, but nothing like the Indian civil service, had been seen before. Imagine a service unassailable in its tenure of power, inflexible in its rectitude (almost), composed of men, who seemed by virtue of their martial prowess and strength of character, like being from another planet. No wonder, the Indian administrative service, through defunct of real power, still able to maintain the bluff due to the overpowering impact of this legacy. But it did not begin this way. The company’s servant in the early years, were usually a crew of rapacious freebooters inspired by a simple motive-avarice. The forerunners of Malcolm, Metcalf, Munro and Elephantine, were usually low paid company hacks, who carried on a more lucrative private trade on the side and were interested only in amassing a quick fortune, and leaving for home, before they were carried off by cholera or some other distemper, which was never very far away. It is interesting that the early civil servants of the company included many members of the British aristocracy, who were lured of India in the hope of making a quick fortune. As the civil service gained in rectitude, it also became a more in exorable middle class body; its collective morality now took on feature of the Victorian middle class morality of its time. The self righteousness of these civil servants and their unctuous faith own superiority can be explained as part of the same syndrome. But between the raffish disreputable ‘nabob’, who desired nothing better than to make a quick fortune and return home to settle in some fashionable part of London, and the ‘minutely just, inflexible upright’. Guardians of the latter day lies an age which witnessed the transition from the age of Walpole to the age of Gladstone.
Much has been written about the Indian civil services, most of it by retired civilians, usually British, and most of it frankly eulogistic in tone. The British claim is the platonic sense and that their charge. There is a lot of sentimental literature about the glories of camp life and the special bond that existed between the district officer and ‘simple and artless’ village folk who came to him for redress. There is no doubt a great deal of truth in this idealized picture of the district officer as a benevolent despot, but this is only one side of the coin. There is another side to it, and this side shoes the picture of a Perry tyrant, who is able to justify his cruelties and repression with reference to lofty principles. The British have a knack of justifying political expediency on the ground of principle. Thus the annexation and absorption of native state by Dalhousie, which was simply a case of bad faith and political chicanery is justified by the apologists of the Raj on the ground that the extension of British rule was good for the natives. General Dyer when he fired on the unarmed gathering at Jallianwala Bagh, said that he wanted to create a ‘moral effect throughout the Punjab’, by his act of graduation barbarity. This other side of the coin shows the face of a self righteous bully and it appears whenever British rule is under attack. Of course this face does not appear very often, but without it the truth would be incomplete. And it makes it hard to sustain the Olympian pose.
Our first maxim was that elitist bureaucracies exist, not for the benefit of those they govern, but to perpetuate the government of a despotic ruler or an alien conqueror. This is certainly true of the company’s civil servant as their conduct during the so called mutiny shows. British historian describes the great revolt of 1857 as a mutiny, as an isolated outbreak brought about by a rag tag coalition of disaffected sepoys and disgruntled princes.
If this were indeed the case, there is hardly any justification for the ruthless savagery with which the revolt was suppressed. Consider for instance, the following instruction of General James Neil to his subordinate Major Reynaud:-
“the villages of Mubgoon and neighborhood to be attacked and destroyed, slaughter all men, take no prisoners-------------------
All sepoys found without papers from regiments that have mutinied who can not give a good account of themselves to be hanged forthwith. Futtehpore to be promptly attacked, the pathan quarter to be destroyed, all in it killed; in fact make a singal example of this place’.
Neill’s orders were carried out in letter in spirit and the whole country around Kanpur was made a desolation ruin. Entire village were destroyed and all adult males who were unfortunate enough to fall into the hand of the conquerors, were either hanged or blown up from the mouth of canon. All without even the semblance of a trial. It can be said in defense of Neill that he was acting in retaliation for the slaughter of women and children at Kanpur, blame for which must be laid at the door of Nana Sahib. But even so this looks more like the maniacal rage of a Timur or a Genghis, rather than the conduct of a servant of Her Majesty’s government supposedly acting in defense of some lofty principle.
Another act of horrific cruelty took place at Amritsar. This incident is recorded in some details in Philip Mason’s book titled; “the men who Ruled India”. One cooper, was the deputy commissioner of Amritsa, and at the outset of the mutiny he made a statement which lays bare the real nature of colonial rule, “government”, said cooper, “could not condescend to exist at the moral suffer name of its subjects”.
Precisely… but it took the munity to uncover the real reason behind the rhetoric and pious sentiment. This same cooper was able to capture a troop of 282 men of the 26th infantry who had surrendered to him peacefully. All these poor men after a night in captivity were executed in the morning, without even the formality of a trial. About a fifty died of shock and exhaustion. Cooper’s excuse was the same as that of Dyer, seventy years later. He wanted to produce a ‘moral effect’, on the Punjab. In plain words, he hoped that by his barbarous act of cruelty he could frighten other rebellious spirits, into a tame acquiescence of British rule. As it happens, history proved both cooper and dyer wrong.
Nor are these isolated incidents. Let me quote from an article by Karl Marx on the ‘Indian Revolt’, dated September 4-1857. Marx writes:-
An officer in the civil service from Allahabad writes; “we have the power of life and death in our hand and I assure you we spare not Not a day passes, but we string up ten to fifteen of them. (non combatants).
Another exulting officer writer, “homes are hanging them up by the score, like a brick.”
Another in allusion to the hanging of a large body of native: “then the fun commenced”.
At third: “we hold court martial on horseback, and every nigger we meet, we either string up or shoot”.
Such instance could be multiplied, but the point should by now be abundantly clear, and the point is that elitist bureaucracies, despite their façade of benevolence, exist, not for the welfare of the governed, but to perpetuate despotic rule.
However it must not be supposed that this is all that there is to myth the British civil servant in India. There is another side, the side that is eulogized in countless journals, biographies, and histories, which dwell on the exploits of the guardians, in British government was better than any other government that had preceded it for a very long time. Its officers were relatively free from venality and corruption, they dispense justice with a strict impartiality, and they were more successful at maintaining order than any other government before them. Their success as final arbiters of almost everything was due to the fact that they were not assimilated by India. For their own part they had made it their policy not to interfere in matter of local issues with a certain Olympian detachment. This explains their success as arbitrators and magistrates.
But as mentioned before, bureaucracies cannot survive for long simply as a holding operation. They need a philosophy to sustain them, an elevating creed that could inure them to the hardship endured in a (possibly), hostile environment, and invest their work with a lofty meaning and purpose. This philosophy in case of the Raj is provided by a set of beliefs which are aptly summarized by the phrase, ‘the white man’s burden’, it is easy for us, after all these years to be cynical about this phrase. It calls up images of a white man in a pith about this phrases. It call up images of a white man in a pith helmet and a riding crop, swaggering about, among the natives. It brings to mind Gunga Din and other characters from the pages of Kipling all of whom, despite the good intentions of the author, are little more than figure of humorous condescension.
Kipling in fact epitomizes the values and attitudes behind this philosophy, which provided a moral justification merely to the ambitious empire builder and the Bible toting Christian soldier but also to the evangelist Christian preacher and the buccaneering Christian trader who followed in his train.
People like Kipling may have really believed in the mission of the white races to civilize ‘the lesser breeds without the law;, but this faith in a divine providence guiding the hand of the empire builder must have come in handy for the Victorian soldiers, who blew up and hanged the Indian mutineers, with a pious satisfaction, that this retribution was divinely ordained.
In the case of truly high minded men however, men like Thomas Munro, and Elphinstone, this became merely an added feeling of responsibility. It was Munro who wrote ”whenever we are obliged to resign our sovereignty, we should leave the natives so far improved from their connection with us, as to be capable of maintaining a free or at least a regular government among themselves”. Echoing the same sentiment, elphinstone wrote “the most desirable death for us to die should be the improvement of the native of such a pitch, as would render it impossible for a foreign nation to retain the government”. But even this benevolence was not entirely disinterested. Munro, in spite of his lofty sentiments wished for an “indefinite prolongation of our rule, and Elphinstone when he blew up the mutineers from the mouth of canon, commended this method of punishment on the grounds that it combine, two of the cardinal principles of justice, “it was painless to the victim and terrible to the beholder”
The benevolent paternalism of these men made their example an inspiration to many generation of civil servant. It called forth prodigious industry and unremitting labor carried out without regards for personal comfort and in a spirit of complete integrity.
The result may still be seen in the settlement records of many districts, which still forms the basis of land revenue administration in a large part of India. It was also responsible for creating the popular stereotype of the incorruptible district officer about whom it may be said, without exaggeration, that he was “inflexibly upright, minutely just”. It is responsible in part for the prestige which the civil service still enjoys in India, in spite of being a morally defunct organization. But all this was made possible, because these men thought members of an alien conquering race still felt a deep sense of responsibility towards their change. They acted responsibly because their power was absolute.
The achievements of British civil servant were not made as civil servant but as ruler. Their story is a signal example of the civil servant as a successful ruler. It is also a tribute to the British character, that so many men could remain uncorrupted by power for so long.
However when it comes to the final reckoning, we have to admit, that the over all character of the British Raj was conservative and status quoist. This is so, in spite of the reformist zeal displayed by the British administration up to 1857. This is believed that the welfare of the people in their charge was their real mission. These individual cases of true Christian charity and genuine devotion to the common weal do bot alter the real character of British rule. For that one must go the average run of the mill civil servant, the Oxbridge educate middle class British gentleman, who was intelligent enough to feel more than a professional sympathy and comradeship for the natives in his charge, yet stupid enough to regard himself as a superior being and smug enough to feel that his own education, background, and value system were best in the world.
These clever, practical, and industrious men formed the backbone of the service, and taken as a whole they were a thoroughly reactionary force. Many viceroys who came in India with liberal dreams , most notable among them being Lord Ripon, found their generous enthusiasm, frustrated by the obdurate resistance of the official class. The illbert Bill agitation furnishes a good case in point. This was an attempt on the part of lord Ripon to set right an obvious anomaly in the criminal procedure code of 1872, which lay down that a European could not be tried by Indian Magistrates. When the Illbert Bill was brought in to set aside this blatant piece of racist arrogance and bring European and Indians on the same footing, the whole official class rose up against the measure to a man. Their views were summarized by Mr. W.S. seton Kerr, foreign secretary to the government of India, who observed,
“it is the cherished conviction of every Englishmen in India, from the highest to the lowest, that he belongs to a race, whom God has destined to govern and subdue”
This racial arrogance seems to have hardened, as British rile became more securely established in India. There is an interesting story told by sir Montagu Gerard in his book- Leave from the diary of a soldier and a sportsman”, about a native potentate of a small principality near Agra who boarded a train by entering a first class compartment and was given a royal send off by his subject. When he came back, they were shocked to find him alighting from a second class compartment. When asked the reason for this unprincely behavior, he disclose that he had been sorely harassed by two sahibs on the way up, who had made him brush their cloths and massage their legs all the way up to Agra. This mind you; was the behavior of two Englishmen towards a prince; the lot of the common man can only be imagined.
The civil servant of the Raj were not the writing or unwitting tools of the British government, nor were they just another estate of the realm.
They were the real rulers of India. As such their behavior and attitude as a collective entity is important. It is often argued by the apologists of the Raj that the aberrant behavior of a single officer should not b used to condemn the whole official class. It is argued by them that individual behavior is too much subject to the accidents of time and pace and the vagaries of personality, to furnish any adequate basis for generalization about a whole class a people. But the same defense cannot be offered, about the policies of the British government, which reveal the considered wisdom, not merely of the official class, but of the British government itself. These policies, taken over a reasonable period of time, show a fairly consistent thread. They are conservative policies in general and their main aim Is the perpetuation of British rule in India. But before we analyze these policies, let us revert to the subject of personal remarks, and to the words of Lord Curzon, that arch imperialist, who may be allowed to have the last word:- “it well be well for England, better for India, and best of all for cause of progressive civilization in general, if it be clearly understood from the outset that we have not the slightest intention of abandoning our Indian possessions, and it is highly improbable that any such intention will be entertained by our posterity.
Lord Curzon’s statement is an unambiguous assertion of the imperialist creed, but what he state with such pompous self assurance, had always been the policy of the Raj. The policy of free trade and laissez faire in economics, divide and rule in politics, and non interference in social reform, all had the common aim of perpetuating British rule.
The quest for profits accruing from the rich India trade provided the initial impulse that led eventually to the establishment of British rule in India. The economic policies of the Raj never lost sight of the fact that it owned its existence to the enterprise and avarice of a mercantile syndicate. Although the British Raj ceased to be a profitable enterprise from 1800 or thereabouts, if we take a simple surplus of revenue over expenditure as our yardstick, it remained a source of lucrative career for the British middle class, as well as a captive market and a source of cheap raw material for British industry. It also prolonged the power and prestige of the British ruling class and gave a fresh lease of life to that otherwise moribund order.
All this explains why he British taxpayer continued to support the expense of the Raj even though the debt of the East Indian company (soon to merged in the public debt of England), stood at some 50 million pounds sterling in 1857. To being with there were the stockholders of the company, whose number stood at some 3000 in 1850. Each stockholder drew a total amounting to some ten and a half percent on his investment, the total amounting to some 670,000 pounds sterling, annually in the large number of civil, military and professional officers in India all of whom drew princely salaries. The average annual salary ion the civil service was said to be about $8000 in the 1850’s, while a member of a Calcutta council drew about $ 50000 and the governor general himself drew upwards of $ 1,00,000. Convert this to current prices and the real worth of these salaries will become obvious. There were also a large number of officers, both civil and military, living in India after endues of India. This situation continues to prevail right up to the end of the Raj and such was the British sense of economic propriety that even the salaries of the officer boys and tea ladies at India house were charged on the consolidated funds of India.
However while all this is interesting and instructive, it still does not explain the real raison de etre, for the empire. For this we must look at the trade between Indian and England. Two things stand out about India’s external trade between 1757 to 1947. First the commodity composition of India’s external trade underwent a transformation in the Nineteenth century and from being a major of cotton piece goods, she became a major exporter of primary commodities, like sugar, indigo and raw cotton by 1850. Second, she enjoyed a very large and persistent surplus of exports over imports, for a period of more than 200 years; both these feature of her trade, so remarkable in them, were due directly to her political subjection to Britain.
Let us consider the question of commodity composition first. In 1761 out of a total export of Rs 3063499/ cotton piece goods accounted for export worth Rs 2430850/. In 1780 out a total export worth 125498 pounds cotton piece goods again accounted for export worth 639938 pounds. Again in 1805 out of a total export of Rs 37595877, piece goods made up Rs 12849670, still about sixty p[percent of the whole. However by 1828-29, this had dropped to 11 percent and by 1850, was further reduced to merely 3 percent of the total export. At the counted for almost 50 percent of the export, whereas their share was negligible during the eighteenth century. (Data id from the ‘Cambridge Economic History of India’)
On the other hand the import into India of cotton yarn and piece goods, made in England, which was nonexistent in the eighteenth century, become thirty percent of the total value of imports by 1820, forty percent by 1850 and fully fifty percent by 1870. Describing this process Karl Marx, writes :- “it was the British intruder who broke up the Indian hand loom and destroyed the spinning wheel.
England began by driving the Indian cottons room the European markets, it then introduced twist into Hindustan, and in the end inundated the very mother country of cotton with cottons. From 1818 to 1836 the export of twist from England to India rose in the proportion of 1 to 5200. In 1824 the export of British muslin to India hardly amounted to 1,000,000 yards, while in 1837 it surpassed 64,000,000 yards. But at the same time the population of Dacca decreased from 150,000 inhabitants to 20,000. This decline of Indian towns celebrated for their fabric was by no means the worst consequence. British steam and science uprooted over the whole surface of Hindustan the union between agriculture and manufacturing industry.”
This remarkable turnaround was affected using tariff barriers to protect British industry, and when that same industry was transformed by the industrial revolution into a steam driven juggernaut, by her political dominion over India to break down the tariffs that protected Indian industry.
Cotton is the natural fabric of India, just as wool is the natural fabric of England. Yet the ease with which cotton could be used for mechanical spinning and weaving made it the mainspring of the industrial Revolution and made England the foremost producer of cotton cloth in the world. When the East India Company started importing Indian cotton piece goods into England, all this was still in the womb of the future. Indian cotton soon became the rage in England,. So much so that ladies of fashion started using cotton even when its use was unwarranted “the general fansie of the people runs upon East India goods to that degree, that the chintz by the weather. Commenting on this phenomenon Dean Swift writes:- “the general fansie of the people runs upon East India goods to that degree, that the chintz and painted calicoes which were before made use of for carpets, quilts etc., and to clothe children and ordinary people now became the dress of our ladies.
Nor was this all, but it crept into our houses, our closets and our bedchambers, curtains, cushion, chairs and at last the bed themselves were nothing but calicoes and Indian stuff.”
The local wool industry alarmed at the prospects of extinction, petitioned the government, which banned the import of printed cotton into England. Only dyed cloth without print being permitted. But this did not prove to be sufficient to stem the tide and Indian cotton continued to be imported in large quantities. Subsequently the government banned the import of dyed cotton as well, only plain white cloth being permitted for import. As time went by duties on Indian cotton were also progressively enhanced. This policy succeeded so well, that British industry felt confident in 1821, that Lancashire could supply the clothing needs of entire India. Provided it was given preferential tariff treatment. What a strange reversal of roles was this: brought about the India’s political servitude. Within the space of a few decades, the extensive cottage industry that had turned out what Karl Marx calls the “admirable textures of Indian labor”, was extinguished and cheap mass produced cotton was suffered to inundate the mother country of cottons.
When the question of reducing tariffs on British cotton was put to sir Charles Grant, a prominent member of the East India Directorate, he had this to say:-
“but with respect to that very large question, I take the liberty to offer one remark ; we have by protecting duties at home and our improvement in machinery, almost entirely excluded from this country the cotton fabrics of India, which were formerly their general staple, and if we use the power, which we have over that country now, to introduce into it the fabrics of this country, so as to exclude their own, it may be questioned,
How far we act justly with respect to our Indian subjects; for it may be taken for granted, that if they were under an Indian government they would impose protecting duties, upon their own fabrics, in their own market, as we have done in our ours.”
Thus the British destroyed Indian industry by resorting to protectionism, and capture her market by invoking the principle of free trade. As ever justifying the pursuit of self interest on the ground of principle. it was the same self interest which made India into a net exporter of indigo, sugar and grain. All these articles were required for domestic consumption by British industry and the British public. It must be remembered that India was never, throughout this period a country surplus in food grain. Indeed she was afflicted with recurring famines, yet despite the famine of 1899-1900, which was until then worst recorded famine in Indian history; she was still forced to export to Britain a very large quantity of gain, fully amounting to ten percent of her total export in terms of value. To those economists who ascribe the change in the commodity composition on India’s export to the fact of industrialization of china, japan etc., I would pose a simple question, what was the economic logic of export of gain by a country where millions were starving for what of gain. Let me save them the trouble of an answer, it was logic of slavery.
But even more remarkable and conclusive is the strange fact of India’s persistently favorable balance of trade. It is estimated that (for instance) between balance 1795-1805 India enjoyed a surplus of roughly sixty millions rupees in her export over imports. The balance was met by importing silver bullion into India. This practice was followed by the east India Company, throughout the eighteenth century, for the developing industry of England, as yet, did not produce anything for which a big demand could be created in the Indian market. This phenomenon is remarked upon by Karl Marx:-
“from immemorial times Europe, received the admirable texture of Indian labor, sending in return for them her precious metal, and furnishing thereby this material to the goldsmith- that indispensable member of Indian society, whose love of finery is so great that even the lowest classes, those who go about nearly naked, have commonly a pair of gold earrings and a gold ornaments of some kind hung about their necks.”
However as the British Empire became firmly established in India, this import of bullion ceased. Although India still continued to export more than she imported, the visible account in her balance of payments does not furnish any clue as to how this surplus was financed. It is estimated that between 1847 and 1867, this surplus was 340 million rupees and between 1898 and 1914 this surplus was 340 million rupees and between 1898 and 1914 this surplus continued right up to 1948 but by a strange piece of statistical jugglery it was turned into a deficit. This was due to what are euphemistically called invisibles. In 1898-99 for instance, these invisible, which are termed as service transaction by one economist, amounted to 396.5 million rupees. By virtue of this India ended up with a net deficit of 40.4 million rupees which was then met by foreign borrowings. These so called service transactions are supposed to have included freight payments by India, commissions on banking and insurance, government home charges, and net interest payments. These figures are incredible, because the invisibles add up to four times the value of merchandise exports. The fact is, this deficit was a bogus one. It was nothing other than a tribute exacted by the ruling power from a conquered nation and nationalist writes like Dada Bhai Naoroji and R.C. Dutt has proven this beyond doubt.
One novel expedient used to finance this bogus deficit, was to use India export to other countries to fiancé Britain’s imports from those countries. For instances, India was forced to export opium to china, to enable Britain to imp[ort tea and silk from China. When the Chinese government resisted the export of opium, which was turning her whole population into degenerated addict, the so called opium wars her to submit to the emasculation of her whole population.
The same fixation with economics profit can be seen at work behind the British fixation with matters relating to and revenue. The best minds among the civil servants of the empire devoted a considerable part of their time to questions of land tenure. Sir John Shore was the first acknowledge expert on this subject and Thomas Munro was anther, and both went on to hold very high position in the government of India, Munroe becoming governor of Madras and Sir John Shore who reached the very pinnacle, retired as governor General. Munro’s early career as collector of Canara district set the pattern for the life style and work schedule that was followed by countless administrators after him. This consists of moving on horseback through a vast territorial domain, camping out and working from morning to night settling land disputes and finalizing the records rights and land revenue assessment. British administrators performed a truly monumental task in compiling these records, which still form the basis of land settlement throughout India. But these heroic efforts were inspired ultimately by a rather mercenary motive, that the hancing the collection of revenue. It is for this reason that the British adopted rather cautious and conservative attitude towards the zamindars. In the beginning, trying to establish their rule in an alien country, it was natural for them to seek the cooperation of the local ruling class.
But even after British rule had become unassailable. This ambivalnet attitude to the zamindars remained. The survival of the poligars, zamindars, Mamlatdar, and other functionaries, who presided over anachronistic system of land tenure, was due to this conservative attitude of the British administrators. We had to wait for independence and a government of politicians rather than civil servant for the abolition of zamindari.
It is alleged by the apologists of British rule, that the construction of great irrigation works and the Indian railways network disapprove the theory of the ’revenue collection mentality’, and prove that the British administration was in fact development oriented. This is a doubtful claim. The construction of the western Yamuna canal network was done with a clear purpose of generating additional revenue. The western Yamuna command area was chosen, because this was in fact an already existing system that had fallen into disuse to neglect and the earth works constructed in Mogul times were still extant. The construction of irrigation system on the Cauvery and the Ganga were inspired by the same profit motive.
As regards the railways, the main reason behind their construction was strategic rather than commercial. It was thought that the railways rather than commercial. It was thought that the railways would facilitate the movement of large bodies of troops from one corner of India to another and thereby consolidate the empire. The other reason was to provide a safe and profitable field for British capital which was finding the domestic market saturated and incapable of a sufficiently high return. By providing a guaranteed five percent return on investment and changing it on the revenues of India, the government of India did just that. It is the British imperialists and the British capitalist who are the real progenitors of the Indian railways.
While the economic policies of the British government retarded economic growth and impoverished the century, the politics of the colonial government exacerbated ancient animosities within Indian society and divided the country. After the so called mutiny –the policy of divide and rule was followed with a cold blooded thoroughness, which led eventually to the partition of India. Its effects are still being felt today. Sir John Lawrence, who may be taken as the archetype of the enlightened British administrator in India, was the head of the Punjab committee which was appointed in 1858 to study the military problems that had led to the great revolt. He observes : “as we cannot do without a large native army in India, our main object is to make that army safe ;and next to the grand counterpoise of a sufficient European force, comes a counterpoise of native against native”. The committee goes on to observe that, “different races mixed together do not long preserve their distinctiveness; their corner and angle and prejudice get rubbed off, till at last they assimilate. “to prevent this the system of local recruitment based on caste was evolved and regiments of Dogras, Sikhs, Rajputs, etc, were created as mutually exclusive units which could never, it was, hoped, make common cause on any national issue.
The same policy of divide and rule was behind Lord Minto’s decision to inaugurate the policy of communal presentation and separate electorate for Muslims, in 1906. By openly encouraging division and separatist elements among the Muslims, the British Raj was directly responsible for the eventual partition of India. Of course communal animosities were not new to India, but Akbar’s policy of toleration and communal harmony had been followed by most rulers, barring Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had favored hi co-religionist simply out of his devotional fervor for Islam, not for reasons of policy.
It was for the first time that the paramount power in India was deliberately fomenting communal discord as a matter of state policy. This policy of communal representation was taken to absurd lengths in the Prime Minister’s communal award of 1932 which provided for separate representation of as many as fifteen categories.
The same policy was behind the treatment of aboriginal tribes, for whom a special dispensation was devised with the specific objective of keeping them cut off from the mainstream. The constitutional scheme of ‘excluded area’ and “partly excluded areas’, which has already been discussed in the previous chapter was born out of the British desire to use the tribal communities as another division factor. It is ironical that the same divisive framework is now sought to be used as a framework for affirmative action by latter day champions of the ‘tribal’ who don’t seem to realize that they are following in the footstep of the British.
This view of race as an exclusive identity frozen in time is alien to the India view. In India the aboriginal tribes had always been regarded as a part of the diverse social fabric. Rajputs intermarried frequently with Bhils and the Bhilalas owe their origin to the fusion of blood. The famous Rani Durgawati was a Rajput princess married to a Gond chieftain- Dalpat Shah ; and such marriages were commonplace throughout history. The British view of race as a unique identity, and of each race as somehow ontologically different from other races, was partly due to their own feeling of racial superiority and partly the result of blinkered approach to the whole question of ethnicity. When Lord Robert said that even the newest British subaltern was superior to any native officer and could not be placed under his command, he was speaking for an entire generation brought up on the myth of British racial superiority.
This is the view of race as a narrow identity and the collateral view of a nation as a political entity based on ethnicity, which is still the source of bitter strife in the world. The Indians despite their disgraceful views about caste and color and their ludicrous rituals of purity and pollution have been more accommodating on the question of race and indeed do not share the tribalistic notion so common in the west.
I have dwelt at some length on the character of British rule in India, because it is the best example we have of the civil servant as a ruler. It is an example we have of the civil servant as a ruler. It is an example surrounded by myth and legend, but once this encrustation is cleared away and it’s real; nature revealed, we find in it same feature that we had identified in the Chinese example.
To begin with regime of civil servant is always beset with a crisis of legitimacy. This is so, because civil servant vested with sate power tend to form an elite corps, a closed caste where entry is restricted and popular participation is not possible this was the case with the Confucian literati in china; this was certainly the case with the covenanted civil servants of the Raj. In the case of the British raj, the feeling of being a class apart, were reinforced by feeling of racial superiority.
To overcome this crises of legitimacy, which is the fate o0f all regime not founded on popular sanction, and to justify their regime in their own eye, if not in the eyes of those over whom they rule, they have to invent a myth, an elevating moral creed which can put an edifying gloss over the more mundane reason which are behind the whole enterprise. In the Chinese case this was provided by the Confucian ethic. In the British case this was provided by the concept of the ‘white man’s burden’, and the mission to civilize the lesser breeds without the law. This myth then became the official creed of the British civil servant.
It is a tribute to British character, that in spite of this they permitted a large body of heterodox opinion to not merely exist but also flourish. It is these heretics, too intelligent to be taken in by the comforting illusions of conventional wisdom, and too independent to merely toe the line, who are the real heroes of the Indian civil service. It is these men who do not cherish any grand illusion about their role, yet carry out their task with wit wisdom and human sympathy, who are the lead players in the drama.
Still the fact remains that in spite of these men, the overriding purpose and mission of the regime of civil servants remains the perpetuation of their own rule. It is this central purpose which provides the real motive force behind the regime and it is this purpose which eventually alienates the regime from a genuine welfare state. The British Raj in India, for instance, could never have introduced the welfare legislation introduced in England, by the Lloyd George government. The fact that it went on exporting large quantities of grains to Britain, in spite of recruitment famine, speak for itself.
The story of the Raj contains a moral for those who dream of utopias, based on the rule of the guardians. The moral is that those who come into possession of real power, are loath to let go of it, and the initial benevolent impulse of their regime is soon replaced by a dead conservatism, where every stratagem is used and every Machiavellian expedient tried out to perpetuate their rule. The history of the British Raj illustrates this perfectly.
However when all is said and done, the fact still remains, that the Raj in its heyday, say about 1880 or thereabout, enjoyed and still enjoys a very real reputation for probity and justice. The British raj, with its global possession and worldwide dominion surpassed in splendor and prestige any regime that had been known in India, at least since the days of Asoka.
Its unassailable political position enabled the Raj to enforce law and order, better than any regime known hitherto. It must be emphasized that the India of myth and legend, the kind of India, described by Megasthenes in his book Indica, had passed away long since men’s memories and into the pages of history. Most people knew nothing about this mythical golden age, their experience was rather of plundering Pindaris and marauding thugs, of predatory bands of robbers and freebooter ravaging innocent villages and bringing death and destruction in their wake. It was the raj which wiped out these myriad forms of criminality and made the Indian country side safe again. It was the British regime again which freed the process of governance from venality and corruption. Let us admit that the British officer was more sympathetic to the underdog and mo0re assiduous in redressing his wrong than his Indian counterpart today. We have to concede that in the conduct of day to day administration, the British raj set a very high standard of governance. But let us remember that the civil servants of the Raj could set high standards, because they were solely and exclusively in command. Their high sense of responsibility was born out of unfettered authority. Their claim to good governance thus exacted a high price from India-the price of freedom.
The rule of civil servants therefore ends in failure, and this failure is in the last analysis is a moral failure, based on the inability of the civil servant to survive the corrupting influence of power. Human nature does not prove equal to long uncontested tenure of power. The last act of the drama witnesses an embattled regime desperately trying to shore up the crumbling edifice, which despite the imposing façade, rapidly falls apart. The final catastrophe when it comes is sudden and sweeping, but the political extinction of the regime is not the end of the story. Even in the act of disappearing, the regime of civil servants leaves behind a legacy, a potent myth, the myth of the Guardians.
This myth has exercised a peculiar fascination over the minds of political philosopher and has been used as a blueprint for designing system of governance ever since Plato’s republic. The British design their Home Civil Service on the model of the ICS and we in India have copied the British as usual, and committed the same mistake.
The mistake, which should be obvious, is that in a democracy, a civil servant is not expected to bear rule, he is only an agent of the state, whose task it is to translate into action the programmer and policies of the government. No objective criteria of efficiency or cost benefit analysis can be applied to a ruler, the ultimate touchstone must be an ethical one, but this is not the case with the civil servant as an agent. His performance can be subjected to a very precise measure of efficiency.
Just as in physics, the concept of efficiency is defined in term of the work done upon energy expended, so too in judging the performance of an official, a measure of efficiency can be the work done, divided by the time and money expended to do that work. Efficiency subsumes qualitative aspects like expertise, and professionalism. It also includes attitudinal factors like integrity, courtesy and commitment. Governments have a right to expert efficiency service from its servant and the taxpayers have a right to expect value for money from the bureaucracies which is paid for from their pockets. The watchword therefore is efficiency.
But while everyone is agreed that an efficient civil service is the final goal there is divergence of opinio0n on how this goal can be achieved. Broadly speaking there are two approaches to the problem, one of which we can characterize as the elitist approach and other as the utilitarian approach. The distinctive feature of these two approaches can be summarized in the following table:-
Recruitment by examination at the beginning of the civil service career
Entry restricted at higher
lateral entry at higher levels, based on suitability
Hierarchical organization forming a closed caste
Permanent life time career
Cult of the generalist
focus on specialization
It will be seen that the two approaches outlined above could not be more different. The British and the Indian models offer a classic example of the elitist model, while the American case offers the best example of the utilitarian model.
That there should be two approaches instead of only one is a testimony to the power of the myth of the Guardians. Otherwise rationalist consideration as well as empirical evidence seems to support the utilization model. In order to see why this is so, let us briefly examine the nature of elitism, these remarks being a sequel to what said earlier about bureaucratic elites.
Elites are corporate bodies, enjoying a privileged status within the body politics. They derive their elan from a feeling of superiority. This superiority not only places them at the summit of the organizational structure of which they are a part, but also gives them a privilege position in society at large.
The privilege status of elites enjoys wide political and social sanction, because the elite subserves a purpose which is considered so important, that the rest of society is willing to suppress the natural human tendency towards egalitarianism, and to accept the dominance of the elite, in order that this overriding purpose might be attained. It does not matter whether this elite is a bureaucratic elite, or a feudal aristocracy, or an ecclesiastical elite. Whether the elite consists of roman catholic cardinals or Brahmin priests, the important thing is, the elite must perform a function which serve this all important purpose. As long as they serve this purpose these elites remain vital, living entities. But when this purpose, no longer exists, they become parasitic entities; hot house flowers, whose brilliance and splendor is artificially sustained.
Elitism appeals to two different sets of people. It appeals first of all the tidy logical mind that delights in the construction of elegant metaphysical system.
What could be more logical in theory, than to select the brightest and the best young men and women of a generation and after suitable training, invest them with the executive power of the state. The proposal has an appeal which is not merely logical, it is also aesthetic. In fact a mind that is susceptible to aesthetic appeal is likely to be prone to flirtation, with elitism. Plato is of course the class example of this mindset.
At the other extreme from the utopian idealist, is the autocratic ruler who for purely pragmatic reason favors an apparatus of governance, where power is concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy that owes direct allegiance to him and is dependent for its elite status on him alone. All depots know that the best way to maintain their domination over a large territory is top govern it through a centralized bureaucracy. Bureaucratic elitism acts as an invisible prop for the regime and the social sanction given to these elite, becomes the best support for the authority of the state. The truth of this proposition would be apparent from a study of the Chinese and the roman empires, and lately the British Empire.
It is easy to see how bureaucratic elite is more efficient as an instrument of autocratic rule than a feudal oligarchy or a ruling class selected purely on the basis of political favor. A feudal aristocracy, whose is less subservient to the central authority than one which owes its power entirely to the will of the sovereign. The political history of England, for instance, with the Barton forcing king John to sign the Megna Carta, is one example of this principle. In England the feudal classes were able to form a check on royal prerogative, rather than just being a supine instrument of royal will. An English sovereign would gladly have dispensed with his contentious barons, and adopted the Chinese system of rule by mandarins, had he been permitted to do so. But then the history of the world would have been quite different.
Thus both the bloody minded autocrat and the pure minded philosopher favor bureaucratic elitism for their own reason. The real purpose of the elite in an autocracy remains the perpetuation of autocratic rule, notwithstanding the naïve idealism of philosophers. However, in a democracy this, overriding purpose does not exist. A regime based on popular support does not require bureaucratic elite to sustain it. Nor can we invest some other purpose which has been lost. Good governance, even if politicians desired it, does not constitute a single purpose. It is made up of diverse compound and capable of divergent interpretation. Yet the fact remains, that the elite model commands support even in democratic countries. This is a conundrum which demands an answer. Let us look at this problem within the context of elitism.
I think the wide appeal of elitism is explained by the fact that the snobby as a social force is much more widely spread than we are willing to admit. On rational ground most people should be egalitarian in their outlook, because equality is in the wider interest. One would also suppose that those who are in a socially inferior position would be more dispose to favor egalitarian ideologies. But the facts of the case seem contrary to reason. It is only the upper middle class intellectuals who favor egalitarian ideologies. The man in the street is more of a conservative. Elitism it seems, make a vicarious appeal to his talent snobbery. In government service, for example, those in the lowest cadre, have the highest regards for the IAS officers.
Even those who are in the provincial civil service, and those who are in the other central services, while active in running down the IAS seem to share this regard in private. And all this can be explained readily by reference to the element of snobbery.
However let us set aside our skepticism and see how far the various feature of elitism really lead a high standard of performance. One of the basic tenets of elitism is irrational belief in the superiority of the elite. In rejecting rationalist criteria of merit as a measurable and quantifiable concept, it also tacitly as a measurable and quantifiable concept, it also tacitly supports notions of merit as a pseudo mystical and intangible quality. There is a clear historical link between this kind of philosophical hocus-pocus and authoritarian ideologies. Nazism for instance, considered irrational notion of superiority of the Aryan race as the basis of its creed. British imperialism rested on similar notion of the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race, which was supposed to have a mission to rule other races. The Nazis persecuted the Jews on the same irrational grounds of racial inferiority. The Jews on the other hand have their own traditional and myths and regard themselves as the chosen people. In India, the Brahmins; to perpetuate the myth of their own superiority, considered themselves as the ‘twice born’, and created a vast body of religious and sacerdotal works to justify their superiority.
If we look at these pretensions of superiority without any blinkers we see that they are at bottom nothing more than an attempt to preserve a social and political dominance by the help of irrational myth making. If the elite have sufficient resource and sagacity to preserve its dominance over a period of time its claims become a part and parcel of conventional wisdom, accepted as truth without question. The social sanction given to elitism helps to conceal its true nature. People tend to forget that it is only a strategic device by which a dominant class perpetuates its dominances.
The apologist for the civil service can legitimately protest here and say that these remarks may apply to hereditary bodies but not to the civil service because it is chosen on merit. But this misses point. We are not talking about scholastic aptitude or intelligence. The merit that we are concerned about can roughly be described as strength of character. There is no examination or any other test yet devised to find out merit of this kind. Nor can it be inculcated by any course of training or instruction. The moral impulse springs from source that lie deep within a person’s being. No one can do well on principle or do evil on policy. A person is good or bad simply because he can’t help being so, and any element of calculation or analysis of self interest is really possible only if one is truly amoral. The person who does well on the ground of expediency would soon be found out. In this respect power is ruthless mistress and a person who does not have the strength of character to deal with authority would sooner or later show his true colors.
This is not to say that codes of conduct and the collective morality of an organization have no impact on the issue. While an individual cannot be made better than he is, tribal values certainly serve a useful purpose because they prescribed a minimum acceptable standard of behavior. They help to keep the rank and file on the straight and narrow path and ensure that the grosser deviations from the norm are punished. In the context of the civil service the organizational ethos helps in checking of the more obvious forms of venality and wrongdoing. But this depends on the commitments of the leaders of the civil service to the codes of conduct that they are supposed to uphold. This is where the situation differs so materially in democratic politics from autocratic status where civil servants are rulers.
In imperialist states it is in the interest of the state that the civil servant follows a high standard of public morality. It creates good will and support for a regime which in that last analysis does not depend on the consent of the governed.
But in a democracy the real rulers are the politician and their basic motivation is to be re-elected. In this dispensation the civil servants are only agents of the rulers and the ruler base their appraisal of a civil servant’s worth not on his character or integrity, but on his pliability. Indeed, in this case a person with strength of character would be liability rather than an asset because he would decline to use as a mere tool. Purely as a practical policy therefore, politicians ensure that only pliable civil servant reach the top. These civil servants in their turn ensure that only likeminded bureaucrats come up in the hierarchy. As self advancement depends on liability, every career conscience bureaucrat is compelled to adopt the value system forced on him. Many young officers start with fine ideals, with grand passion, with noble dreams, but they all end up with a willingness to oblige. The ethical creed which they all embrace in the end is “the king can do no wrong”. So it is that the ethical standards of the civil service are decided by the political morality of the day. And the civil servant for all their fine words about neutrality and independence are only as good as they are allowed to be the politicians.
Of course the civil service has its share of honorable men and women, like any large organization. But these individuals of character and integrity do not owe their virtue to the collective morality of the civil service. They are what they are, because of their own inner impulsion and could not be otherwise. We cannot argue, on the strength of these few individual, that elitism produces a high standards of conduct.
This may be true as long as the elite organization is dedicated to the pursuit of a transcendent goal or mission, but when such a goal is missing, the pursuit of self interest replaces the collective ethics. The result as I have shown above is not edifying.
These irrational pretensions of superiority lead logically to restrictions on entry into the elite, which then becomes a closed caste. The civil service, especially the IAS is just such a closed caste. Entry into the IAS is usually only at the recruitment stage, lateral entry at later stage is severely restricted. This has obvious snob value, but it does not help in fostering talent. In fact caste feeling is the enemy of true ability. An organization that is imbued by caste feeling closes the door on the entry of fresh talent and thereby lacks the means of self renewal. By deliberately restricting the talent pool that is available to the government it severely reduced the quantity of governance that the civil service can provide. This caste feeling ultimately leads to a convert trade unionism, a driver to preserve their own privileges and to keep other out of the plums of officer. All this lower rather than raises the moral tone of the civil services.
Another argument in favor of elitism is that closed nature of the elite breed espirit de corpsand creates close fraternal bonds that lead to a high level of moral and ultimately to a high level of performance. The same argument is offered in favor of the regimental spirit that is fostered in the armed forces. But in the army this regimental spirit is sustained by the memory of the battle fought together, danger braved together and the consciousness of sharing in a great enterprise. This shared enterprise is the business of fighting wars, a matter of life and the death and therefore demanding the ultimate in terms of commitment and sacrifice.
The outward trappings of this spirit, the display of battle honors, tales of heroism and sacrifice, all create the feeling of pride and exaltation that is the essence of regimental feeling.
The regimental spirit has therefore good justification. However when we talk of regimental spirit in the context of the civil services we must remembered some significant differences. To begin with civil services do not have this feeling of being involved in a life and death enterprise that comes so naturally to the armed forces. Their life is a succession of routine matter; one damned things after another. Civil servants try to inflate the importance of what they do, but it just does not have the kind of urgency that is imposed by the requirements of fighting a battle. Then the organizational structure of the civil service is quite different. As soon as the newly recruited civil servants complete their training in Mussoorie they are seconded to different state government and this scattered about the country, many of them never to meet again. The state cadres are organized on the hierarchical principle like the army, but there the similarities cease. In the civil service the hierarchy completely dominates fraternity; fellow feeling takes a back seat before the claim of rank and status. In the place of regiments, civil government is organized in departments. But departments are prosaic entities, devoid of the corpus of tradition and legend that creates the regimental spirit. Quite apart from this, no attempt is made in the civil services to foster regimen talk spirit. The civil service has no heroes to look up to, no icons to worship, no glorious feats to courage to commemorate. It is every man of himself- and the devil take the hindmost.
It is also argued in favor of the ‘closed shop’ that people who reach the top have to put in a life time of service in the civil service to do so, and thus acquire the necessary wisdom and experience to manage the complex business of governance.
Thus is also a self serving argument that rests on the false premise. We may not agree with napoleon when he said that ‘experience is the mistress of fools’, but we can hardly deny that experience is also subject to the law of diminishing returns. In the civil service much is made of rules and procedure and the way in which government function. There is a whole forest of such regulation and rules of business and a positive mystery and mystique is build up around them. Most of these procedures are simple irrational and archaic, but no one looks at them critically, because by long usage, they have acquired the bogus sanctity of a Masonic ritual. Experience of such procedures is not a help but a hindrance.
On the other hand the civil service does teach the habits of obedient and subordination. It does teach that discretion is better than conviction, diplomacy than bluntness, a balanced view that analytical rigor. After a life time of toeing the line, of smoothing down the edge and toning down the passion, the kind of experience that one acquire is the experience of distinguishing between shades of grey. The civil services can do without too much of this kind of experience. An infusion of fresh blood at regular intervals can only improve their mental and physical health.
Finally let us look at another key feature of elitism –the cult of the generalist. This in fact is the essence of elitism, that the right man, once selected, is good enough to do anything with the proper training. The cult of the generalist, which is such a cherished component of elitist civil service, is a manifestation of this feeling. Here again we have followed the British practice. It was Cardinal Newman, who summed up the apotheosis of the generalist, in the following words, “it (the liberal education) teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit and to master any subject with facility”.
In Britain, belief in the gifted amateur runs deep, as does distrust of the specialist and the professional. Not so long ago, even sportsmen, notably cricketers, were divided into two categories, the amateurs being called ‘gentlemen’ and the professionals being called ‘players’, in contrast to gentlemen in obvious. This culture bias means that in art and literature, the gifted amateur always outperforms the professional. Take the case of Sherlock Holmes, and Lestade, the Scotland Yard detective, who is his professional counterfoil. The gifted amateur is symbolized by Holmes, and Lestade epitomizes the plodding, unimaginative professional who is always heading in the wrong direction, until show the way by Holmes. Tennyson’s poem on the “Charge of the light Brigade”, where the gallant troopers are sent to their doom by the unprofessional blunders of their commanders, is the ultimate glorification of the amateur:-
“Not enough the soldier knew
Someone had blundered”
Real life is however another matter, and what triumphs on the music hall stage, may not to d so in real life. The cult of the generalist was castigated in the Fulton report on the reform of the civil service. Fulton’s prescription was to break down the vertical barriers between the generalists and the specialists and to throw open the top posts in the civil service to all comers. These prescription, which have the force of reason behind them, did not prove strong to surmount the resistance of the old guard entrenched in Whitehall.
The argument offered in favor of the generalist is that what top policy making levels need is not expert knowledge, but sound judgment and general analytical ability. This is a fast pace of obsolescence of knowledge in present times, means that a person who is not well informed and up to date in a particular field, would be all at sea in that area. This is especially true of policy making at the national level, where a mass of information has to be digested and the current discourse in the field has to be mastered. All this must be backed up with a sound knowledge of the fundamentals of the subject, as well as familiarity with the process of decision making and the apparatus of government. This is a tall order. It is native to expert a civil servant, fresh from some provincial backwater, and innocent of economics or public finance to handle an assignment, say in one of the economic ministries, yet this is what we routinely do.
The British system has at least a saving grace, there a civil servant once selected, and is assigned to a department for the rest of his career. He then acquires, on the job knowledge for the rest of his career. But in India we have the tenure system, whereby no officer is allowed to work for more than five years at a stretch in Government of India. No sooner does he get to grips with complexities of his job, his tenure ends and he is packed off to some obscure backwater. This system ensures, that no one acquires, more than a smattering of knowledge about his job. The system of muddling through was never carried to amore sublime height than this.
We see therefore that elitism as an ideology is defensible only when the elite is dedicated to some transcendent goal and is vested with the authority to achieve this goal. In democratic politics the bureaucracy has neither this goal nor the authority to achieve it. Both these belong to politicians. The being the case, in a democratic state civil elitism only leads to the worst of both the worlds- it gives the civil service a false sense of their own importance and prevents the acquisition of specialized knowledge when it is necessary. If efficiency is our goal we must look to other options.
It is a tragic irony that the bureaucrats, who as generalist are supposed to know everything worth knowing, do not have any idea of their own role in the scheme of things. Ask any civil servant about his own role and changes are that he will either be at loss for words or hesitatingly describe himself as a public servant, an agent of the state. This definition is fine as a public servant, an agent of the state. This definition is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. What for instance is meant by the words ‘state. Does it mean the politically elected government of the day, or does it mean the politically elected government of the day, or does it mean some abstract judicial entity. If the former, the civil servants have no choice but to accept their status as servants of politician; if the latter , they put themselves somehow above the elected government, something which is clearly unacceptable in a democracy. This confusion is not confined to India. Sir Robert Armstrong, and Sir Ian Bancroft, two former heads of the Home Civil Service in Britain seem to hold diametrically opposite view on this issue.
According to Robert Armstrong, “civil servants are servants of the crown. In this context the crown means and is represented by duly elected government of the day………… the civil service as such, has no constitutional personality or responsibility apart from the duly elected government.”
On the other hand his predecessor, Ian Bancroft seems to hold the opposite view. In his opinion, “the civil service belongs neither to officials nor to politicians, but to the crown and the nation.”
That two eminent civil servants hold such diametrically opposite views about their own profession is symptomatic of the confusion that exists on this issue. This confusion is typical of elitist civil services because they so sedulously foster the cult of the generalist. Remember Cardinal Newman’s assertion, quoted earlier that a person with a liberal education is capable of “filling any post with credit and to master any subject with facility.” A man who is supposed to be capable of playing any role that he is called upon to play, is never quite sure what a bottom, is his true vocation-whether he is high minded mandarin, above the dirty business of politics or whether he is nothing more than a tool of the government it is worth expending some thought on the subject.
Broadly speaking the kind of work that civil servant do may be divided into three categories. They act either as managers or policy advisors or are engaged in law enforcement. These three roles are quite different in nature and call for different kinds of skill and attitude.
The role of manager is basically subject to the touchstone of efficiency. Managers require functional autonomy; they require the ability to manage men and money. They can be judged only by the results they produce. Managerial skills are not fostered by hierarchical set ups. They need a different kind of environment to flower. Managers need creative freedom to be able to put their ideas into practice, untrammeled by the restyri8crtiuons of official procedure and routine,. Government needs a lot of managerial talent, but the civil service does not provide the right environment for it. If government is serious about improving the management of the various commercial and autonomous undertakings that it owns, it must enlarge the talent pool from which it return its managers and be willing to play by the discipline of the market place.
Individuals coming from civil service background may be good at throwing their weight around but they are incapable of handling the ruthless demands of business. Elitism rests on irrational assumptions of superiority, but the market is no respecter of such pretensions, it is a completely democratic place where all that counts is real ability. Government has to adopt similar eclecticism in its recruitment policies if it improves the quality of its managerial staff.
Management also demands expertise and different jobs requirement different kinds of expertise. Some need ability at financial management; some require focus on marketing ability. All need an in-depth knowledge of the subject and the ability to innovate. Such skills are unlikely to be found in any one organization and government has to cast its net wide if it wants to tap the best talent available. The important thing is that the cult of the generalist with its emphasis on intangible norms and means rather than ends does not produce good managers. What is needed therefore is proper respect for specialized skills.
This is also true of the civil servants who act as policy advisors. What they need above everything else is knowledge. This is more than text book knowledge acquire at academic institutions; although that is the starting point and therefore indispensable. The explosion of information and the fast pace of obsolescence of current knowledge means that it is increasingly harder to keep abreast of all that is happening in a particular field. Only a specialist with comprehensive knowledge of a particular subject cans remain up to date about new developments.
Civil servants who advice the government about policy matters are expected to have this kind of knowledge, but the cult of the generalist ensures that no civil servants is ever given the chance to acquire detailed knowledge of any subject. A person whose specialization is in animal husbandry is often sent to manage finance and a botanist may be asked to manage the industries portfolio. The usual practice e in government is to ensure that no one is posted in a department of which he might have detailed knowledge. When civil servants go abroad for training, as most IAs officers do, the authorities make sure that they are not given a chance to put their training to any practical use on their return. If their area of trai8ning coincides with their department, as might happen sometimes they are usually given another posting on their return from training.
The cult of the generalist is defended on the ground that specialization tend to narrow down person’s vision whereas the generalist who knows a little of everything is able to make the broader view. This view is well described by Cardinal Newman in words which have been already been quoted in the last chapter.
But Cardinal Newman’s sweet reasonableness is itself sophistical. His denigration of the specialist rests on false premises about the knowledge. All knowledge is knowledge of something. You cannot exalt knowledge as such while running down the specialist in the same breath. At the back of this is the notion that education should primarily be based on study of classical texts and history etc. it is the old Confucian idea, propounded with greater sophistication but its linkage with elitist notion of education are obvious. What we have here is social and political bias exalted into a philosophical principle.
Still the cult of the generalist suits politicians, because they are, after all, also generalists who do not know even the fundamentals of the subject that they are asked to handle. There are of course well informed ministers but these are the exception rather than the rule. By superimposing a generalist civil servant between themselves and the specialist who are the heads of their subject matter. The civil servant who are thus asked to run the governments by proxy are cleverer then the ministers. Civil service elitism with its claims of omniscience allows them to brush aside the specialist and to substitute their own shallow pretension ion place of real knowledge. The ministers are happy because with this one stroke they accomplish to objectives. The specialist, who with their superior knowledge might pose a putative threat to the ill informed politicians are put in their place, and the ministers are able to the ill informed politicians are put in their place, and the ministers are able to devote their time to the only thing in which they specialize, ie, politics, unburden by the cares of office. This is the only reason why a civil servant who does not know the difference between a howitzer and a bazooka is put over the head of a general who might have risen to the summit of his profession by dint of professional excellence and bravery of his professional excellence and bravery on the battlefields. This is the only reason why a civil servant who does not know wheat from sorghum and rabi from kharif is put over the head of a scientist who may have won international recognition is crop breeding.
All this may be fine the politicians, but it plays havoc with the quality of advice that goes into policy making. What we get is the usual civil service circumlocutions about ‘on the one hand and on the other hand’. This kind of wishy washy advice lets politicians do what they like.
In this whole transaction, the real loser is the nation. It is this kind of circumlocution that led to this country’s defeat by china and scandals like Bofors.
There are two way to remedy the situation. As far as managerial posts are concerned by only approach is to follow the principle of finding horses for course’. This means complete eclecticisms in recruitments and an end to the policy of the closed shop. Our aim should be to find the best person for a given job, no matter where he comes from. As far as those posts are concerned whose aim it is offer policy adviser to the government, the best option is to strike a balance between the claims of the generalist civil service and the specialist and permit lateral entry of specialist at a given level, say the joint secretary level. If all posts of joint secretary level are thrown open to all comers who have the requisite qualification and recruitment is strictly on merit, there would be a tremendous improvement in the quality of the civil service. A lot of dead wood would be weeded out and the infusion of fresh talent would provide a fresh perspective. The specialists who have to endure a life time of bondage to stuck up generalists will bear the cross of their inferiority as and a priory established in an open race, fair and square. No longer would the soldier have to click his heels before desk bound civilians ignorant of the art of war, or the scientist defer to the ignorant presumption of the generalist. There would be an all round increase in moral and the quality of advice that goes into policy making would improve tremendously. Most important, the country would no longer have to suffer the consequences of following half backed rhetoric as expert advice.
But when we come to the posts which are concerned with law enforcement we come up against a different kind of problem. The problem arises because of the fact that civil servants who are engaged in offering advice have to have a certain loyalty to the government whereas law enforcement requires complete independence from execution control. The problem is that the same civil servant is expected to do both the jobs. He is expected to be loyal one day and independent the next day. When he is secretary to government he is expected to be simply a loyal agent, who finds his salvation in faithful serving the government of the day. When he becomes, for instance the Chief Election Officer of a state, he is expected to be absolutely even handed in deciding the electro battle which may seal the fate of the same government. Neutrality and independence are of course the core values of the civil service. But that is only on paper. As long as politicians have the decisive say in the career development of bureaucrats they will to call the shorts and civil servants will find it hard to lve to the avowed code of conduct. Their position is rather like the position of humanity in George Herbert’s poem:-
“O wearisome condition of humanity,
Born under one law, to another bound,
Begotten vain, yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick yet commanded to be sound.”
In short it is an impossible mandate.
The problem arose in the first place because of the cult of the generalist which assumes that a person who is good enough to be a member of the elite cadre is good enough to handle any assignment whatever its requirement.
In practice however, as we have seen. Loyalty and independence do not go together. As law enforcement jobs require strict independence, the solution is to separate all such jobs from other executive posts, and to keep them outside the control of the executive. For example the statutory functions performed by the district magistrate demand that this job be kept outside the control of politicians. The code of criminal procedure does not in fact recognize the authority of the state government over the DM, who is the highest executive authority charged with the maintenance of public order. Yet today most DM’s feel obliged to consult the state government before taking any action in a law and order situation. This leads to tragic result sometimes. The classic case is that of the District Magistrate of Faizabad, who failed to prevent the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 on the ground that he was told by the Chief Minister not to take any action in the matter. A similar argument was offered by the Nazis during the Nuremberg trials, but was not accepted by the tribunal. It is yet to be seen what judgment is passed by the Supreme Court in this matter.
Similar independence is needed by the officers in charge of conducting elections. Under the present dispensation the Collector are also appointed as Returning Officers during elections. It stands to the credit of the civil service that most returning officers have so far conducted the elections with a fair degree of impartiality. But already this neutrality is being questioned in an increase number of cases. The situation is much worse with regards to subordinate civil services. Fair and impartial conduct of elections is the cornerstone of democracy and anything less than total neutrality and I impartiality on the part of the election machinery is ultimately fatal to the whole process.
That is why it is imperative that we create an independent authority at the state level on the same lines as the central election commission, staffed by civil servants who are not accountable to the government.
I have given but two examples, both of them about jobs done by the Indian administrative service but the same things applies to many other jobs which are concerned with law enforcement. An obvious area is the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. At present this is done by the state police who work under the total supervision and control of the state government. This vitiates the whole process of investigation which must be completely free from interference and external influence of any kind, yet this is what interference and external influence of any kind, yet this is what routinely and external influence of any kind, yet this is what routinely happens, and small time politicians of all parties make it their stock in trade to rescue small time criminals from the police. Even in big cases involving smuggling, drug running, and crime with international ramification, the suspicion of important politicians being involved can’t be ruled out. The supreme court has tried to liberate the CBI from political control but the arrangement devised to ensure its independence are still ad-hoc and of not go far enough.. All agencies, concerned with the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences should be placed under an automatism quasi judicial authority. Ultimately accountable to a bi-partisan committee of the legislature, but enjoying complete functional autonomy. This is the only way to break the politician criminal nexus and save the fabric of civil society.
In sum, the jobs concerned with law enforcement should be hived off from the generalist civil service and assigned to a separate cadre. To those who have a sentimental attachment to elitism and would be loath to see the old civil service divested of its privilege this may indeed prove to be a saving grace, for elitism here would be assets than a liability. After all to enforce the law in letter and spirit, to uphold its majesty and to enlarge its civilizing influence is the prime task of civil society. Those charged with this noble task need courage as well as unimpeachable rectitude, and the consciousness of being engaged in a great mission may well impart a real moral fervor to the whole undertaking and thus redeem elitism from the negative features that we have been at pains to emphasize.
I have so far been discussing the institution of the civil service from the point of view of a radical reformer, who wants to improve things, but has no personal axe to grind. No scores to settle and no ghost to exorcise. This is the truth. I have so far kept away from personal matters for two reasons. I wanted to focus on mater which had to a general rather than a merely personal validity, and I wished to avoid a charge, which I fear would still be leveled at me the charge which I fear would still be leveled at me the charge of insufferable personal vanity. Still I should be less than honest if I claimed that personal factors played no part in my decision to leave the civil service. It is now time to set out my own testament, and to share with the reader my own peculiar outlook on the world which has led me, inexorable to the path which I have followed. If by so doing I find some understanding, if not sympathy, it would be sufficient reward for having written this book.
My first reason for leaving the civil service is the loss of personal freedom that is involved in the whole business. It may be argued that all salaried employment necessarily involves a certain loss of freedom. This is true, as far as it goes, but the degree of curtailment differs in each profession. In scientific or technical or academics jobs, one may indeed enjoy complete functional autonomy, being subject only to ma loosely defined control for purely administrative reasons. Ideally such control only provides the necessary support and backup, which enables the real workers to concentrate their efforts on scientific or technological accomplishment.
At the other extreme from this ideal, we may take the case of convicts undergoing imprisonment, whose activities are completely determined by the prison staff. Between these two extreme, there is vast range of jobs; and it may surprise some people to know that the civil service is closer to the lower end of the scale than the top.
This may seem a bizarre statement, but let me explain senior civil servant, for all the prestige and privileges which they enjoy are only tools of the government. The higher they rise in their professions, the more closely they have to serve their political masters. The top civil servant, say the cabinet secretary or the chief secretary of a state, are completely at the beck and call of the politicians. To those who do not have direct experience of how things are run, these grandees may appear remote, awe-inspiring figures, but what I have said is the truth. The plain fact is the top mandarins have no professional brief of their own. They exist only to do the bidding of the government. Their raison de etre is to obey and serve. This is not service in the ennobling sense of philanthropy or charity; this is service in the sense of sub serving the ends of power. It is true that in return for this submission they enjoy considerable influence and power of their won. But this power, let it be remembered is the power of a satellite, which shines not with a personal luster but in reflected glory. I think there is something degrading about the whole business.
Yes, it is fact the civil servants are privy to many state secrets that they move constantly in the rarefied upper echelons of the government and as a consequence some of the glamour of power rubs off on them. Above all they are permanent, while politicians are only temporary. This enables them to make their own off the records claims- that they and not the politicians- are the permanent rulers of the nation. All this may be true enough but is it therefore sufficient reason to hold the civil service in high esteem.
To my mind there is something distasteful in arguments of this kind. In my view their position is morally equivalent to that of the begum and her low born paramour who ran the country in the reign of Mohammad Shah Rangeela. This is the power of royal favorites and intriguing courtiers. Such power deserves corn rather than esteem.
Of course what is at bottom of this apotheosis of the civil service is really a worship of power as such. India is not unique in this. In turkey during the years of the sublime Porte it was a ruler that the top civil servant had to be eunuchs. Surprisingly it became a custom among the gentry to have the eldest son castrated at an early age to prepare him for initiation into the civil service. There may still be many, who are prepared to be emasculated for the sake of entry into the gilded purlieus of the civil service. I prefer to keep my natural endowments and face the rigors of being an ordinary citizen.
If it is degrading to be employed in doing the bidding of politicians; what makes this servitude doubly galling is that the business of politics is to do with belief and convictions. It is concerned with the pursuit of value. That at least is how things ought to be – but there is shocking gap between what ought to be and what is. In practice Indian politics is a game completely devoid of moral purpose. It is the pursuit of power by any means. This state of affairs may be tolerable for those who have no belief or convictions of their own, but as the reader may have inferred, I have quite a few convictions of my own. To forsake one’s faith, And to devote oneself to the bidding of those whose motives are simply to consolidate their own power, to be forced to serve the personal ambitions of unscrupulous politicians behind the ethics of public service, this is the kind of daily deception and institutionalized humbug that makes the job of a senior civil servant particularly unbearable to me.
Let me also add that the perks and privileges that go with the job, and that are supposed to gild the pill, make the medicine bitterer. Public service is satisfying when it is accompanied by the Spartan ethic-lofty ideals and simple living. This has been the personal creed of many of our best civil servants. To this is due the present status and prestige of the civil service. It is therefore preserve to cite the liberal perks and privileges as the main reason for joining the civil service. This is precisely not the reason for which anyone should join the civil service. Those who are fond of the good things of life should go into business, or other highly paid professionals. They should set their sights on becoming world bank consultant, so that they can advise their countries on how to avert economic collapse on a thousand dollars per diem, or try their hands at becoming supreme court lawyers, or advertising executives, or best selling novelists or record breaking sportsmen or heart surgeons, or any of the other icons of modern life, they should not bring in this mercantile culture into the civil service and destroy its old values.
Personally I would go beyond this. For me the Spartan ethics meant giving up not merely the trapping of authority but authority and privilege itself. I think this was the meaning of my leaving the civil service; I saw it as an act of self abnegation. That the purpose of life is not to be someone-however powerful or important, but to do something worthwhile, however insignificant it may seem to others. A man expresses his essential being only in his actions. His action alone has moral quality. The rest is only word-mere dross. Every good deed is good enough in my scheme of things for the spiritual equivalent the Nobel Prize, and in this field the Prime Minster and his peon compete on an equal footing. Indeed, the peon often has a better chance of doing something purely disinterested and therefore morally superior.
I also define success and failure in a different way, some might say in an idiosyncratic way. To my mind every life is a kind of failure. The prospect of disease, the loss of loved ones, the travails of old age and the final catastrophe of death, make nonsense of our claims of success. But real failure is in not being able to live up to your convictions; in not trying to work out your dreams. To hold oneself back from some long cherished goal for reason of prudence-that is real failure. By the same token success is in taking the plunge- in challenging oneself, in making the maximum demands on one’s skill, ability courage etc. the cardinal virtue of civil servant is caution, they7 are forever holding back, hedging their bets, saving their skins and toning down their advice, with judicious provisos and caveats. This is not mu cup of tea, to me it is anathema.
I started this chapter with the concept of freedom. To me freedom means standing alone. It means ploughing one’s own furrow, it means having the courage to stand on one’s own two feet, without institutional props. The civil service is a large organization with plenty of members who are roughly equal in terms of ability, in such an organization it is the pushy adventurer with the knack of handling important people, who makes his way to the top. But the end does not justify the means. Indeed the end itself is unworthy of serious effort, because at the end of the day, one only ends up serving important politicians no matter how high one rises. The games is therefore not worth the candle.
This self assertion may be heroic but the skeptic may well ask, what is one to do with this freedom. My answer would be follow your nature bent. I do believe that every individual is born with a unique individuality; an inner nature that one must follow.
Those who suppress this inner nature lead miserable lives- however successful they may be in a worldly sense. The problem is that most people do not know their own natures. They are so much under the influence of conventional and social conditioning that they take success in the worldly sense to be the only goal worth striving for. Knowing oneself is the hardest thing in the world. Unless one is driven by an inner demon, as great or revolutionaries may be, one may never look deep enough to glimpse one’s own inner depth. It requires a disciplines; a purification of the mind to know oneself.
Still without this self knowledge one cannot find fulfillment. In my case this knowledge came early. I knew when I joined the service. My destiny was to articulate the vague aspirations of youth into a coherent system, a blue print for a better world. But I could not be content with mere abstractions. I wanted to translate my vision into reality. I wanted to build a better world in practice as well as theory, and I did not think the civil service provided me with a large enough canvas for my dreams. This is why I am not a civil servant.