Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Breaking The Nexus

Updated: October 29, 2011 10:46 am

Pretentious “secularists” and bleeding heart liberals are aghast at the treatment meted out to the so-called whistleblower Gujarat cop Sanjeev Bhatt. Even the central government, particularly the union Home Ministry, has been so concerned about the “safety and security” of Bhatt and his family members of Bhatt, now under detention because his alleged “forcing” a junior police official to file a false affidavit in a case pertaining to the chief minister Narandra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, that it has issued a directive to state government to ensure their safety.

While one can understand the Home Ministry’s concerns, which, in effect, are the concerns of the Congress party, I find it little bizarre when the so-called liberal intellectuals criticise the detention of Bhatt on the grounds that by so doing, the Modi government has harmed the “institutions” on whose health depends the smooth governance of India in accordance with our constitution. The point underscored here is that the bureaucracy (Bhatt as an IPS officer belongs to it) does not need to be subservient to the political executive. The fact that the Modi government has “punished” Bhatt has been interpreted by these critics as harassing an “honest” and nonpliable officer. On a closer scrutiny, things are not so simple, however.

Going by the classical theory of bureaucracy as propagated by Max Weber, arguably the foremost social theorist of the 20th century, there needs to be a clear division of labour between the political executive and the administrative executive (Bureaucracy). Under this scheme, there is no political role for civil servants. Politicians are supposed to formulate the policies, and the bureaucrats are meant to execute these policies faithfully, whatever the decision, and be anonymous and neutral in the discharge of that duty. Viewed thus, how apolitical and neutral has Sanjeev Bhatt been? Of course, one could argue that since the 2002 riots in Gujarat were not normal, a conscientious officer that Bhatt is, he could not afford to sit silent and that by pointing out Modi’s “active role” in the riots, he, in fact, is strengthening the cause of justice and Indian constitution that guarantees equality of all and the principles of secularism. But then, if that is the case, why was it that Bhatt remained silent all these years? He opened mouth only when there was a change of the central government at Delhi. It is no longer secret that top Congress leaders in Gujarat are among Bhatt’s closest friends.

Bhatt’s admirers gloss over the fact that his career as a police officer has been full of controversies, because of which his prospects for career enhancement had virtually come to a dead end. In every probability, he tried to convert his bad service record to be a source of great strength when the central government went out of its way to hound Modi out of office by hook or by crook. Bhatt came out with a statement that Modi was actively abetting the rioters in 2002, something he found out in a meeting convened by Modi that he attended. When his senior officials challenged this statement, he gave a “false” affidavit, “forcing” one of his subordinates to testify in it. He is under detention precisely because of this charge against him by the concerned subordinate official, not because of his other myriad acts of omission and commission. Let me point out only some of them:

On 18th November 1990, barely two years into service, Bhatt found himself named in a private complaint when as the Assistant Superintendent of Police in Jamnagar he indulged in rampant misuse of power including the use of the draconian TADA. In the process, it resulted in the death of one person, for which the Gujarat government was fined and admonished by the National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, Bhatt faced the ire of lawyers in Rajasthan over allegations of falsely implicating their colleague in a narcotics case during his tenure as the SP of Banaskantha, Gujarat. He is accused of falsely planting more than a kilogram worth of narcotics and indulging in abductions just in order to establish an alibi and serve vested interests. Subsequently, a criminal case was filed against him that is still pending.

The list does not end here. Bhatt was at the centre of a massive recruitment scam that hit Gujarat in 1996 when he headed the recruitment process as SP of Banaskantha. The charges against him are very serious-he did not follow regular procedures such as maintaining records of those candidates who were successful in the police constable examinations. Ignoring the orders of the DGP, he did not follow the correct process of recruiting armed and unarmed constables separately, preferring to go for a combined recruitment. The resulting lapses were against the principles of natural justice, be it in terms of giving unfit candidates a chance to reach the second stage or concealing crucial information about the candidates. All these instances imply a clear misuse of power and carelessness, apathy towards his duty. Importantly, all this happened much before Narendra Modi became Chief Minister.

Even in recent times, lies and controversies have followed Sanjeev Bhatt. He has been in regular touch with members of the Opposition in Gujarat, even procuring expensive gadgets from them. As late as August 31st last year, Bhatt was posted as the Principal, SRP Training College at Junagadh; but he not only refused to report to work but also misused his official vehicle. If absenteeism without notice is not a crime then he is innocent but there are certain rules public servants must abide by. By refusing to report on duty while continuing to draw the salary and perks, was not Bhatt betraying the public trust and violating the system (the service rules)? Obviously, Bhatt has made neutrality and anonymity (see the series of interviews he has given in the last three years), the tenets of the Weberian model of bureaucracy that aims to insulate the bureaucrat from any politicisation and allows him to be professional in his outlook, quite redundant.

However, Bhatt’s is not an exceptional case. If we look at the broader picture in India today, the quality and values of both politicians and bureaucrats have declined. It is not out of context to remember here that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had even advocated the concept of a “committed bureaucracy” comprising an administrative cadre committed to national objectives and responsive to the social needs, as identified by the party in power. Over the years, many bureaucrats have turned into a breed of pliable civil servant who would always say “Yes, Minister” and would be ready to crawl when asked to bend to their political masters’ will.

In civil services today, one finds two phenomena that are really harming the system of governance in the country. One is called ‘political interference’. Here, for no faults of theirs, bureaucrats are being put under pressure to comply with dictates of politicians in violation of propriety and probity. The other is ‘political seduction.’ Here, the bureaucrats are lured into a collusive nexus by dangling before them preferred postings, coveted assignments, and other career plums, both in service and after retirement. In fact, not so long ago, the Supreme Court had remarked that “the culture of hiring retired bureaucrats must end”!

What then is the way out to break this dangerous nexus? The best scenario is the one where honest, enlightened and cultivated persons, who place the nation’s interests above theirs, are found in politics as well as in civil services. One hopes that sooner rather than later we will find such people.

By Prakash Nanda

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