Is a Fifth Column Emerging?
Is the Prime Minister in danger of having his political agenda crushed beneath the feet of the mighty mandarins of Lutyen Delhi? Has he noticed this and is this the reason why he is reported to have given senior bureaucrats a pep-talk last week? “In search of answers I wandered about the corridors of power listening to whispers and rumours, and what I gleaned from this exercise was that the Prime Minister has relied more on bureaucrats than on his political team and that this is one reason why almost nothing has changed in terms of governance”, says Tavleen Singh.
It is well known that bureaucrats are strict status quoists. It will not change in the near future either, because there is nothing that our civil servants hate more than change. “If Indian governance has remained in colonial mode nearly seventy years after the British Raj ended, it is because of the extraordinary ability of the Indian bureaucrat to resist change. Even so powerful a prime minister as Jawaharlal Nehru acknowledged towards the end of his long tenure that he had been wrong not to have made a serious effort to change the bureaucracy. Narendra Modi must not wait too long before recognising that bureaucrats are incapable of implementing political change, and that when they are given too much power, they become an obstacle in the path of ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’.”
Everyone knows that the PMO is the engine that is running the central government. Bureaucrats have become so powerful in the Modi government that they often defy ministers, and if a new idea, for instance, the NITI Aayog is implemented, then they try their best to ensure that it fails. The NITI Aayog is so far the most important reform brought by Modi. Abolishing the Planning Commission indicated a moveaway from the planning model we copied from the Soviet Union. It indicated also that he meant what he said when he talked of ‘minimum government’. It should by now have developed into a powerful advisory body to the Prime Minister’s office on policy and reforms. If this has not happened, it is mostly because it has been stymied at every turn by bureaucrats who have not taken easily to ‘outsiders’ trespassing on their hallowed ground.