Thursday, August 18th, 2022 21:15:56

Bureaucrats Becoming Politicians

Updated: April 12, 2014 10:25 am

In the forthcoming elections, one will see an interesting battle between two brothers. They are the Union Minister of State for Finance Namo Narain Meena and Harish Chandra Meena. The latter was a Director General of Police (DGP) in Rajasthan. When Vasundhara Raje became the Chief Minister last December, Meena was removed as the DGP, as he was considered to be a “Congress loyalist” for not only being the Union Minister’s brother but also for having served as secretary(security) in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office. But then such is the nature of Indian politics that within three months, the younger Meena not only won the trust of the new Chief Minister but also her confidence so as to earn a BJP ticket for contesting as candidate for the membership of the Lok Sabha. That another elder brother, Bhawani Singh Meena, a former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of Maharashtra and a known favourite of Raje, helped in the process is a different matter altogether.

I am not interested in the family battles of the Meenas in this case. What has interested me instead is that it is yet another case reflecting the growing trend of the senior civil servants joining active politics in India. Some of them join immediately after retirement and some do it after resigning from the service. Of course, those in the latter category do so after securing the commitment of a given political party that he or she would be getting the ticket for polls. And if successful in winning elections, many of them really do well by bagging important ministerial positions. Take the case of Namo Narain Meena again. An Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of 1969 batch, he, as a minister, has bossed over not only many of his batch-mates but also seniors in IAS and IPS.

In India, politics has proved to be a wonderful diversion for many senior civil servants. And there cannot be a better example than that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a career civil servant. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha Meira Kumar, who was also a senior cabinet minister during the UPA-1 regime, is from the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). Late President K R Narayan also belonged to the IFS and before occupying the country’s highest constitutional post, he served as a minister under late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, who belonged to the Congress party. Then, we have the instance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yashwant Sinha who quit the IAS and later became the finance minister and foreign minister of Atal Behari Vajpayee, and in both the assignments he gave a pretty good account of himself.

There is the case of Ajit Jogi, who quit the IAS to join the Congress party; he later became the first chief minister of the newly created state of Chhattisgarh in 2000. And if I remember, there are two other bureaucrats who after joining the Congress, did well and became central ministers: Mani Shankar Aiyar who had resigned from the Indian Foreign Service and S. Krishna Kumar who had quit the Indian Administrative Service. There is also the example of Panna Lal Punia, the dalit leader of the Congress who is now occupying a constitutional position as the chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. An IAS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, he joined the Congress party after his superannuation. He lost his first election in 2002 but was elected Member of Parliament from Barabanki parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh during 15th Lok Sabha elections held in 2009.

In fact, in the outgoing UPA government, Meena’s ministerial colleague in the Finance Ministry is also from the IAS. He is Jesudasu Seelam, who quit the service in 1999 to fight the Lok Sabha elections on a Congress ticket. But unlike Meena, he lost his first election and had to wait patiently for few more years. But, in the end, he has nothing to complain. As a minister, he became the boss of many senior officers in the Finance ministry, including the likes of finance secretary RS Gujral and revenue secretary Sumit Bose who were eight batches senior to him.

The instances cited above do give an impression that majority of the civil servants opting for politics prefer to join the Congress party. That is not the case. The bureaucrats are keen observers of the dominant political trend and make their choices accordingly. Now that the BJP is in the upswing, majority of those who want to leave the civil service for politics prefer the BJP to the Congress. That explains the examples of the Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh, Research and Analysis Wing Chief Sanjeev Tripathi, former Petroleum Secretary R S Pande, former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri; all of them have joined the BJP. So have former additional chief secretary of West Bengal Radha Kanta Tripathy, former CBI joint director Sujit Ghosh and West Bengal state chief electoral officer S K Magan There is also the case of my friend K J Alphons, a bright IAS officer from Kerala who had done a great job in Delhi Development Authority. Of course, he had quit the IAS to contest successfully to the Kerala Assembly. He later joined the BJP, though that time there was no Modi wave. Above all, there is the most important example of BJP attracting the former Army V K Singh to its fold. General Singh is contesting elections to the Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket.

This trend of officers joining politics to fight elections is equally true at States-level. Former IPS officer Farooq Khan, who has been in the forefront of anti-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir, has joined the BJP. One is told that Jharkhand and Bihar have witnessed a massive exodus of civil servants towards politics in this regard. And here, various political parties have become the beneficiaries. Parties like Janata Dal (U) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Rastriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav have been the destinations of the civil servants, too. However, examples of bureaucrats becoming politicians will not be complete without a mention of Arvind Kejriwal, who and his Aam Admi Party are dominating the headlines these days.

Now comes the important question whether this growing trend of the bureaucrats, particularly those in service, becoming politicians is healthy for the Indian democracy or not. In my considered view, it is difficult to come out with a convincing answer. Those who oppose the trend argue that the relationship between civil servants and politicians is as fascinating as it is complex with their mutual interdependence requiring to cooperate despite the ever-present risk of tension and conflict. For reasons of efficiency, so the argument goes on, it is important that the civil service has a certain degree of independence and detachment from the political process.

According to Yaqoob Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner( and an IAS officer from Haryana cadre), “Joining any political outfit is an individual’s decision or best described as an opportunistic decision depending on the perception on which way the wind is blowing. However, bureaucracy as an institution, which maintains continuity in governance, can be under threat. If it gets politicised then it will hurt India”. No wonder why the Election Commission (EC) had in 2012 proposed a “cooling off” period of two years for bureaucrats looking to join politics soon after retirement or quitting service on grounds of “national interest”. That time, the Manmohan Singh government, as per the advice of the Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati, had shut down the suggestion. But one understands that worried over the civil servants heading towards the BJP in recent months, it has reconsidered the EC suggestion and has asked the ministries concerned to come out with a clear blueprint.

EC’s suggestion is logical in the sense that if the bureaucrats are given a cooling off period of two years after their resignation before joining a private company (unless the government from its side waives it off by one year), then why should not it be in the case of politics? After all, if any civil servant joins a political party soon after retirement or resignation, it would put a question mark over his or her decisions as a bureaucrat.

But, now, let us look at the other side of the picture. Vahanpati, while turning down the EC’s suggestion, had pointed out that one could not debar a civil servant, who, after resigning, entered the electoral fray. He had argued that the constitution debarred a constitutional or statutory post only if one was “holding” (not held in the past) an office of profit, not otherwise.He also argued that after resignation from the government service, one is like any ordinary citizen who, as under Article 14 of the Constitution cannot be discriminated against.

I have a simple point as to why the cooling off period should not be mandatory in case of a civil servant joining politics. If he or she is already inclined towards a political party, it is better for him or her to enter the political field in a transparent manner rather than dishonestly serving the causes of a political party while in service. In any case, if the suggestion of restraining the civil servants has gained currency and the UPA government is reconsidering the EC suggestion, it is only because fewer of the civil servants are opting for the Congress party. But then, the fact remains that a former Chief Election Commissioner was given a Congress ticket soon after his retirement and became a Union Cabinet minister, not to speak of the civil servants joining the Congress and subsequently becoming India’s President and Prime Minister!

By Prakash Nanda

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