Bureaucracy of Deep Chauvinism and Discrimination
A response to retired bureaucrat Avay Shukla
In ‘IAS Resignations: Much Ado About Nothing?’ Avay Shukla rightly differentiates between resignations made for career reasons and those of younger ‘conscientious objectors’. But he is walking on thin ice when he refers to the ‘wrong’ types of inductee - engineering, medical and management graduates - spawned by an overcompetitive system, which he says has created an IAS lacking in ‘esprit de corps’.
I am bemused. Is this the same Avay, who has mocked the eccentricities and angularities of the IAS in so many hilarious pieces? How could he fall into his own trap? Or miss the obvious connections between IAS/ICS snobbery and its uniformly poor performance over the years?
I lived through the same decades of IAS life as Avay. And I have few memories of the golden age of mentoring and values that he glorifies. I only saw an IAS that was casteist, chauvinist and snobbish, hardly committed to the socialist and secular principles of the Constitution.
Yes, there was mentoring. But it was reserved for the few, who were cast in the mould of the mentors and met their norms and needs.
It was the eligible bachelor, a suitable son-in-law for the top civil servant in caste and upbringing, who received quality mentoring and the best postings. No inductee from a reserved list was ever included within the charmed circle or mentored. Nor was mentoring ever extended to solitary women, who were tolerated, spied upon and gossiped about.
The professional and social circle was opened to public school graduates who knew how to entertain and be entertained in upper-class Western and Indian traditions. Inductees from rural or poor families were relegated to the fringes of the tribe.
Perhaps Avay has never experienced the intense loneliness of such pariahs, invisible presences at social gatherings, distanced professionally from plum postings despite the best credentials and performance. Who were often noticed and rewarded by a perceptive and objective political leader instead of the head of the civil service.
The lost Atlantis was only ever a haven for the public school educated, Hindu upper caste male officer from an urban setting.
Avay’s judgment about the causes for decline in the ‘values’ of the IAS is (forgive me) unjust and unkind in at least two ways.
It is unfair to the scores of highly committed, sincere and principled youngsters from a variety of backgrounds who are toiling all over the country against immense odds to serve their fellow citizens.
It is also unfair to the UPSC, which has successfully expanded and modified the civil service recruitment policy to bring in persons from the rural and impoverished heartland of our country, persons well versed in the languages, habits and experiences of the Indians they serve.
Avay has also missed the chauvinism deeply embedded in IAS norms, which from the beginning contributed to the erosion of values:
The huge dowries used to purchase entrants into the IAS.
The extra-constitutional power centres called ‘officers’ wives associations’, where careers are made and destroyed, associations which degrade the wives of IAS officers to becoming appendages and hangers-on.
The unspoken requirement that women married to IAS officers should forever become their camp followers.
And the rigid hierarchies of the civil service, which have even been imported into the management committee of the school run in Delhi for the children of civil servants, a committee which must forever be headed by the Cabinet Secretary’s wife!
Avay is fortunate to have escaped the pervasive casteism and chauvinism within the IAS which many suffered till the last days of their careers.
Some of us have identified other reasons for the failures of the IAS. These are detailed in T.R.Raghunandan’s recent book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Bureaucracy But Were Afraid to Ask.
Why not talk about the responsibility of the IAS for the country’s low international ranking in education, health and nutritional indicators, and its high ranking in corruption?
Let us ask why the IAS has voluntarily insulated itself from public contact, and chosen to set up its own undemocratic institutions and undermine elected local bodies.
Let us denounce the lack of meritocracy and professional integrity even in the independent regulatory organisations entrusted to the IAS, such as the CAG and the Election Commission.
Let us remember the Faustian bargains entered into by ‘successful’ IAS officers, who sell their souls for pitiful ‘messes of potage’.
And let us note that a former civil servant and IITian is chief minister of a state government that has provided the most citizen friendly, responsive and pro-poor administration in the country, in the teeth of opposition from the IAS brotherhood.
Perhaps, Avay, our young heroes are quitting the IAS because they understand, that it never had the values needed to build a secular socialist republic?
Renuka Viswanathan is former Secretary to the Government of India in the Cabinet Secretariat.