The Babu Bubble
Few years after New Zealand gained independence on September 26, 1907, the government realized that the bureaucrats would not give up their British ways. They wanted to rule forever; national interests being passé with the focus on feathering own nests and protecting their predominant position in governance.
So New Zealand appointed a commission which recommended lower bureaucracy entry through a public service commission but weaned out ‘deadwood’ of the higher bureaucracy. And replaced 50 percent with professionals - specialists in various fields like engineering, medical, military, chartered accountants, company secretaries, academia etc.
New Zealand’s Parliament passed the report and speedily implemented its recommendations. Today, New Zealand is one of the best managed governments, their efficient control of COVID-19 being one proof.
India continues to be ruled by Babus aka Brown Sahebs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering the inaugural address at the Transforming India Lecture Series in 2016, said, "We cannot march through the 21st century with the administrative systems of the 19th century." How serious Modi was in saying so is not known but the follow up was a damp squib despite him having the mandate to follow the New Zealand example.
Nine joint secretaries were inducted laterally into ‘different departments’ under the IAS hierarchy to tow the bureaucratic line. They were not even given temporary membership of the Central IAS Officers Association and many left midway in disgust. They could have been posted as OSD’s or advisers to concerned ministers but that obviously was not allowed by the Babus.
Delivering a lecture at the Defence Services Staff College on November 11, 1998, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw said, “Can those of our political leaders who are responsible for the security and defence of the country cross their hearts and say that they have ever read a book on military history, on strategy, on weapons developments. Can they distinguish a mortar from a motor, a gun from a howitzer, a guerilla from a gorilla, though a vast majority resemble the latter.”
Ironically, politicians in India need no minimum educational qualifications to contest elections. Once elected, they depend on the Babus because of little domain knowledge and no interest beyond protecting their chairs. Hence they remain captive by the Babus with both avoiding accountability through media management.
India making a total administrative overhaul like New Zealand is near impossible. According to sources within top political circles, Babus are so powerful they can throw any politician or minister, even prime minister, to the wolves what to talk of the military hierarchy. Of course they have external links. Hence, it is thought best to promote them, extracting financial-cum-electoral gains as possible.
Little wonder then the bureaucrats run the whole country from public health to fertilizers, IT and even Director General Shipping responsible for the safety of ships and lives at sea, in addition to gubernational and political berths.
The military, therefore, will continue under bureaucratic control, not under political control as it should be, and ‘deep selection’ may keep going deeper till ‘desired pliability’ is found in a candidate.
To this end, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw had cautioned the military in his above lecture which remains highly relevant today, wherein he said, “A ‘yes man’ is a dangerous man. He may rise very high, he may even become the Managing Director of a company. He may do anything but he can never make a leader because he will be used by his superiors, disliked by his colleagues and despised by his subordinates. So shallow – the yes man.”
On May 19, 2021, a Press Information Bureau (PIB) release lauded an Indian Army Engineers team for having worked out a solution for efficient conversion of liquid oxygen to low pressure oxygen gas for Covid-19 patients; using a self pressuring liquid oxygen cylinder of small capacity processing it through a specially designed vaporizer and directly usable outlet pressure with requisite leak proof pipeline and pressure valves.
A prototype with two liquid cylinders capable of feeding oxygen for 40 beds for 2-3 days was made functional at the Base Hospital, Delhi Cantonment. The team also tested a mobile version to cater for typical shifting requirements in hospitals.
Almost instantaneously a post appeared on Twitter by Ajay Kumar@dajaykumr-ias saying: “Congratulations MES. Look forward to more innovations coming from MES”. Ajay Kumar happens to be the Defence Secretary of India who does not know the difference between the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army and the MES. This too despite having served as Defence Production Secretary (December 2017 to August 2019) from where he moved directly as Defence Secretary.
The biggest achievement of Ajay Kumar for the ‘Babu Brotherhood’ was to orchestrate the Directorate of Military Affairs (DMA) headed by the Chief of Defence Staff in early 2020. ensuring it remains largely ineffective with all decisions contingent upon himself heading the Department of Defence (DoD) which is separate from DMA.
Despite the CDS, the Defence Secretary’s tasks include: Defence of India including in War and Defence Policy; Capital Acquisitions – where maximum scams happen; Defence Accounts Department; Canteen Stores Department; military cantonments; acquisition of land for defence; purchasing food for military: veterinary and military farms; Coast Guard; hydrographic survey; IDSA; NDC, and NCC.
Seven decades plus, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) couldn’t produce a state-of-the-art assault rifle but Ajay Kumar in four months time devised the DMA as the gun from which the DoD can fire at the military in perpetuity. It is not difficult to gauge why all the power and money is vested with the Defence Secretary. But what defence policy has Ajay Kumar chalked out in absence of a national security strategy? Is he aware that war is staring at us? Does he hope it doesn’t happen in his tenure or does he plan to dump everything on the military if the balloon goes up?
How secure is India with such bureaucrats can be guessed but their continued rule is definitely applauded (and financed?) by our adversaries. Their worst contribution is obfuscating facts, fudging data and lack of accountability.
Former Union Minister and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy tweeted on May 20: “No one has owned responsibility for the collapsing economy since 2016. Or responsibility for not preventing the Chinese from grabbing a mutually agreed (in 1993 LAC) Indian territory in Ladakh, Or gross neglect in not preparing a contingency plan for the second variant?”
Would anyone respond to the above tweet – Ajay Kumar at least on the LAC part of the tweet, without ducking under “not even an inch lost” but shedding light on the hundreds of square kilometres established as no-patrol zones. Obviously, he will not. But his special slot in the gallery of the infamous is secure.
Prime Minister Modi says India will win the war against the black fungus but what about the babu fungus? Is India destined to continue functioning inside this bubble?
Lt General P.C.Katochr is a veteran of the Indian Army. His views are personal.