Taming The Bureaucracy
What will lead to greater accountability and efficiency:
It was at the Think India dialogue of Network18 last year that Narendra Modi said something about the bureaucracy that went viral. “A Congress leader,” he said, “suggested a very simple solution to problems of governance: Politicians should learn to say no and bureaucrats to say yes.” A year on, as PM, he is set to discover that governance is a little more complicated.
Since making that statement, he has run a presidential-style campaign, sought and received a mandate for himself rather than his BJP and become PM. In a departure from normal practice, Modi was briefed by the secretaries even before he was sworn in. And when home secretary Anil Goswami called on him, Modi reportedly took the bureaucrat by surprise by rattling off his personal and career details. If the bureaucracy was spooked by such meticulous homework, it managed to hide its surprise—perhaps actually braced for more surprises.
No answers yet, but experts warn that departure from the cabinet form of government isn’t an unmixed blessing. In Good Governance: Never on India’s Radar, former Union home secretary Madhav Godbole cites examples from Indira Gandhi onwards to chronicle the decline of the cabinet system, the abdication of joint responsibility and the emergence of the PMO as a modern-day palace. The UPA, Godbole writes, could have prevented many scams if the cabinet had discussed certain issues.
The spectre of the PMO as a palace and of palace guards running the country through chosen bureaucrats has raised eyebrows. But many bureaucrats say they’d prefer to wait and watch. Some say strong-arm tactics are needed to get the administration on track. Others voice concern over such centralisation and how it might encourage crony capitalism. This isn’t a new fear. Didn’t H.D. Deve Gowda, as prime minister designate, fly into Delhi in a Reliance plane when there were seven commercial flights daily from Bangalore? That flight, in which Vijay Mallya accompanied Deve Gowda, raised eyebrows. But times have changed. Nobody batted an eyelid when Modi, as prime minister-designate, took an Adani plane to Delhi.
Grapevine has it that several bureaucrats are already ratting on colleagues while trying to ingratiate themselves with the new dispensation. Ministers are already feeling sidelined as secretaries make a beeline to the PMO. Union home minister Rajnath Singh, the bureaucratic grapevine has it, had no clue that his ministry had withdrawn clearance for the extension of two senior ips officers to a central organisation at the behest of the PMO. The home secretary had not thought it necessary to brief him. The new equation, in which secretaries will be tempted to engage with the PMO, may not improve trust, efficiency or teamwork, say some bureaucrats.
One serving bureaucrat called it a recipe for disaster. It would lead to a trust deficit between ministers and secretaries. A former Union minister echoed the sentiment, saying he didn’t expect ministers to give up their authority. “They’ve waited in the wings for ten years to grab at power,” he smirked. “Why would they let go even part of it?”
Before empowering the bureaucracy, says a cynical bureaucrat, it needs to become more efficient and responsive. All governments paid lip service to administrative reforms, but nothing has changed either at the Centre or in the states. One of the oldest in the world, the Indian bureaucracy is also rated as one of the worst. In a rating by 1,300 business executives, the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) found it one of the “most stifling”, corrupt, inefficient and slow-moving. The overwhelming perception is that corrupt bureaucrats are despised but thrive; the honest are respected but do not rise; and idealists end up in the boondocks.
The prime minister has his job cut out. He can either tame the bureaucracy or get tamed by it. Only time will tell if he has made a good beginning.
Apropos of Shaking up the Frame (June 16), it’s probably for the first time that bureaucrats are being empowered. Their experience and expertise makes them specialists in a way, unlike their political bosses. A minister’s assessment of a situation is usually done from a political point of view; bureaucrats view it through a governance lens. Empowering bureaucrats does not mean ministers will no longer wield control. In fact, cooperation between the two will improve administration and bring quick results.
Ranjit Sinha, Calcutta
Allow me to point out a climatic fact: the temperature in Delhi these days is higher than the number of Congress MPs in Parliament.
Mohan, on e-mail
Anwaar, muslims are secular when they are a minority. When they are majority, they ask for sharia. Secularism and Islam are oppoiste to each other.
This is what I felt when I read first about this news.
These are talibani traits and somebody has attributed them to the wrong people.
If Modi manages to spruce up the judiciary and make it work, it will be job 90% done.
Will Modi even try to? Unlikely.
>> Your kind of arrogance and the inherent ugliness of sanghism will help unite liberal, secular and left forces sooner than you may imagine.
Their sad state, irrelevance, BJP's growth, greed for power, and the kicks administered to them by voters shall unite them together.
Their hatred for Hinduism shall act as glue in this effort.
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