I have never met Chandrakant Anil. Nor Ratn Sanjay. Yet I salute this 1991 IAS and 1998 IPS duo currently serving Siwan. I believe the entire Indian civil service, should give them a standing ovation and support them for doing what few in the system have had the courage to do. They have put their own lives at stake, becoming marked men forever, by putting the common weal before personal safety or career. They have protected democracy and shown us a sterling example of what good governance means in the rough and tumble of day-to-day life in one of India’s most backward states. If only the rule of law had been upheld by the civil service on the very first day when the first version of Shahabuddin attempted to raise his head in Siwan,, we would have been spared all that's followed.
But, finally, by reading out the law to Mohammed Shahabuddin, MP, in his own language, the duo has redefined the lingua franca of good governance in Bihar. Raids on Shahabuddin's house have revealed tiger and deer skins, night-vision goggles, laser-aided guns and other arms with markings of Pakistan ordinance factories. Further photos of the honourable MP with some of India’s most wanted criminals have reportedly been seized. In other words, a man who sits inside the hallowed walls of Parliament is a national security threat! And the union government continues providing him Z-category security, to protect a habitual criminal. What a shame.
Can Shahabuddin explain to the nation why, and how many times, he visited Kashmir and the border areas in the past four or five years? Did he go there to procure the rocket launchers with which he fired on SP B.S. Meena? He is also said to have had the president of the Siwan Policemen’s Association killed because he refused to support him in the recent elections. Lastly, there's the matter of those who have vanished from Siwan. Every child in Siwan knows where these people vanished, and where more than a hundred bodies lie buried now. The government should order this private graveyard, bang in his backyard, to be dug up, bodies exhumed, scientific identification done and the pictures displayed for the nation to see, so that shame is out in the open and not hidden. And to see that justice is done to the perpetrator of this outrage.
Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Bihar, should now seize all the properties, which are known to be owned by or captured by the honourable MP through benami methods, and auction them; re-open his tax returns which have been quietly filed away for years, and freeze his bank accounts. The honourable MP has violated almost every law of every department and yet no one has had the courage to look at him till date.
We all have, at one time or the other, lamented, in drawing room conversations, about the degeneration of the system in India. Despite our spectacular achievements in other fields, we are reducing ourselves to a nation of hand-wringers when it comes to standing up for the right and doing something about it. The time has come for every right thinking Indian to standup and be counted. To support Anil, Ratn and others like them who, in the face of several insuperable odds, are saving that very system that most only talk about saving. Each time we talk about saving it, and don’t do anything, we are saving the nation on a part-time basis - something no nation can afford.
To those who are scared to take him on, all I ask is: Would they have reacted similarly, if Shahabuddin had targeted their own family in any one of these ways? Why then a different attitude when it comes to the public cause? We often forget we are holding a trust - called the IAS - given to us by the people through the Indian Constitution, and not something we have got due to the abiding grace of any individual, no matter how powerful he may be. We owe a solemn responsibility to uphold this trust, conscientiously and faithfully. And if we cannot act, we should resign and make way for someone who can stand up.
In this context, I feel compelled to recount a conversation I had with a not-so-honourable occupant of yet another high, honourable, constitutional position in India, on October 16, 1996. He, along with many other ‘honourables’, appalled at the rate at which we were demolishing illegal buildings in Delhi to restore public land for public purposes, and after holding out several threats to me and my family, and after physically trying to harm us, finally said: "Why don’t you select a different, smaller target and forget about this?". To which I replied, precisely what I have argued above: "I hold a trust called the IAS- If I do not have the courage to take on the biggest offender first, I should resign from the service and make way for someone else who can."
The British ruled India with just two or three provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, namely Section 133 (public nuisance), Section 144 (Unlawful assembly) and a few others. Today, with many more powerful laws in the arsenal of the modern administrator, he is often unable to control even petty law and order issues, what to speak of controlling habitual criminals like Shahabuddin. What an inescapable irony of history: too many laws, yet too little justice; too much of government, but too little governance.
All right thinking IAS officers must form a collective action group to support those who silently toil and uphold the law. The time has come to realise that the myriad conduct rules cannot be for good officers in the IAS alone, while others who devour the fence from within -- and the political executive -- have none whatsoever. This asymmetry must end. As also must end the legacy of administrative impotence which has slowly crept into the system in Bihar (and in different degrees, elsewhere), often under the guise of ‘remaining balanced’, or for ‘not acting in haste’ or something else equally laudable. All these are indeed extremely important and worthwhile canons of administration, if we have a strong state, functioning in normal circumstances; not after we ourselves reduce the state to spectacular impotence, through decades of masterly inactivity and cowardice, as has happened in Bihar.
Unless the like-minded in the IAS support the countless faceless yet courageous officers like Anil-Ratn, who to a lesser or greater degree, are doing a phenomenal, yet unsung job, of upholding the law, every single day, the service would continue to lose professionalism, whatever execution capabilities it has at present and public respect, at an even greater pace than what is happening today. And we will get blamed for anything and everything from the Latur earthquake to the Asian tsunami!
I appeal to the Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, to personally intervene to ensure Anil-Ratn’s security -- to withdraw Shahabuddin’s Z-security and accord it to Anil-Ratn instead. The PM should act, and not allow Shahabuddin to do so. A public acknowledgement that officers like them in the service are examples of how good officers should be, and that they are indeed coveted. This one act would be applauded much more than one thousand words on administrative reforms. If this PM, of unimpeachable integrity, doesn’t act now to protect officers who stand up for the public good, no one else perhaps ever will.
What is paramount to appreciate is that while Anil and Ratn are exceptional, they are not exceptions. There are many officers in the service, who if given a similar opportunity, will do exactly the same. I for one would happily give up my current position at a premier international financial institution (IFI) and go to an equally challenging district in Bihar if I am ordered to do so by the government and given a similar mandate. I am fully aware that I am just a very small cog in the proverbial wheel of government, yet if it helps, I am offering to do so now - which would be my modest contribution to strengthen the best career in the world, the IAS, in my own small way.
And I am not alone. There are many more like me in the IAS and IPS who would readily do so. Sadly, public perception is not this. Public perception needs to be changed and directed to the fact that India possesses one of the most brilliant higher civil service in the world, which sits on top of one of the most appalling lower civil services, thereby often becoming the object of public opprobrium. Having had the benefit of seeing the IAS, the multilateral world and the private sector from very close quarters, I can aver with confidence that the canvas, the diversity of work, the opportunity for having impact on the lives of the common people, civil service outclasses all others.
Individuals will come and go. But institutions have to go on forever if we, India’s gen-next, aspire to build anything close to a modern, prosperous country. The time has now come for individuals to (re)create institutions, so that, someday institutions can create individuals. To stop being a nation of hand-wringers, when it comes to standing up and acting for the common weal. And to realise that we cannot save the country on a part-time basis.
Srivatsa Krishna is an IAS officer.These are strictly his personal views and not those of any institution he is associated with, in any way. But he fervently hopes these are also the views of India, and of every right thinking Indian.