Old Babudom mantra: As were political bosses, so were civil servants

    03-Jun-2021   
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New Delhi: Move over Alapan Bandyopadhyay episode. In Punjab of mid-nineties, the story was almost similar to the 'Pishi-Bhaipo menace' of West Bengal.
 
Soon after Harcharan Singh Brar had taken over as the Punjab CM after the assassination of Beant Singh, an extra-constitutional power centre allegedly developed around his wife, daughter and son.
 
In 1996 when O P Sharma, senior Punjab cadre IPS officer, was appointed as Nagaland Governor by the H D Deve Gowda government, from Chandigarh to New Delhi and from Delhi to northeast, there was a big debate about how Congress chief Minister Brar had made life 'miserable' for Sharma.
 
Brar declined to make Sharma, a compatriot of KPS Gill in fight against militancy, the DGP; and instead rewarded his handpicked man and pliable Sube Singh.
 
Such things had happened with civil servants and top police officials in several states across India.
 
Soon after Brar was replaced by his party colleague Rajinder Kaur Bhattal in November 1996, a major bureaucratic reshuffle was ordered and at least 40 of them 'close to Brar' were moved out in different places. Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, the civil servants were at awe about seasoned Congress leader Arjun Singh.
 
Those days, Madhya Pradesh was a large state (with Chhattisgarh region still under it) and was notoriously one of the BIMARU (ill-governed) states. Senior civil servants in the central Indian state would certainly give credit (or discredit) to Arjun Singh for successfully taming the babus. The Madhya Pradesh babudom – needless to mention – had earned the negative tag for corruption, complacency and cynicism.
 
Arjun Singh’s illustrious ‘successor’ Digvijaya Singh as CM also developed an image of an officers-friendly political boss. One Rajgopal Naidu, who was under investigation by the Lokayukta, was ‘rewarded’ with a posting as Bastar collector ostensibly because of his proximity to Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh. It is worth mentioning while Bastar was a punishment posting even till late 1980s, but by the nineties the image transformed as huge central funding had made Bastar a lucrative position for the babus.
 
In fact, during Digvijaya Singh's tenure, one senior official Vijay Singh (Principal Secretary, Home) later opted out of the office and quit as he found ‘political meddling’ a difficult thing to handle. In Kerala, the equation between bureaucracy and LDF governments has been mostly an uneasy one. But Congress veteran K Karunakaran had his strong likes and dislikes.
 
IAS officer Ramachandran Nair was taken back to the parent cadre state from the Union Finance Ministry, but Karunakara was not fond of him. And as the Chief Minister, Karunakaran had blocked Nair’s elevation as the Chief Secretary for two years.
  
But in some states, babus have been upright and also resisted political pressures.
 
In such cases, the guiding theme being : “Show me the political boss, and I will show you the rule”.
 
From Mamata Banerjee-ruled West Bengal, here is another instance. The state Chief Minister grew suspicious of 'even training programmes' of young IAS officers. The Bengal cadre officials of 2013 batch on return to the state were 'kept awaiting' for six-nine months when the regular posting of eight of them were delayed. Mamata was suspicious that 'brainwashed' by Delhi's training programme, these officials could be used against Trinamool in the 2016 assembly polls.
 
Again in Madhya Pradesh in 2020, state health commissioner, Prateek Hajela, often made news. Curiously, one reason was that he is an Assam cadre IAS official who was involved in the controversial National Register of Citizens.
 
In December 2018, Congress chief minister Kamal Nath ordered the transfer of 48 senior officials and the explanation was that such a 'surgery' was necessary to gear up the Congress party for Lok Sabha elections of 2019.