IAS Officers’ Toolkit to Tackle Political Pressure

The 12-course gourmet recipe that has been a closely-held secret among the “Babus”

North Block, New Delhi — the Mecca of all IAS and IPS Officers. (Photo clicked by me)

A couple of years ago, I had penned down a small article highlighting the political inference in the IAS[i]. It was captioned “Has the Professional Integrity of the IAS been Systematically Eroded?” It was inspired by the #MeToo movement, which was then at its peak. We, however, know that political pressures are a fact of life and every public servant, in particular, a member of an All-India Service, is subjected to it in one form or another. You can neither totally eliminate it nor insulate yourself from it fully.

Thus the IAS officers and other senior officers from the other services have, over decades, devised their own little “toolkit” to manage, contain or deflect political pressure. The list is derived from my interaction with various officers in my almost 37 years of career in the IAS and I must admit that the junior officers of the Service seem to be more comfortable and more adept in grappling with the situation.

The list is by no means exhaustive and I shall be looking forward to additions to this toolkit from my readers and well-wishers.

1. Don’t pick up your mobile phone the first instance — return the call after 15 minutes. By the time, the “sifarishi” may have left the VIP. The VIP also gets a sense of importance in that his call was returned.

2. Never take down written notes on verbal instructions/ or particulars — request the VIP to ask the person concerned to submit a written representation to you personally. In sensitive matters, where no written representations can be submitted, please ask for the precise particulars to be texted or WhatsApped. I have seen many VVIPs subsequently blowing a fuse saying: “You had yourself noted down the particulars. Now you are asking me what the case was!”

3. Never say “no” or “yes”, immediately or impulsively. Just say, “Sir, I will do my best to help.” That “best” may be a big fat zero. A categorical “yes” binds you down — a flat “no” is very likely to offend the VIP.

4. Where the recommendation seeks to displace another person or goes counter to the interest of another party, alert them in a very subtle manner. They should fight their own battle, rather than you.

5. If the VIP wants a particular person to see you personally, never give a specific time. Just say he is free to drop in to your office at any time on any working day — “He should just send a slip with your reference, sir.”

6. If the instructions, in the event of being implemented, could lead to a major scam, you may like to leak it to a friendly journalist after a delay of few days, depending on the sensitivity of the situation. Doing it immediately will invariably point the needle of suspicion towards you.

7. If even a seemingly simple, straightforward case is being pressed too hard by the higher-ups, be extra careful. Look at the file minutely — there may be a hidden controversy, if not a scam.

8. If at all you’re able to accomplish a task at the instance of a super VVIP, be sure that you are the first one to break the good news to him/her. Don’t wait till the final orders are issued — pick up the phone and break the favourable news immediately as you sign the file. The formal order can be conveyed to him subsequently.

9. As far as possible, never be courier of bad/ negative news. If something cannot be done, you should not become the bad guy breaking the news to the VIP.

10. If a recommendation is essentially faulty, don’t point out the shortcomings in the first go. Rather, let it be known that the recommendations and comments of other Departments and agencies are required, after which the matter shall be approved expeditiously. This shifts the onus on to others.

11. If it lies essentially within your authority to approve or reject a project, or any other matter, and you find it undoable, you can tackle it in two ways:

Come up with objections, one by one, and tire out the “sifarishi”. Or, you can riddle the project with a fusillade of bullets in one go, so that it gets killed at the initial stage itself. Where to use what strategy would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case — it is more of an art than science.

12. Where the VVIP would not take a no for an answer, you can lob it to a higher level, including the Council of Ministers, in important and sensitive cases. The best, however, is to linger on the matter till you are transferred out, whether prematurely or in normal course of business.

This toolkit is no secret but I doubt whether it has been put into the public domain so succinctly and transparently. It may be of some use to the officers, the public and, above all, the VVIPs. Read it now; thank me later.

K.B.S. Sidhu. The author is an IAS officer of 1984 batch of Punjab cadre. The views expressed are his own.

He can be reached on kbs.sidhu@gmail.com or @kbssidhu1961 or https://www.facebook.com/kbs.sidhu

[i] https://medium.com/@kbssidhu1961/political-interference-and-the-ias-12ab6b37fce2

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