Who created the myth of the “Big Bad Wolf”?
7 Lessons that senior IAS officers need to unlearn
IAS officers of 1981–1985 batches, with a seniority of 30–37 years, are now holding senior-most positions in the States as well as in the Centre. These officers were recruited in the first half of the 1980s decade and spent the first two years of their service under training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie (LBSNAA) and in their respective state cadres. Remember, those were the years when Mrs Indira Gandhi was at the helm of affairs and the civil service was just beginning to extricate itself from the theory of a “committed bureaucracy” that Mrs Gandhi had propounded during the Emergency.
The training at the National Academy, wittingly or unwittingly, characterized the politician as the quintessential “Big Bad Wolf”, typified by the articles of M. N. Buch, a 1957 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, who sought voluntary retirement in 1984 on a “matter of principle” to set up an NGO. The role of the IAS officer, it was drilled into the young probationers, was supposed to be that of a gallant knight on a white steed, on a mission or crusade to rescue the fair princess (the people at large) from the clutches of the big bad dragon/ wolf (read the politician), who was implicitly portrayed as unscrupulous, immoral and corrupt. Movies like the acclaimed Tamil film “Thanneer! Thanneer!!” (Water! Water!!) were screened in the Sardar Patel Auditorium at Mussoorie, depicting, as in this case, a corrupt local politician thwarting the efforts of villagers to organize a grass-roots cooperative to bring drinking water to their draught-hit, water-scarce village, while the Collector stood almost helplessly by.
These impressions were further reinforced in the State Institutes as well in the District Field Training Modules, culminating in the 2-month Phase II at LBSNAA. Resultantly, when these young officers, imbued with passion, energy and idealism, landed up in their respective sub-divisions as Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDMs) after two years, their impressionable minds had almost certainly been programmed to keep the politicians at bay and thwart their “nefarious designs”. As IAS officers progressed in their respective careers and seniority, these impressions would, of course, get modified in accordance with their respective experiences and value-system but the lessons ingrained during the early part of their innings continued to last for long. Some IAS officers are living with this perspective even today, almost as if it had been hard-wired into their psyche. What are these prejudices, biases or, shall we say, axioms?
1. All Politicians are bad
This is a default setting. All politicians, whether MLAs, Ministers or Sarpanches or Municipal Councillors are labeled as “bad”. They are there to loot the system and harass the people. The IAS is supposed to resist them, without starting an open war, and keep them at bay.
2. All Politics is Bad
Every view or opinion of the MLA or the Minister is based on “political considerations” and politics, by definition, is bad. Some of these IAS officers do not still understand that politics is a subtle art of resolving conflicting demands and effecting a compromise in face of competing demands over limited resources. Long before Zila Parishads assumed an elected democratic form as a result of 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1992, the District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs) headed by the District Collector, were seen as the best instruments/ vehicles for Rural Development, being non-political in character.
3. Politics is Business
That everyone in politics is there to make money and thus politics is just another form of business. The slush money generated by politics is channelized into ostensibly legal businesses, just as a form of money-laundering. Decades later, the paradigm may have shifted in the sense that legitimate businessmen have jumped into politics, partly on account of the spirit of public service but also because political power gives them a clout to defend/ safeguard their business interests from the tyranny of the “Inspector Raj” and other forms of harassment at the hands of an oppressive governmental machinery.
4. Politician is Irrational
IAS officer assumes that all recommendations of the politician, whether in form of developmental works or for selection of beneficiaries (clients/ customers) for the governmental doles are not based on any rational, technocratic criteria but merely an irrational and random/ capricious selection based on the political affiliation or his own whims and fancies. That a subtle political process may have gone into this decision in the background rarely enters the mind of the IAS officer.
5. Collector is the Government
Collector/ Deputy Commissioner/ District Magistrate, by whatever name called, as the “Mai Baap”. This is a myth that is still widely prevalent, not only among IAS officers of seniority from zero to 38 years but also among the politicians and people at large. It is felt that his word is law and that in “public interest” he can take any decision whatsoever, covering not only to the matters within the jurisdiction of the State Government but also within the purview of the Central Government. That he is, at best, the first “public servant” of the district, wedded to the Constitution and the law of the land, is something that rarely crosses anyone’s mind even today.
6. Secretary to the Government is not Secretary to the Minister
Articles like of those of M. N. Buch clearly argued that this relation is not one of Master-Slave or even subordination but more of co-equals working in respective, well-defined and well-demarcated realms in Public Administration. The job of the IAS officer is to prevent any illegality and also uphold public interest, of which he alone (i.e. the IAS) is the sole and best judge or arbiter.
7. Democracy is bad for decisions; it attenuates speed and quality
Democratic process is inherently consultative since the felt needs and aspirations of the people have to be filtered in. The “young and dynamic” officers saw this as a major speed-breaker and some of them still maintain that best governance comes under President’s Rule. Punjab, which saw longish spells of the President’s Rule (1983–1985) and then from 1987–1992, is an example where a non-representative, non-democratic and non-accountable system lead to the perpetuation of the disturbed conditions in the State, notwithstanding the fact that a lot of autonomy was given to the IAS and the IPS during this period. Those who have worked in the Union Territories will understand that the rule by bureaucracy can easily degenerate into tyranny, with no safety-values or methods of redressal against prejudiced bureaucrats.
Democracy and politics are inextricably intertwined. In fact, consultation of all stakeholders is an integral part of any participatory process. Free and fair elections are a necessary but not a sufficient part of an efficient democracy. In our Constitution, “We, the people”, are the sovereign and thus supreme. People govern themselves through their elected representatives, whether MPs or MLAs, who respectively become Ministers at the Centre and in the States. The will of the people is also reflected through the elected members and office-bearers of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). No doubt, the All-India Services are mandated under Article 310 of the Constitution and civil services, in general, also enjoy constitutional protection under Article 311 against whimsical dismissal etc. However, the fact remains that, subject to the Constitutional provisions and the law, the Council of Ministers is the real master. This manifest reality can be appreciated by the IAS officers only if they unlearn the lessons that have been instilled into their heads from the very day of their induction. But will they? My take is that many of the senior officers do not come to terms with this constitutional and de facto reality throughout their service, thus leading them to be demotivated, cynical and disenchanted. Whether the youngsters are now getting to learn the right lessons and training? I frankly do not know; only time will tell.
K.B.S. Sidhu. The author is an IAS officer of 1984 batch of Punjab cadre. The views expressed are his own.
 M.N.Buch, “Constitutional Role of the Civil Service”, Administrator, Vol.27, №2, Summer 1982, pp.191–200. Also, M. N. Buch, “Who is Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”, Administrator, Vol.28, №1, January-March, 1983, pp. 41–47.