Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, in his autobiography , “What of New Delhi today with its Viceregal pomp and pageantry , and the provincial Governors with all their ostentation? And all this with a background of abject and astonishing poverty .“ He devoted one full chapter to describing the abominable role played by the babus. Countering the accolades showered on ICS for its so called ability and efficiency he wrote, “If the test is the wellbeing of the Indian masses, they have signally failed, and their failure becomes even more noticeable when one sees the enormous distance that separates them in regard to income and standards of living from the masses they are meant to serve, and from whom ultimately their varied emoluments come.“
However, Nehru could not bring about any major reforms in the bureaucracy during his 17 years long prime ministerial tenure. In fact, in an interview to a foreign correspondent shortly before his death, on being asked what was the one remorse he had, he said that he failed to reform the bureaucracy . Decades later his grandson Rajiv Gandhi had this to say as prime minister: “We have government servants who do not serve but oppress the poor and the helpless, who do not uphold the law but connive with those who cheat the state and whole legions whose only concern is their private welfare at the cost of society.“
IAS, the new avatar of ICS, continues to wield autocratic power. In popular parlance, it is expanded as “I Am Supreme“.The original sin was committed by the educated Indian elites who wanted a share in it and succeeded, as Indians were allowed to take the entrance exam and join ICS. Thus, Satyendranath Tagore became the first Indian ICS officer. The colonial structure of bureaucracy was inherited after Independence in totality .
The tragic circumstances under which India was ushered into freedom became a boon for them. The country was beset with unprecedented challenges.Communal violence gnawed at the body politic and the integration of over 560 princely states was a daunting task with states threatening to secede.India had to brave it out, and Sardar Patel emerged as the champion of bureaucrats, calling them the steel frame.
However, the babus did not live up to the Sardar's hopes.This steel frame has been rusted and it is high time government infused fresh blood by lateral entry into the bureaucracy at the highest levels. It won't be easy .IAS will ensure that new entrants fail miserably , but government must pick up the gauntlet. The ideal solution may be to disband all cadres and think of some innovative alternatives.
Cadres are castes in a new garb and cadreism in government offices is more rabid than casteism in society . Bureaucrats are status quoists and elitists, wholly unsuited for the service of the masses.
The writer is an author and columnist