Art of being civil

Art of being civil

Bureaucrazy gets crazier: IAS unmasked

M K Kaw
2012, pp 196

In the age of mega scams, the role of bureaucracy in governance has come under closer public scrutiny. Questions are being asked about how the charmed circles of individuals who call the shots from behind the scenes have let us down by colluding with venal political masters. It is astonishing how many bright young men and women who enter the ‘heaven-born’ service with stars in their eyes end up as doormats of politicians. Gone are the days of neutral civil service. It is no more a cohesive monolith but divided on the basis of sectarian affiliation. The present-day IAS officer doesn’t hesitate to be identified with a politician or a political party.

Bureaucrazy Gets Crazier gives an inside view of what ails the premier service. The book is an updated sequel of Bureaucrazy published two decades ago. With perceptive insight, retired IAS officer M K Kaw lays bare the unsavoury goings on in the privileged service. In this irreverent expose, Kaw minces no words while caricaturing many we encounter in corridors of power with devastating effect. He finds that not much of the steel in the famed ‘steel frame’ is left; only wax remains. This is how he describes an ideal bureaucrat: “soft as butter, yielding as wax, pliant, flexible, sensitive to the compulsions of his political master.” They thrive even after retirement by becoming governors or ambassadors or the chairmen of some commission. They can be trusted to do what they are told without asking any inconvenient questions.

Iago’s contention in Othello that “preferment (promotion) goes by letter and affection” aptly describes the current state of affairs characterised by favouritism. The new breed of IAS officials learn the ropes very fast, as to how to worm their way up into someone’s favour. Many work with single-minded devotion to wangle some lucrative UN posting. Kaw debunks the public perception that in the IAS the ablest get the best jobs. This is his finding: “The fortunate ones are born to influential fathers. A scant few choose their fathers-in-law wisely. For the rest of us, pygmy mortals, the only course left is a godfather.” After choosing a godfather, one would “stick like a leech’’ to him. Flattery becomes a powerful weapon. The boss can never go wrong. He also knows the boss’s weaknesses.

Kaw has found that none can beat an IAS officer in the art of passing the buck. He points out: “The primary premise is to keep in mind that a decision taken is a risk undertaken. Someday, at some stage, somehow, that decision may prove to be wrong. Therefore, if decision avoidance is difficult, one should at least attempt responsibility evasion…take a decision in a way it can never be traced to you — appoint a committee!” Some are in the habit of quietly disappearing when faced with law and order problems. None wants to stick his neck out. Since ministers who read files are a rarity, they are at the mercy of the mandarins. MPs, MLAs and ministers make the policy and IAS officers are supposed to get it implemented. But Kaw says the actual practice is different. When draft policy documents are presented to a minister, he yawns and says: “Arre bhai, you make any import policy you wish to. I only want that Messrs X, Y and Z should get import

He derides the fellow officers’ obsession with power and the tricks employed to cling on to the seat of power. Kaw concedes that no officer can survive if he doesn’t have an ear to the ground. Corruption that ranges from Diwali gifts to kickbacks in Swiss bank accounts no more raises eyebrows. Kaw says: “Our entire mindset is governed by the considerations of illegal or supplementary income.”

Kaw’s subtle humour, embellished by lucid style with pithy expressions and delightful anecdotes, makes the book an excellent read. While lampooning fellow officers, he doesn’t spare even himself.