Babus, ‘cool off’ before entering fray

Babus, ‘cool off’ before entering fray

When India attained independence from the British in 1947, it also inherited a civil service that was under an obligation to be non-political, neutral, impartial and committed to the faithful implementation of government policies.

Neutrality in Indian civil services means that the civil servants should execute duties in accordance with laws and regulations without prejudice against or preferential treatment towards any groups or individuals. They should execute policy decisions loyally and zealously, irrespective of the philosophy and programmes of the party in power and regardless of their personal opinions and stand as a backbone of the executive.

Every five years, during the time of the Lok Sabha or state Assembly elections, the ‘privileged’ and ‘powerful’ class civil servants appear on the poll scene. Some retired and a few serving also wish to don the political hat after retirement to ‘serve’ the nation. Election time is when many civil servants make a career change and enter politics.

The conduct rules debar a civil servant from employment in any private organisation, with a two-year mandatory cooling off period. This was ostensibly to preclude them from doing favours while in service for the benefit of re-employment. No such rule exists for joining politics, but that is because when these rules were formulated, it was beyond anyone’s imagination that civil servants would join politics.

The Election Commission, in national interest, had recommended the government in 2012 to amend the service rules and set a cooling off period before civil servants can join a political party and contest polls. This was with an object to prevent those with political ambition from favouring a particular party in their final years of service. But the Department of Personnel and Training was of the view that debarring ex-bureaucrats from joining electoral politics immediately upon exit from service may violate the right to equality, enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.

Hence, in 2013, the government turned down the recommendation of the Election Commission. However, the ECI has lobbed the ball back into the government’s court, reiterating its proposal on grounds of “national interest”.

But there should definitely be a mandatory provision that prohibits a civil servant from joining a political party and contesting elections immediately after retirement and before the two-year cooling off period for the following reasons:

• If a civil servant joins politics immediately after retirement, his work as a public servant will be questioned and he will be labelled as a sycophant.

• The subordinates working under such civil servants feel morally let down. Rather than working towards improving their own organisation, they begin to think that it’s fine to hobnob with politicians to seek the patronage of some political party. 

• While in service, the civil servants get information about internal matters of different political parties. It is very likely that after joining a party, they may use that information for political agendas. This will be a gross disrespect to one’s duty and could further strain the already poor relations between the politicians and bureaucrats. 

• If a civil servant joins a political party, it is quite possible that he had prior ambitions for the same while he was in the services and manipulated his work according to the party’s requirements. Quid pro quo, the party was liberal with him and promoted him, leaving out other deserving candidates.

Securing their tomorrow

Retired bureaucrats who try their chance with electoral politics are perhaps seeking to extend their usefulness to society in another way and we should be happy for the few who choose to do it. But, it is the serving bureaucrat, currying favour and courting public recognition, who is a cause for worry. They are usually a bunch of panderers, who will give our today for their tomorrow. Such persons permeate our system and have little reason to seek to change the system that gave them a second life.

However, if an officer wishes to join a party and contest elections solely to serve the public, then such a decision, considering the fact that he has the requisite expertise, would only benefit the public. But in most cases, it is very difficult to ascertain the real reasons why a civil servant joins a political party.

Hobnobbing with politicians was considered a cardinal sin at one point, but it has become almost a norm today to show the networking one is capable of. This tendency must be put an end to, and a two-year year restriction from the date of retirement helps strike a balanced approach. Otherwise, the very idea of a neutral bureaucracy gets undermined.

Therefore, our legislature should perceive the ill-effects this phenomenon has on the institution of parliamentary democracy and formulate an ethical code, to make it mandatory for civil servants to have a “cooling off” period before entering elective politics.

(The writer is Former Deputy Director of Boilers, Government of Karnataka)

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