The Indian bureaucracy is the true inheritor of the British imperial legacy and still thrives on the five Ps—Perks, Preservation, Process, Protocol and Procrastination.
From the ramparts of Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15 this year talked about “Paanch Prans” (five pledges) to fulfill all the aspirations of the freedom fighters by the year 2047—when India celebrates its 100th year of independence. The second pledge was that “no part of our existence, not even in the deepest corners of our mind or habits should there be any ounce of slavery. It should be nipped in the bud.” The PM said that these hundreds of years of slavery have bound us and that Indian people should liberate themselves from this slavery mindset.
Post speech, the statue of freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was installed at the site where the statue of British Emperor George V existed once upon a time at India Gate. The Rajpath or Kingsway was renamed as Kartavya (responsibility) Path with all the modern facilities. The decolonization of the Indian mindset is being hotly pursued by the Modi government with British India’s Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Indian Penal Code (IPC) soon to be replaced by new laws where murder and rape will be a much more heinous charges than sedition or unlawful assembly of people. The new laws will be more in tune with times and not be relics of the occupying British Raj.
However, the second pledge will be truly completed if PM Modi is able to dismantle the decaying bureaucratic architecture put in place by the British Raj. The All-India Civil Services, a successor to the Imperial Civil Service and Imperial Police, currently thrive on the five Ps—Perks, Preservation, Process, Protocol and Procrastination. They are the true inheritors of Raj with sprawling British-era bungalows in prime locations along with chauffeur-driven staff cars and a retinue of servants. The fact is that PM Modi had to suffer the arrogance of some of these bureaucrats when he took over the reins of power in 2014 with one nearly castigating him for cancelling a foreign trip to a close ally country in the east due to a lack of substance in the visit and another telling him that a certain policy of his was not politically suitable. To the latter, the PM tersely asked the officer to leave politics to him and concentrate on public policy objectives.
A true legatee of the British past, the Indian bureaucracy along with an equally moribund military bureaucracy is more driven by process and less by result-oriented objectives. Despite all the effort made, the bureaucratic red tape is thriving within the system because of which the Indian industrialist rather do trading than setting up a manufacturing unit and face the wrath of the common constable to the commissioner.
A serious fall-out of this is the growing trade deficit with China and increasing dependence on the same Beijing, which does not think twice before changing the ground situation on the border with India. The self-preservation instinct of the Indian bureaucracy is such that they rather not act than to be punished for taking an initiative that may go wrong. After all, the Indian bureaucrat is there in power for at least 30 years while the Indian politician is tested every five years at the Centre and faces the electorate virtually every month in elections from Panchayat to State Assembly.
Like his British forefathers, the Indian mandarin is so conscious of his position and protocol that a senior officer will send his junior to a meeting hosted by another senior officer howsoever serious the matter unless the meeting is chaired by the Minister. The same is reflected in the military bureaucracy where the Army Chief will send his deputy to attend the meeting of the most important China Study Group unless the meeting is chaired by the Defence Minister or the External Affairs Minister. Even the protocol of answering phones must comply with the seniority of the officer on the other end and the junior officer coming online first. Senior service followed by senior batch rule the day of bureaucracy.
The slow decision-making in government has been refined by bureaucrats into an art with the green note sheet on the file recording comments from all and sundry with each trying to protect his or her own turf. Despite all his 100 per cent commitment and hard work, PM Modi often finds himself wringing his hands in frustration due to bureaucratic delays and the exercise of Babu of taking a long way home. Seventy-five years after independence, there are still projects that are facing huge cost overruns due to slow decision-making of the bureaucracy particularly in states. This is actually a standard operating procedure in military hardware acquisition where decision hangs fire for decades.
As PM Modi enters the 72nd year of his illustrious life, he needs to revamp the entire bureaucracy and trash the archaic examination system and training syllabuses which are totally out of sync with the times and growing India. There should be one civil service rather than a plethora with officers working towards one growth objective than be divided into silos of IAS, IFS or IPS or any allied service. The marks scored in one exam at the entry point should not define the entire career path of the bureaucrat but be subject to constant periodic evaluation so that only the cream in integrity and honesty reaches the top for the best jobs. Reform in bureaucracy is a must otherwise PM’s vision of “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” will remain only on the green note sheets of government files. The yoke of imperial bureaucratic slavery must be thrown away or else the Raj has won.