All India Services: A Corroded 'Steel Frame'

The new cadre of a supposedly apolitical All India Services is today being indoctrinated to become foot soldiers of the BJP

PM Narendra Modi during a visit to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie, where IAS officers undergo training. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
PM Narendra Modi during a visit to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie, where IAS officers undergo training. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Avay Shukla

I was privy last week to an extended WhatsApp chat between a serving senior IAS officer (let’s call him K) and a venerable retired colleague about the extra-legal execution of the gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed. K, who otherwise plays the victim card more often than the Prime Minister does, was vehement in his support of the lynching, maintaining that when the system fails, people are justified in taking the law into their own hands. His unequivocal view is that since the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) and IPS (Indian Police Service) have failed, it is "only Yogi’s gang and their guns" that can ensure security for the common man.

These are the views of an officer whose job it is to uphold the law and who has sworn an oath to protect the Constitution. Today he is advocating cold-blooded murder, and no amount of reasoning by a retired veteran would make him change his mind. In fact, he flaunted his opinion by putting it up on a WhatsApp group and then defending it abrasively.

The second disconcerting example is provided by a recent article by another senior serving IAS officer, this time the director of the premier Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, the alma mater of All India Service officers.

This gentleman (who predictably belongs to the Gujarat cadre of the IAS) offers the view that the IAS did not have a national ethos (whatever that means) till 2014, that governments before Mr. Modi were unable to rid the service of its 'colonial mindset' or 'craft a civil service rooted in the national ethos', that 'this task of defining an Indian ethos for the civil service began in the 75th year of India’s independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address where he spelt out the country’s vision...'

There is much more of such sacerdotal nonsense in the article, but essentially, once we extract the meaning from this oily sludge, what this Kangana Ranaut–Amitabh Kant clone is saying is that the IAS continued to be a colonial service till 2022, its members having no connect with the people, that it was only after Mr. Modi’s arrival that it acquired relevance and a patriotic ethos.

One would have dismissed this garbage as just some more of the persiflage we read every day nowadays, except for the fact that this acolyte heads the institute that trains all our senior civil servants, drafts the syllabus for their training, imparts to them the first impressions of what their service will be like, defines the parameters of their future responsibilities and expectations. With the continued patronage of the Godfather, his capacity for undermining the original, neutral, independent, secular and apolitical nature of the All India Services is unlimited.

The danger now staring the bureaucracy in the face cannot be underestimated. It is much more foundational than merely transferring inconvenient officers and rewarding the loyal ones, which has been the template since 1950. The effort now is to indoctrinate and mould the officers right from their training days in the image of their maker so that they will become mere party apparatchiks. This, quite clearly, was the subtle hint to them from the PM himself when he exhorted them recently to keep a vigil on the spending of funds by political parties (read: Opposition parties), something which is not part of their job.

What alarms me is not just the perverted psychology and utterances of these two gentlemen. It is this: these two officers have been recruited, trained and have served in an era of relative liberal democracy, when Constitutional values were generally respected, even if not always upheld in the ideal manner. And yet, it has taken just a few years of this regime for them to have capitulated to, and embrace, the new majoritarian, intolerant and authoritarian narrative that is the lingua franca of governance today.

What hope, then, is there for those who are joining the civil services today—trained and mentored by the likes of K and this director? Will these new entrants be able to retain the vision of a Sardar Patel when he insisted on retaining the All India Services as an apolitical, federal, independent agency free to speak its mind, or will they become mere foot soldiers of a hegemonic ruling party, which has made no secret of its desire to change the Constitution to conform to its own ideology?

Will these ‘compliant managers’ (an apt term coined by M.G. Devasahayam in an article in The Wire) go on to join the Agniveers of the defence forces as the new Storm Troopers of the BJP/RSS combine?

My fear is that Patel’s vision is receding into history and may soon be redacted altogether. I interact fairly extensively with colleagues, both serving and retired, individually and through a number of WhatsApp groups; and their conduct and indifference worry me. The vast majority prefer to remain mute, content to get their pensions and salaries on time, devoting themselves to asinine forwards, as if the changes taking place around them are of no consequence.

Many more are closet bhakts, clearly sympathetic to the new narrative of a fake Amrit Kaal but lacking the courage to openly say so. But a growing number of them are vocal supporters of the brutalisation of society and government, the vigilante justice, the exclusionary intolerance, the predatory use of police and regulatory agencies to stamp out any dissent, the curbing of basic freedoms that are the norm today.

Try as I might, I can find no sensible reason to explain this deterioration in character, except to wonder whether Ambedkar was right after all in stating that democracy in India is only a top soil, a thin covering that can be easily washed away. Perhaps the monster that is gradually emerging through this top soil—a hatred for minorities and a death wish for democracy and secularism—was always latent in our character, covered by a shallow layer given us by our founding fathers but now washed away by a devil’s wind.

It’s the civil services, for all their faults and mistakes, that have held this country together for 75 years through wars, riots, droughts, famines, changes of government, disasters, endemic corruption and worse. Stumbling at times and blundering at others, they have nonetheless preserved our nation as a functioning democracy. But now these same services are unravelling through latent prejudices, short-sightedness and the sycophancy of its own members, serving and retired.

I wonder if it will help to remind them of the words of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on why he insisted on retaining the steel frame of the IAS:

"There is no alternative to this administrative system... The Union will go, you will not have a united India if you do not have a good All India Service which has the independence to speak out its mind, which has the sense of security that you will stand by your work... If you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present Constitution... Remove them and I see nothing but a picture of chaos all over the country."

Sadly, the New India has no place for a Sardar Patel, only for ‘karmayogis’ following in the footsteps of a Pied Piper. The Sardar himself has been reduced to a mute statue.

AVAY SHUKLA is a retired IAS officer

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