Signs of the times: Why don’t our civil servants have the courage to speak out?

The reality is that in today’s lopsided model of governance, the civil servant is reduced to serving only the political rulers and not the ordinary folk who are kept at a distance

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Humra Quraishi

Why is it that civil servants do not carry the grit to resign, if not revolt against the political rulers? There would be only a handful of civil servants who have gathered adequate courage to dare question or rebel or resign!

Perhaps, the very first bureaucrat who was hounded by the then establishment was Chaturvedi Badrinath of the Tamil Nadu cadre. This was in the early 70’s when a controversy erupted in the backdrop of his comment on Indian history being caught up in a ‘Time Capsule’. Chaturvedi raised several pertinent queries in his lecture at Presidency College, Madras in 1973. It led to furore in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Needless to add, the bureaucrat’s career was affected. But not his morale and confidence. During several interviews with me, he had detailed that even after he was suspended and questioned, he remained firm on his stand. opting for premature retirement, after which he took to writing on ‘Dharma’.

And after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, few civil servants of the Gujarat cadre had taken on the establishment of the day. One of the first whistle blower cops of the Gujarat cadre, RB Sreekumar, has written volume after volume, exposing the then Modi-led government’s role in the massacre in Gujarat. Around the same time, another civil servant, Harsh Mander, resigned to work for the thousands affected by the riots. Mander has also been writing…one volume after another, focusing on the ground realities and communal unrest that we Indians have been witnessing over these years.

Mind you, these are exceptions. The political system has been so well twisted in these recent years that civil servants are not really allowed to speak out or even make their views public. Stifled and suffocated they should feel, as the rulers of the day cannot tolerate hearing dissenting voices. The civil servants have to keep their mouths shut. Nah, nothing to be uttered or written that would dent the image of this government!

Even the political preferences of the civil servants have to be kept away from the public domain. In 2016, didn’t we witness the plight of the Madhya Pradesh bureaucrat Ajay Singh Gangwar who was handed his transfer orders after he praised former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on Facebook? Gangwar, then Collector of Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh, had to even delete one of his posts which appeared to be indirectly critical of the BJP.

And in 2018, Bareilly District Magistrate Raghvendra Vikram Singh was charged with violating service rules after he put up Facebook posts that appeared to blame right-wing brigades for provoking communal clashes in certain districts of Uttar Pradesh.

Soon after communal rioting broke out in Kasganj, Singh wrote on Facebook – “Ajab riwaz ban gaya hai. Muslim mohallo main julus le jao aur Pakistan murdabad ke nare lagao. Kyun bhai woh Pakistani hain kya? (A strange pattern has emerged: Visit Muslim areas and raise slogans against Pakistan. Why, are they (Muslims) Pakistanis)?" In fact, earlier too, Singh had written a similar post, where he had mentioned a group of kanwariyas going through a Muslim-dominated village in Khelam area of Bareilly and raising provocative slogans. Later, he was made to remove his Facebook post.

Around the time of rioting in Kasganj, at least two senior officers posted in Kasganj were heard on television screens, saying that just as young boys of the Muslim-dominated locality of Kasganj were readying to unfurl the National Flag, men on bikes - allegedly affiliated to the VHP and other Hindutva brigades - not just disrupted the about-to-begin flag hoisting function but raised provocative slogans.

In fact, the Yogi Adityanath government had transferred district police chief Sunil Kumar Singh after communal rioting in Kasganj because he had also bared another of those dark truths behind the communal madness! I am not too sure what punishment was meted to the then district magistrate of Kasganj as he too had been honest about the ground realities prevailing in today's Uttar Pradesh. I quote him: "Fringe groups coming up in every part of the state, taking the same ugly route to instigate people of the minority community by forcefully entering their locality in the name of nationalism.”

And, Shah Faesal’s resignation last week shouldn’t have come as a jolt for the political rulers, because they had been critical of the former bureaucrat of J&K cadre from last summer. Recall the way the establishment had reacted to Shah Faesal’s tweet on the rapes taking place in the country: Patriarchy+Population+Illiteracy+Alcohol+Porn+Technology+Anarchy = Rapistan ! The Centre had not just fumed but had ordered action against this topper bureaucrat of the 2010 batch. Tell me, what was objectionable in his tweet! Perhaps, he should have added a couple of additional words - Lynchistan or Jungle Raj or Murderous Rulers - to relay the realities of the day.

The reality is this: in today’s lopsided model of governance, the civil servant is reduced to serving only the political rulers and not the ordinary folk who are kept at a distance.

And if a civil servant dares to talk aloud or write candidly, he is singled out, suspended, if not mauled in more severe ways. Ever wondered why civil servants pick up adequate courage to write their memoirs only after they retire? In fact, even then, how many do write them? After all, through their training and service years, the very tendency has been to refrain from offloading; remaining confined within the safe zone where there is little fear of getting hounded by the political bosses.

Hopefully, the civil servants of the county will muster courage to think differently. Maybe these lines of Faiz Ahmed Faiz can inspire them to speak out. For themselves and also for us, the masses, that they, as civil servants, are supposed to reach out to.

“Speak Up!

Speak up,for your lips are not sealed

and your words are still your own.

This upright body is yours.

Speak, while your soul is still your own

Look there,in that smithy,

its red oven, fierce flames,

the padlocks are already opening their mouths

and each fetter is skirting around.

Speak up now,for time’s running out,

Before your body and mind fade away,

tell us ,for truth is not yet dead.

Speak

Whatever you have to say!”

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