Conscience is the favourite opiate of retired civil servants. Once the perks of power are gone, they suddenly discover that institutions have collapsed, the Constitution has crumbled and communalism is holding an apocalyptic cookout. Life is a rat race for the average Indian apparatchik— 38 years of conspiring for plum posts, obliging greedy politicians, favouring unscrupulous corporates and, sometimes, at a price, turning a blind eye to mafias that pervade the system.
It is not every superannuated panjandrum who is blessed with a well-paid intellectual armchair at a think tank or a new incarnation in some government body. Having failed to meet their official targets as serving babus, they combat growing irrelevance and faded visibility by taking potshots at political targets.
Deprived of the glitz, glamour and galaxy of grovellers, they seize their carpe diem moment by taking up the keyboard against the government. Last week, 80-odd retired IAS officers issued an open letter demanding the head of India’s only chief minister in saffron uniform, Yogi Adityanath, for failing to “abide by the Constitution to which he has sworn his allegiance”.
Some of the signatories were of sterling reputation, having served in various capacities with grace and dignity. But some others were willing partners in the same acts of omission and commission they accuse Yogi of. When hypocrisy colours virtue, it stains the entire laundry. Their cause is just. Their political preferences and rivalry aren’t. These bilious babus are cantankerously combative in their cocoons of conscience, ensconced in the salubrious environs of India International Centre with coffee and cupcakes, until public opportunities arise to rejuvenate their self-relevance.
The anti-Yogi epistolers were justifiably enraged by a police officer’s brutal murder in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh by a lumpen crowd just as other law-abiding citizens are at the breakdown of law and order in UP. The missive read, “As a group we have no affiliations with any political party, nor do we subscribe to any ideology other than the values enshrined in the Constitution.”
And as individuals, do they? Ex-administrators invoking politics over an issue under investigation while the real culprits are at large smacks of speciousness. Inexplicably, they named the Hindutva brigade as the responsible party and snarkily commented that, “for the Sangh Parivar, constitutional morality is of no value and is necessarily subordinate to the ideals of majoritarian supremacy.”
Yet, they swear they have no ideological affiliations. Juxtapose current concerns and past track record for a messy missive mosaic:
• Charge: “Our colleagues in service, in the police and the civil administration, appear, with honourable exceptions, to have capitulated readily to this perverted political order. They seem to have forgotten that their primary allegiance is to the Constitution and the rule of law…..”
• Reality: The Emergency was imposed and implemented by their peer group in 1975. The Constitution was crippled and the opposition was jailed on orders signed by the same IAS types and implemented by IPS officers. Some retired captives of their own ambition dismissed elected governments from their Raj Bhavan perches while others made life miserable for chief ministers opposed to the party ruling at the Centre.
• Charge: “Never before in recent history has the politics of hate, division and exclusion been so dominant and the poisonous ideology which informs it penetrated so deep into the body politic. Never before has hate been directed with such calculated intent against minority communities, hate which is nursed, aided and abetted by those in power.”
• Reality: India has always been the hunting ground of caste and communal politics. Weren’t the 1984 riots aimed at minorities? It took over three decades for Sikhs to erase the stigma of terrorism and get justice for 3,000 innocent Sikhs who were butchered on New Delhi’s streets.
There are accusations that the IAS and IPS establishment weakened the cases against the murderers and enfeebled the prosecution. Unfortunately, none of the society servers consider the treatment meted out to Kashmiri Pandits, who are the minority in their state, because J&K was ruled most of the time by members of their own tribe. Innocent citizens, soldiers and policemen are routinely kidnapped, murdered and dismembered by terrorists and misguided youth in the Valley. The has-beens of Indian bureaucracy are blind to the bloodbath at the hands of the “Islamist brigade” in Kashmir.
The lament of widows and the tears of orphans have not touched the soul and hearts of these watered-down warriors of liberty and unity. Since a substantial number of the anti-Yogi petitioners dine off direct and indirect diplomacy initiatives and espouse Track-II expense account integrity, it is obvious they are unwilling to lose their salubrious assignments in India and abroad by demanding unilateral action against terrorism. Some are puppets who lobby for dialogue with the separatists and their American interlocutors.
• Charge: “Our prime minister, who is so voluble in his election campaigns and who never tires of telling us of how the Constitution of India is the only holy book he worships, maintains stony silence even as he sees a chief minister handpicked by him treat that same Constitution with sheer contempt.
• Reality: It is correct that Prime Minister Modi has held his tongue against the current spate of violence in UP. Silence is the prime ministerial cloak of infallibility: not even Manmohan Singh spoke out against the Sikh genocide. Neither VP Singh nor Vajpayee condemned the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits.
Retired babus often become the musketeers who choose the right cause but end up exposing their partisan side. In office, they keep double standards for sticking to the rule book or performance. None of them have resigned after failing to deliver. In India, the bureaucracy is accountable only to itself. If it’s only 20 paisa out of one rupee that reaches the actual user, babus blame their political bosses; not their colleagues.
If, after 70 years of Independence, most of the country’s rivers are dead, farmers’ suicides are rising, criminals are not punished, infrastructure has collapsed, mandarins exclusively blame either Hindutva or the majoritarian mindset. Curious that they have found Indian democracy in danger only in the past 18 months. Before that, did they perceive India as a shining example of a clean and inclusive narrative? Former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao once said: “If I have choice, I would shoot every IAS officer, from hanging him on a pole”. Poles apart babus and netas may be, but India needs to be protected from its all-India services.