Battlefield ICJ: Praise teamwork and not only salve

India scored a significant first round victory in its complaint against Pakistan in Kulbhushan Jadhav case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Hague.

Published: 28th May 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th May 2017 08:05 AM   |  A+A-

The Indian delegation at ICJ

India scored a significant first round victory in its complaint against Pakistan in Kulbhushan Jadhav case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Hague. The initial Indian prayer to the ICJ was that the execution of death sentence be urgently stayed and consular access made available.

Last week, the ICJ gave interim relief to India by ordering a stay on Jadhav’s execution till substantive hearing. There is no guarantee that Pakistan will at this stage, or later, respect the ICJ’s rulings as they emerge in future. Pakistan has no reputation to lose, and is well recognised as a ‘sponsor of terror’ in the international circles.

At the ICJ hearing, India put up an excellent show with its legal counsel Harish Salve presenting the Indian case outstandingly. It was no surprise when Indian media, television and print lionised Salve after the interim order. He deserved all accolades. Salve must have given 50 or more interviews to TV and the press, and naturally was the ‘man of the hour’.

However, in all his statements one expected a reference, at least out of politeness, about the role played by other members of the Indian delegation, including the Joint Secretaries (JS) of Pakistan Division and the legal division of the Ministry of External Affairs. There is no doubt these officers played a key role in preparing the case.

The only reference was to Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, who was mentioned repeatedly in every ‘despatch’ by Salve—note that the real role of Swaraj is popularly believed to be ‘Minister-in-Charge of selected Indians in trouble abroad’!
Indeed, our case was opened extremely ably by Dr Deepak Mittal, JS in the Pakistan Division. There was also invaluable contribution by V D Sharma, MEA JS. 

One general comment regarding the JSs at the Government of India would be relevant at this stage. Contrary to public perception, most ministers generally have had little effective role in policy matters, or in oversight of the ministry’s operation. Most of them have in the past played the Sun Tzu role of grabbing all the spoils of office so long as they remained loyal; things have changed at the Centre in the last three years somewhat—not that ministers are playing a major role today, but the ‘rent-seeking’ instincts have been checked. 

The typical secretary to the department, with two years to go in service, has already started thinking of the ‘hereafter’, and focuses on ‘cooperating’ with the minister with an eye on an extension, or on a foreign posting (World Bank, Ambassador, etc). The secretary’s focus is frequently not on quality of governance, but on being in the good books of the minister.

It usually is the JS of the division who delivers results—the minister’s job is to claim credit in public, while the secretary claims success in bureaucratic circles (this is with due apologies to those outstanding secretaries who still contribute brilliantly to governance). The JSs are usually the pillars of a ministry. Indeed, the efficiency and public spirit exhibited by a division emanate from the quality and performance of its JSs.

In the state, the secretary of the department is the key to determine the quality of performance—the chief secretary, sadly these days, generally being a ‘political’ appointee, is keen on carrying out the orders of the CM (legal or otherwise); while the minister typically focuses on returning favours and minting money to last for generations.

In a typical Central Ministry, all the success will go to the minister, and secretary; all failures will be attributed to the JS concerned; s/he is the doormat. At the JS level, the typical officer has not yet lost his zeal or energy for public service, and is motivated enough to perform—this is the anatomy of our administrative structure.

Our Union Public Service Commission has not yet been corrupted, politicised or penetrated, thank goodness! It still produces high quality intake to the All India Services, from among the best in the country. The selection to the JS level at the Centre is still impartial and sound with odd exceptions—the inept and prematurely senile ones generally don’t make the cut. Spare a thought for the JS and director due to whom the administrative machinery is still able to function with reasonable efficiency, despite our predatory political class.

TSR  Subramanian,  

Former Cabinet  Secretary of India


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