Bureaucrats in a democracy are supposed to be independent and objective officers from a trained service. Their job is to carry on the administration of the State without prejudice and without any political preference. They are also the upholders of the principles laid down in the Constitution and other rules and regulations pertaining to the administration of the republic. Bureaucrats, be they members of the Indian Administrative Service or of other allied services, are autonomous of the ruling political dispensation. This is the definition of a bureaucrat as he ‘should be’. It cannot be denied that contemporary India has witnessed many a fall from this ‘ideal type’. Individual bureaucrats have been found wanting in objectivity and integrity; and some powerful politicians — to wit, Indira Gandhi — have tried to put forward the idea of a ‘committed bureaucracy’, that is, bureaucrats committed to promote a particular ideology: no doubt the ideology of the ruling party. In certain states of India, bureaucrats have been expected to be completely subservient to their political masters. In spite of all this, there are bureaucrats who are upright and independent.
What is most alarming is the tendency — somewhat pronounced in West Bengal — of expecting bureaucrats to do the bidding of the ruling party even when such orders or wishes violate Constitutional principles, and rules regarding what a bureaucrat can and should do. In West Bengal, what is equally ominous is that whenever a bureaucrat acts independently and that action does not match the wishes or desires of the government, the concerned bureaucrat is labelled an agent of the previous regime. Such an accusation — more importantly, the attitude underlying such an accusation — serves only to demoralize the bureaucracy and breeds cynicism within the service. The latest example of this is the attack by a leader of the Trinamul Congress on the state election commissioner, who has proposed that the panchayat polls be held in three phases in the presence of Central forces. The leadership of the TMC finds this proposal unacceptable, so the state election commissioner has been accused of working for the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This is most unfortunate and goes against the principles of running an independent administration. The state election commissioner should be applauded for not succumbing to pressure.