E nd of this month, a change of guard is imminent in the top slot of West Bengal’s bureaucracy. The grapevine has it that the holder of the post has already been chosen. He is a former confidant of an influential minister and had reportedly expressed his desire for a plum Central berth. But the state leadership persuaded him to stay on so that the mantle could fall on the “right” person.
The pattern of selecting top bureaucrats remains unchanged in the state. And the present chief minister has shown no inclination to change an established habit. The objective of the Left Front is clear. The political goals of the front are top priority. This necessitates the selection of a chief secretary or a director general of police who is ready to follow its dictates. The unfortunate fact is that bureaucrats in the state often actively seek political backing for their promotions and transfers, thereby dividing the service along party lines. Not surprisingly, therefore, important departments like finance, home, commerce and industry are dominated by party sympathizers.
That political neutrality is alien to our babudom has been evinced time and again. In 1993, the chief secretary did not have the courtesy to come out of his chamber when Mamata Banerjee, the left’s political opponent and then a Central minister, was forcibly removed from the Writers’ Buildings by the police. The state witnessed a repeat performance during the panchayat polls in May this year when district magistrates, almost to a man, assured the state election commissioner that all was well in their respective areas of jurisdiction. Also remember the record number of uncontested victories in these polls to ensure the one-party democracy in the state'
Both district magistrates and superintendents of police in the districts are usually handpicked officers, although the position of the former, sandwiched between the police and the political bosses, is worse. The home department, the cadre-controlling authority, has little say in matters of transfer and posting. Once a decision is taken by the apparatchiki, it is put into operation by the ever-obliging chief secretary. The nodal authority merely issues the fair copies of the government order. Those who refuse to fall in line are systematically marginalized.
Men in red
When the general administration is politicized, the use of a partisan police to further political ends becomes easy. The non-gazetted police force is today firmly under political control, with the ruling party picking and choosing people to man the sensitive districts and headquarters. There are usually three or four officers of equal rank at the top of the police hierarchy, although only one is anointed to head the force. The arrangement is convenient as it always ensures a pliant director general of police who dreads the thought of exchanging his job with his colleagues.
The unholy nexus between the ruling politicians and the police is a norm today. Even a non-left Central minister could not expect police protection when he was roughed up by ruffians during the panchayat polls this year. Then again, if a senior officer made noises over the transfer of a district-level police official as desired by the minister (police), it is easy to silence him with a plum constitutional post. Those who want to lie outside are given marching orders. Recall the unceremonious exit of the superintendent of police, North 24 Parganas, recently.
In order to survive in such a system, and be rewarded with lucrative post-retirement offers, bureaucrats have to strike a perfect equation with the political leadership and earn its confidence. For them it is foolish to take neutral positions or assess situations objectively. That would offend the political masters. The three point success formula in West Bengal is: court the minister, keep the coordination committee in good humour, and show your red eye to the helpless middle order.