Retired civil servants on Thursday sought the intervention of the President to stop the Modi government’s systematic effort to change the character of the civil services from an independent institution to breeding foot soldiers loyal to the ruling party.
The former bureaucrats feared that “moves are afoot to redact Sardar Patel’s vision of an independent and apolitical civil service and replace it with apparatchiks and foot soldiers whose loyalty shall be to the ruling party and not to the Constitution of India”.
In an open letter to the President, the retired bureaucrats — who have formed the collective Constitutional Conduct — underscored the fact that in India’s constitutional scheme, “the civil services, particularly the IAS and IPS, were uniquely intended to be a protective ring around the Constitution, unaffected by political changes, having an all-India perspective rather than a regional, parochial one and being secure enough to maintain an independent, nonpartisan outlook, without fear or favour”.
“There are noticeable attempts to pressurise officers to show exclusive loyalty to the Union rather than to the ‘parent’ state cadre to which they are allotted. On occasion, arbitrary departmental actions have been taken against those who refuse to do so. Service rules are sought to be amended to compel central deputations without the consent of either the officers concerned or their state governments, effectively undermining the authority and control of chief ministers over their officers. This has disturbed the federal balance and left civil servants torn between conflicting loyalties, thereby weakening their ability to be impartial,” the letter said.
Though there is no mention of it in the letter, the treatment meted out to former Bengal chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay was a case in point of the Centre insisting on transferring an officer the state government was unwilling to let go.
“At a time when politics is leaning dangerously towards a centralised, authoritarian, national security state with a leadership seemingly amenable to abandoning, without demur, the fundamental principles on which our Constitution is based, it has become critical for citizens to ensure that institutions and systems like the civil services which can check this frightening erosion of constitutional values... are protected and strengthened…,” the letter said.
It added: “As the constitutional head of the republic, we appeal to you to convey our concerns to the Union government and caution them that this attempt to change the character of the civil services is fraught with extreme danger....”
The 82 signatories to the letter include former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh Sharad Behar, former principal secretary (transport and urban development) of Delhi R. Chandramohan, former ambassador to Sweden Sushil Dubey, former RBI deputy governor Ravi Vira Gupta and former textiles secretary R. Poornalingam.
Speeches of the Prime Minister and the national security adviser, and a newspaper article by the director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie have been cited as worrying. While the NSA had in 2021 asked bureaucrats to treat civil society as the “fourth generation of warfare, that can be subverted, suborned, divided and manipulated to hurt the interests of the nation”, the Prime Minister had last month exhorted them to be firm in dealing with malfeasance of political parties.
The LBSNAA director had written: “The task of defining an Indian ethos for the civil servants began in the 75th year of India’s independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address…” Such unwarranted encomiums to the Prime Minister by the director of the premier academy are deeply disturbing, the letter noted.