Civil Servants: From Colonial Clones to Compliant Managers?

Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, the ethos of civil services has been shifting from constitutional values to management compliance. This has been attempted through a huge lateral entry of 'compliance managers' to capture the IAS.

Writing on the Civil Service Day, April 21, Srinivas Katikithala, director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie (LBSNAA) dished out this pearl of wisdom: “The task of defining an Indian ethos for the civil service began in the 75th year of India’s independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address where he spelt out the country’s vision and the Panch Pran – the five pledges – to drive India’s transition from Amrit Mahotsav to Amrit Kaal. The second pledge – the removal of a colonial mindset – demanded a revision of self-imagination and the shedding of colonial baggage among the civil services.”

He signed off the article with this exhortation: “The shaking off of a former colonial mindset, sharing a sense of pride in the Indian roots, and a duty-bound set of civil servants with a nation-first approach is the new ethic of civil servants who pass out of its hallowed doors as ‘Mussoorie wale karmayogis’.”

This sycophancy has a similarity with what actress Kangana Ranaut said a couple of years ago: “India’s Independence in 1947 was not freedom but ‘bheek (alms)’…Of course, what we got [in 1947] was not Independence but alms. Independence is what we got in 2014.” Though she came under severe criticism, she reiterated her contention and gave the credit for India’s independence to Prime Minister Modi.

Also read: Some Seem to Forget Civil Servants Owe Loyalty Only to the Constitution

Katikithala has taken this forward. A person like Kangana had to say what she said to stay relevant. But on what basis is Katikithala saying that Narendra Modi has taken India’s civil services out of colonial clutches in 2019 and more so during Amrit Mahotsav through his ‘Mission Karmayogi’ announced in September 2020? Does he mean that all IAS/IPS officers prior to the 2019 batch are colonial clones? Is it not criminal defamation a la Rahul Gandhi of the Modi faux pas? Should defamation proceedings be launched in Gujarat, the cadre state of Katikithala?

Mission Karmayogi

Be that as it may, what is this ‘Mission Karmayogi’ which is described as a tool to build ‘future-ready’ civil servants with the right attitude, skills and knowledge, aligned to the vision of a “New India”? The New India Movement 2017-2022 launched by the Prime Minister envisages an India free from poverty, corruption, terrorism, communalism, casteism and uncleanliness, and unite the entire country by adopting good governance and using technology. Under this ‘movement’ the Government of India has launched flagship schemes such as Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Jan Suraksha Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana etc.

‘New India’ dream is also to double farmer’s income and to create a $5 trillion economy by the year 2022 – which is now well past. In short, it is a National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building to make civil servants more creative, constructive, imaginative, innovative, proactive, professional, progressive, energetic, enabling, transparent and technology-enabled. At the end of the day ‘Mission Karmayogi’ will produce the ideal civil servant with all qualities of head and heart to serve the ‘New India’ vision under the direct command and control of the prime minister himself!

New IAS civil servants headed for training. Credit: PTI

Representational image. New IAS civil servants headed for training. Photo: PTI

The objective of ‘Mission Karmayogi’ is indeed noble. But the problem is the direction towards which this ‘New India’ is moving. Civil servants are only an instrument of governance and not governance itself which comprises elected political leadership and the policies it lays down.

New India Movement is supposed to free India from poverty, corruption, terrorism, communalism, casteism and unite the entire country by adopting good governance practices. But what is happening on the ground in the last few years is just the opposite. The governance has been at its nadir, and with the enslavement of institutions of democratic governance, democracy is being shredded to pieces.

“Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”, the slogan of 2014, which should have been the hallmark of democracy in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime has been turned on its head with the imposition of a highly centralised and autocratic system sustained by a harsh ‘police raj’ of suppression of liberty, human rights and economic opportunities. Critical legislations/policies/projects are being pushed with breakneck speed in an autocratic manner with no involvement of the people who are the sovereign.

Non-dissenting compliant managers

Ironically, while swearing by the poor, the Union government for the last few years has been assiduously building up a crony-capital driven ‘techno-commercial monopoly/duopoly’ with a declared policy of promoting a corporate oligarchy.

In December 2020, Amitabh Kant, then CEO of NITI Aayog made an announcement on behalf of the prime minister: In India, we are too much of a democracy, so we keep supporting everybody. For the first time in India, a government has thought big in terms of size and scale and said we want to produce global champions. Nobody had the political will and courage to say that we want to support five companies who want to be global champions.”

Also read: Why New IAS Rules About Compulsory ‘Borrowing’ Are Constitutionally Offensive

True to this policy statement, India started morphing from democracy to plutocracy, which is government by the wealthy and for the wealthy. This is evident from the fact that corporate tax was reduced from 35% to 26% in 2019 with permission to defer taxes, leading to huge profits; they get cheap loans from public sector banks at lower rates of interest, adding to their profit; they are being helped through the National Company Law Tribunal to purchase companies at throwaway prices, funded again by banks and they are given various concessions in imports and are favoured in getting government contracts and purchases.

What is more, precious and prestigious public assets are being handed over to them on a platter through privatisation and monetisation. In the process, oligarchs have emerged who enjoy a monopoly over several sectors of the economy.

Out of these, the Adani Group is the prima donna with Gautam Adani making around Rs 1,612 crore on a daily basis in 2022.  His wealth came from diverse sectors like power, port, renewables and energy. He and his family grew their wealth 15.4 times in five years. All these are unravelling now and are becoming part of history.

This deliberate policy pursuit has resulted in extreme concentration of wealth, massive unemployment, festering inflation and socio-economic iniquities in the country. “The top 1% in India now owns more than 40.5% of total wealth in 2021 while the bottom 50% of the population (700 million) has around 3% of total wealth. Since the pandemic begun to Nov 2022, billionaires in India have seen their wealth surge by 121%, or INR 3608 crore per day in real terms (Around INR 2.5 crore every minute). The rich have done well for themselves, while the number of hungry Indians has increased from 19 crores to 35 crores,” an Oxfam report said.

Such a predatory shift in India’s economic equity and social justice would not have been possible except with the active participation of civil servants at different levels with their newly acquired ‘management’ skills.

The fact of the matter is that ever since Modi became prime minister in 2014, the ethos of civil services has been shifting from constitutional values to management compliance. This was attempted through a huge lateral entry of “compliance managers” to capture the IAS and privatise the government. With ‘Mission Karmayogi’ in operation, this may not be needed anymore.

Academy mandarins should realise that IAS/IPS are not compliance cadres but constitutionally covenanted civil services (Article 312). By designing and grooming its members as “future-ready” products, ‘Mission Karmayogi’ violates the constitutional scheme of things which is stated by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the Constituent Assembly: “There is no alternative to this administrative system… The Union will go, you will not have a united India if you do not have good All-India Service which has the independence to speak out its mind, which has [the] sense of security that you will standby [sic] your work… If you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present Constitution. Substitute something else… these people are the instrument. Remove them and I see nothing but a picture of chaos all over the country.”

Sardar Patel called IAS the ‘steel frame’ to defend and protect India’s constitution and its basic values of justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and human dignity essential in a “Democratic, Welfare State” and not its negative connotation of “rigid, restrictive, and rule-bound colonial bureaucracy” as interpreted by Katikithala.

In the event, the feedback received from former civil servants who have recently visited the LBSNAA on the way ‘Karmayogis’ are being trained as ‘non-dissenting compliant managers’ to pursue Prime Minister’s agenda than as compassionate civil servants administering India’s parched millions is indeed disturbing. Some of them see the shades of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Shaka in the famed Academy!

The outside impact of this is already felt in some IAS officers wilfully pandering to corporate tycoons and openly embracing the bulldozer-bullet justice of political masters! Is this the Bhavana Vriksh, a tree of “service and empathy” that is being planted in the LBSNAA?

Ironically, Katikithala is grooming the post-colonial ‘Karmayogis’ sitting at Academy’s deep-green Director’s Square, a colonial vestige of the erstwhile Hotel Charleville where at one time “Dogs and Indians were not allowed.” Do we call this hypocrisy or what else?

M.G. Devasahayam is a former Army and IAS officer and coordinator of the Citizen’s Commission on Elections.