Some Seem to Forget Civil Servants Owe Loyalty Only to the Constitution

There is a plain collapse of governance in accordance with Part III of the Constitution.

In the midst of the furore over the takedown of the BBC documentary exposing the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and its fountain-head, another devious pulling down went unnoticed. Taking about this, The Wire‘s M.K. Venu wrote:

“According to a report in the Indian Express, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah recently attended an important annual conference of directors general and inspectors general of police, where papers were presented by young police officers on increasing Islamist, Hindu and left-wing radicalisation in society. Some of them said Sangh parivar organisations like the VHP and Bajrang Dal are radical outfits which have promoted majoritarianism via ghar wapasi and beef ban campaigns, which radicalise the youth. In reaction, there is greater Islamist radicalisation. One paper also mentions the case of Nupur Sharma’s comments on the prophet, and its fallout. Another paper talks about how restrictive or no patrolling by Indian Security Forces has resulted in India losing access to 26 out of 65 patrolling points in eastern Ladakh.”

…The papers presented in the conference also spoke of left-wing radicalisation. An interesting aspect of ultra left wing movements, like the Maoists, is that the mainstream parliamentary Left has a history of active hostility towards them. In turn, Maoists regard the parliamentary left as collaborators of the bourgeois State. However, that is not the case with a right-wing parliamentary party like the BJP, which has never openly condemned actions of the VHP and Bajrang Dal, and vice versa. They seem to act in tandem.”

The issues flagged by the police officers have direct impact on the security, sovereignty and integrity of the Indian republic, but the government wants to conceal them from the public. On the other hand, they are suppressing the factual exposure of the Gujarat genocide using emergency powers and invoking the very same sovereignty and integrity of the country! Close on its heels, corporate oligarch Adani had the audacity to invoke “Indian nationalism” to defend what is described as the “largest fraud in corporate history”. What kind of governance is taking place in the country and why are the powers-that-be turning cowards and running scared?

There is a positive side, however, to this episode, in the sense that there are still civil servants who are loyal to the constitution and dare to speak truth to power. But what about the majority, who are pandering to every whim and wish of politicians in power and their corporate cronies, conveniently forgetting their “oath of allegiance”?

Officers of the All India Services (IAS and IPS) are the creatures of the Constitution (Article 312) and are meant to safeguard it from the whims and vicissitudes of the ruling politicians who often represent only a minority of the electorate. To drive this home, on entry into service they take this solemn oath:

“I do swear/solemnly affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to India and to the Constitution of India by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will carry out the duties of my office loyally, honestly and with impartiality.”

The question is are they, barring exceptions, really loyal to the Constitution?

Loyalty to the Constitution would entail abiding by its mandate in governance. Basically, it would be compliance of Part III that provides certain fundamental rights to the citizens and Part IV that lays down the Directive Principles of State Policy constituting India as a “welfare state”.

First Part III. On April 26, 2022, 108 members of the Constitutional Conduct Group comprising former senior civil servants (mostly IAS and IPS) wrote this in an open letter to the prime minister:

“We are witnessing a frenzy of hate filled destruction in the country where at the sacrificial altar are not just Muslims and members of the other minority communities but the Constitution itself. As former civil servants, it is not normally our wont to express ourselves in such extreme terms, but the relentless pace at which the constitutional edifice created by our founding fathers is being destroyed compels us to speak out and express our anger and anguish.

The escalation of hate violence against the minority communities, particularly Muslims, in the last few years and months across several States–Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, all states in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power, barring Delhi (where the union government controls the police) – has acquired a frightening new dimension. It is no longer just the politics of an assertive Hindutva identity, nor the attempt to keep the communal cauldron on the boil–all that has been going for decades and in the last few years had become a part of the new normal. What is alarming now is the subordination of the fundamental principles of our Constitution and of the rule of law to the forces of majoritarianism, in which the state appears to be fully complicit.”

This frenzy as well as brazen violation of fundamental rights continue and is now extended to Christians, a microscopic minority. Things have come to such a pass that while there are open calls for “killing Muslims and Christians” from Jantar Mantar, the heart of nation’s capital, a bigot with known record of hate speeches is being elevated as a high court judge. This is a plain collapse of governance in accordance with Part III of the Constitution. The blame must rest with the civil servants belonging to IAS and IPS, because they are the ones holding positions of high power and authority such as Union cabinet secretary, home secretary, CBI/IB directors, state chief secretaries, home secretaries, district magistrates, director generals, commissioners, inspector generals and superintendents of police vested with statutory and executive powers.

Now coming to Part IV. By the government’s own admission, 81 crore Indians (about 60% of the population) who are on foodgrain dole face poverty. In their recent report ‘Survival of the Richest: The India Story‘, Oxfam has made several disturbing revelations about the extreme inequality at the margins of Indian society, with Scheduled Tribes suffering from physical remoteness and systematic exclusion from the means to achieve vertical mobility.

Oxfam India’s 2023 India Supplement reveals that in 2020, income share of the bottom 50% was estimated to have fallen to a mere 13% of the national income and they have less than 3% of the total wealth. Its impact has been exceptionally poor diets and increase in debt and deaths. This is in stark contrast to the top 30%, who own more than 90% of the total wealth. Among them, the top 10% own more than 80% of the concentrated wealth.

What is chilling is that the wealthiest 10% own more than 72% of the total wealth in India, with the top 5% owning nearly 62%, and the top 1% nearly 40.6%. At the same time India has the world’s highest number of poor at 228.9 million while the total number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166 in 2022. The combined wealth of India’s 100 richest has touched Rs 54.12 lakh crore. The wealth of the top 10 richest stands at Rs 27.52 lakh crore – a 32.8% rise from 2021. Despite these stark socio-economic realities, Economic Survey does some drum-beating and the “first Budget of Amrit Kaal” panders mainly to the rich and well-heeled.

This means that Part IV of the Constitution stands ravaged. And a large share of blame should again rest with senior civil servants who hold top positions in the management of the economy in the policy, administrative, managerial and regulatory spheres. Blaming politicians in power and their predatory policies and criminal/corrupt ways is easy. But this does not behove of the members of the elite service, covenanted in the Constitution and enjoying its protection.

It is evident that the ongoing rampant cannibalisation and blatant violations of the Constitution and its core values and norms, though instigated by political power-wielders, brokers and cronies, cannot be consummated without the participation of covenanted civil servants. These are the mandarins hailed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the bulwark of India’s democratic governance, and they have taken a solemn oath of allegiance and loyalty to the Constitution. It is imperative that they stand by their oath, which is a matter of honour.

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