Shekhar Gupta’s ThePrint, in an attempt to shield the IAS after a week of bureaucrats indulging in an abuse of power, has published an article where the author, Samir Singh Chandel, makes bizarre arguments to blame the Indian government for the incompetence of the system.
In the process, the author has argued that governance should be the domain of an unaccountable elite. Unsurprisingly, the author is a retired bureaucrat himself.
ThePrint vouches for an unaccountable elite
The author states, “The system of accountability for civil servants to the elected representatives is based on two assumptions, which are both inherently flawed. The first assumption is that public representatives would be motivated to work out of a sense of public service. But the reality is that political activity has turned into a commercial enterprise. People invest huge amounts of resources in order to secure election victories. All political parties of India are now populated with petty, medium contractors, not leaders oriented towards public service.”
Then, he proceeds to add, “The second assumption is that people’s representatives will actually represent the people who elect them. In a situation where the spirit of service is gone, there is now a desire to ‘profit’ from an earlier investment. Therefore, representatives are more likely to prioritise commercial interests, rather than the needs of the public.”
In a great leap of logic, the author concludes, “The result of the supremacy of elected leaders is that administrative officers have been marginalised by commercial interests, at all levels of administration. This has had catastrophic consequences, as we are now witnessing.”
It is a bizarre series of arguments. Democracy is predicated on the assumption that elected representatives are accountable to the citizenry. And hence, there is a constant feedback between the rulers and the ruled. Since politicians have to depend on citizens to get elected, then they must heed to the greater good of the population. This is the theoretical premise of Democracy as a system of governance.
Instead, the author turns the narrative on its head. It is fine to argue that Democracy as a system of governance is terribly flawed. But the solution is not to hand over power to an unaccountable elite which will inevitably lead to a tyranny of the unelected. If the politicians indulge in corruption and bad governance, people can throw them out in the next elections, what can citizens do against an unaccountable elite?
What the author is effectively arguing is that elected representatives should not have supremacy over bureaucrats, which flies in the face of the principles of Democracy. If an unaccountable elite has the supremacy over elected representatives, then the resultant Democracy is a farce. It is like attempting to avoid dying in a car crash by committing suicide by jumping off a high rise building. It is bizarre.
Other bizarre arguments
The argument for an unaccountable elite is not the only bizarre argument by the author. The author argued that the NDA government has weakened civil services by attempting to induct some form of accountability. The article also says that the Indian government has undermined the civil services by taking away their laal batti (red beacon).
The author wrote, “One of the first actions of the Modi government was to remove the mandatory requirement of sanctions to prosecute civil servants, a feature that stripped any sense of legal protection available to them. This was followed by the removal of so-called ‘Red Beacons’, the only vestige of authority and prestige that was available to civil servants, in the field.”
“In the absence of prestige and authority, officers lose their initiative and drive. In various state governments, the office of district magistrate has been reduced to a glorified post office that receives instructions from various government departments and passes them on to field officers,” he added.
All of this comes across as a joke but unfortunately for us, it is not. It only confirms the widespread belief among citizens that bureaucrats consider themselves to be Kings, not public servants. The author is also upset over the fact that administrative powers of department heads have been “usurped” by the “political executive”.
What the retired bureaucrat is essentially arguing against is Democracy itself. It is only appropriate in a Democracy that elected representatives hold the most power. If unelected bureaucrats exercise real power in Democracy, then it is a sham being conducted in its name.
ThePrint does it again
It is reasonable to conclude that the article was motivated by the recent backlash against bureaucrats on social media after an officer in Chhattisgarh was recorded in a video thrashing a boy and smashing his phone for allegedly violating lockdown orders.
The boy said that he was on his way back from the hospital and it was quite clear to everybody that it was egregious abuse of power. The incident came a few weeks after a District Magistrate in Agartala, Tripura raided a wedding, manhandled and thrashed the groom and the priest causing widespread outrage.
The Tripura DM was eventually suspended. Given the rising angst among the populace, ThePrint appears to have gone out of its way to find excuses to blame the Indian Government even for the atrocious conduct of bureaucrats.