In a huge change to how Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers are posted, the Union government at New Delhi has decided to make already subservient IAS officers even more subservient to the Union government than they already are. It was decided last month that 178 newly minted IAS officers, who have been assigned to different state cadres, will be posted in Union government ministries for a period before they would be deputed to their respective states of service. They would begin their career from Delhi and after being posted in important positions in states which had nothing to do with their recruitment, they would then aspire to come back to Delhi to reap benefits based on how they served the party in power in Union government. In an already broken system, where officials are imposed on states by Delhi with the states having no say in these matters, the IAS system is about to be made even more centralised. For an officer cadre which was originally raised by the British to keep the interests of London at the forefront – which basically meant looting the British South Asian provinces and carrying out the wishes of the British ruling elite – this is not entirely surprising. Can state governments trust such administrators as the Indian Union is entering a phase where Delhi is hell-bent to completely destroy state rights?
In fact, this tactic of the central government in Delhi, of ‘catching them young’, started from last year – when 158 freshly produced IAS officers were posted to different Union government ministries even before they were sent out to the states to whose cadre they technically belong. As regards the recent decision to formalise this tactic and make it routine, a senior official of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) officially said, “This decision will give an opportunity to Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers to be groomed at the Centre before they move over to their respective state of posting”. At a time when the Union government is talking about ‘small government’, it has ‘earmarked’ 200 Section-Officer-grade posts for this purpose and has decided to call them ‘Assistant Secretaries’. It is relevant to mention that the DoPT functions directly under the Prime Minister and not some other cabinet minister. Thus, it can be safely assumed that the control of IAS officers and how they are “groomed” is something that the Union Government at New Delhi wants to handle from the very top. This has been true for previous governments too.
Control of IAS officers and how they are ‘groomed’ is something that New Delhi wants to handle from the very top
One might ask: what does such grooming mean and why is it needed? To understand that, it is important that we look at the colonial origins of the IAS. We must remember that the institutional father of the Indian Army is the British Indian Army. Only then we can put into greater context what ‘our’ men do in Kashmir. Anybody who has been tortured by the police in the Indian Union may do well to remember that its institutional father is the Imperial Police, a force designed to terrorise the population when they dissented and to protect the legal and illegal rights of the powerful. The Indian Administrative Service’s (IAS) father was called the Imperial Civil Service. When a few thousand college graduates with top ratings in the dowry bazaar ‘administer’ a billion-plus people, with most of their sons and daughters ending up in the Delhi-Mumbai-New York-London power circuit, the ‘I’ in the Imperial shows itself to be alive and kicking. No wonder, the IAS in these nominally post-imperial times, represents one of the few ways by which members of the ‘riff-raff’ can aspire to be courtiers. The rest of the seats belong to the anointed at birth, as it always has been.
It is in light of this understanding that it becomes clear that the basic DNA of the IAS still lies in its origin – the ICS created by British, with the strategic goal to dominate the natives and put a lid on their aspirations. In the post-Partition scenario, this translates into the ridiculous situation where functions of the states and the concurrent list – which constitutionally belong to the states and not to the Centre – are largely staffed by IAS officers deputed from Delhi. Every state is thus ruled, de facto, by these Delhi-deputed mandarins. The recent order of initial Delhi posting makes it clearer to the budding officers and also to the rest of us as to who they are, and who they serve. While there is no dearth of accomplished people in every state’s civil services, it is by design that the primary administrators in all of the states are deputed from Delhi – people who often don’t know the local language, culture or popular aspirations. So they align with Delhi and its power centres rather than with the people. That, to me, looks no different from the original objectives of the ICS – a chosen nomenklatura, brainwashed by ideology and lured by ‘career prospects’ and ‘respectability’, preferably with no organic connection to the people they serve. It is not an accident that they live in the same luxury mansions that the British built for the ICS – mansions built out of the blood and tears of brown people.
The basic DNA of the IAS still lies in its origin – the ICS created by British
It is time to ask: why is it that the people of the various states (states with dignity and ability of their own) need Delhi-deputed administrators to handle affairs on our behalf – even for issues that are completely our business and not Delhi’s? The Indian Union is a federal union. In a true federal union, states manage their own affairs.
There is no reason why there should be any IAS officer in any job that falls within the ambit of the state list or concurrent list, as described in the Indian Union. The administrative set-up in the Indian Union needs urgent reform, upholding the principles of democratic federalism. Administrators speaking Hindi, Marathi, Bangla, Tamil, Kannada can manage their affairs in their respective regions as they have done for centuries before the Union was commissioned by the constituent assembly – apparently for public service. This diverse public needs public institutions and public servants who represent this diversity by being socially and culturally rooted in the regions they serve. The Delhi-centric rootless class cannot have a self-serving veto forever. Colonisation is a process, not an event. So is decolonisation. All government structures that uphold a colonial intent are criminal structures. And they are abhorrent to anyone born free. Taming and governing natives by sending in socio-cultural outsiders – be they soldiers or administrators – was a criminal project back then and it is a malafide project even now.
Garga Chatterjee is a Kolkata-based commentator on South Asian politics and culture. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a member of faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. He blogs at hajarduari.wordpress.com