When politicians do some introspection, they are planning to quit their party, or have got wind of being thrown out, or they have decided that a little bit of self-whipping adds a tragic edge to their persona, besides being trumpeted as “plain-speak”.
On Sunday, while addressing bureaucrats on Civil Services Day, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid elaborated on the subject of 'Civil Services: Fit for the Future?' It was a ridiculously-worded subject, to begin with. Does it mean the services are unfit now, or that they will take over the future?
Let us take his words:
"We can make a civil servant fit but the big question is that how do we get fit politicians? It's my opinion that the electoral system we have is actually inclined to find the worst people for politics. Good people stay away from politics.”
The electoral system does not find politicians; it elects what is on offer. It is political parties that recruit members and then, depending on sycophancy, nepotism and, in rare cases, performance, they manage to get a ticket to political heaven.
As usual, the media started discussing the straightforward Mr. Khurshid, who is not quite the perfect politician himself. It turned out to be a smart move, then, for the FM. He was not critiquing political parties that are the root cause of the problem; he used an amorphous idea of politics with the good-bad moral masala to it. If good people are so important, then why are the ones that are proven to be bad allowed to remain in politics and hold important positions? We have criminals who are granted tickets and even contest from behind bars.
Besides, how does one define good people? Are they capable, are they honest, are they team players, are they individualistic? All these questions apply to any profession. Politics is not even seen as profession. You have businessmen, lawyers, doctors, journalists, film stars, armymen being welcomed. One does not appear to need any qualification other than to “serve the people”. Take a look at how portfolios are handed out. Does the industries minister know a thing about industries? Or, the civil aviation, education, environment ministers? These, as the others, would benefit from some knowledge, if not specialisation. Instead, those who are qualified end up in the Planning Commission or such mindless ‘bodies’.
I also have a problem with this ‘good people’ optimism that is floating around. It is clearly an attempt to get hold of the youth/citizens’ groups, assuming that because they are out in the streets fighting for a cause, their heart is in the right place. Goodness, apparently, is about such ‘heartfelt’ expressions.
Mr. Khurshid chose a non-political platform, and would not dare name the bad politicians. His words were essentially to co-opt the bureaucrats:
"We stopped trusting each other. Both politicians and civil servants can make mistakes but now every mistake is seen as corruption. We need role models in civil servants and politicians for national renaissance.”
There! All those files and scams are now nothing about “good people”, but how every mistake by bureaucrats and politicians gets magnified as corruption. We do not need role models; we need people who can do their job. We do not need a renaissance; we need to clear the garbage.
There was a point when the minister seemed to have become a priest:
He said the idea of 'committed bureaucracy' in some states with civil servants owing allegiance to a particular party was an unwelcome thing and advised bureaucrats to say no to signing files under political pressure. When asked by a secretary-level officer in the audience that he would pay the price since there would be ten other bureaucrats ready to take his place and sign the file, Khurshid said: "Those ten civil servants will not be remembered in history...only that one will be remembered."
For the information on the ‘good’ minister, bureaucrats have a history of being independently corrupt. Mantralaya, and its equivalents in the states and the Centre, is the first stop for businessmen and others who want to get their work done. The “chai-paani” (a little bribe) phrase starts at the peon level and the “kaam ho jaayega” (the work will be done) is the final nod from the boss. This is where files do the good old in-out.
If it is a big ticket passing of orders, it needs government approval. It does not matter to the bureaucrat who is in power, but who will make him powerful enough or be ignorant enough to ignore what happens. Mr. Khurshid wanted to make the civil servants feel empowered, but putting the onus on a ‘committed bureaucracy’ is like asking a guy to carry a condom in a whorehouse. It is only about saving one’s skin.
As regards history remembering a bureaucrat, the minister might like to take the names of a few. He will find that their achievements are about what they did for which leader. Perhaps, this whole exercise was to prop up one bureaucrat who became a politician and history will certainly remember – our dear Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
PS: It is worth noting that there is no Politicians Day.
© Farzana Versey