The Civil Services as Scapegoat

AuthorShakti Sinha
Date01 December 2019
Publication Date01 December 2019
The Civil Services as
Shakti Sinha1
Unlike any other democracy, India is an outlier in that the incumbent is disadvan-
taged going into an election. Where parties retain power, it is often by replacing
sitting legislators with new faces to counter the anti-incumbency factor. This is
primarily because India, compared to established democracies in the Western
world, is still a developing country with a per capita income of just over $2,000.
Political mobilisation, although rigorous, is essentially limited to elections of the
national parliament and provincial legislatures. Democratic institutions below the
provincial level are not uniformly developed or equipped to meet the expectations
of a deeply aspirational society, which leads to the relative underdevelopment of
the political machinery of parties outside of national and provincial elections.
Although it is almost a routine, a change of government is surprisingly character-
ised by immense enthusiasm and expectations. Anti-incumbency reflects both
frustrations and hopes. Frustrations because most governments are unable to meet
the expectations of the electorate; in fact, most of those who are re-elected have to
thank the inability of their opponents to either highlight the incumbents’ failures
or sell a reasonable story of hope. The hope among the electorate is that their
elected representatives would devote their time towards pursuing a development-
oriented and people-centric agenda and not to resort to diversionary tasks that are
counter-productive. Mandates tend to go sour when governments do the opposite
of that. An example of how to mismanage expectations is that governments go
overboard in taking symbolic action to show that they are the new masters.
Unfortunately, such actions are often destructive and not merely diversionary.
The recent mass transfers (December 2018) of senior officers in states of
Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, which saw changes in government,
seem like a wrong way to begin governing a large state with complex challenges.
It is disheartening when the civil services, which is nothing but the machinery
of the government, its primary instrument of policy development and imple-
mentation, is targeted. Transfers are a normal part of a civil servant’s career and
normally too much should not be made of it. But by seeking to identify large
Indian Journal of Public
65(4) 930–935, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556119881103
The author has worked with Atal Bihari Vajpayee from May 1996 to November 1999 as Private
Secretary to PM and as Secretary to Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
1 Director, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi.
Corresponding author:
Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Teen Murti Bhavan, Teen Murti
Marg, 110011, New Delhi, India.

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