Restore the splendour of the rusting steel frame

Proactive initiatives needed, otherwise Goswami’s sacking would be treating mere symptoms instead of the syndrome

ajay

Ajay Singh | February 19, 2015


#anil goswami   #home secretary   #narendra modi  

For a career bureaucrat, home secretary to the government of India is an aspirational position. Anil Goswami had attained it not by dint of his work but network. And that was an exception. In his stint as home secretary, he ran the affairs in the ministry like a friends’ club. Despite the dubious and shady past of his benefactor Matang Sinh, Goswami let his shadow dominate the ministry.

There was a time when IPS officers seeking deputation at the centre would make a beeline at the Delhi residence of Sinh whose influence in the ministry was quite palpable. Since the home ministry is the cadre-controlling authority of IPS officers, any posting to the centre would require its mandatory approval. Sinh was to be propitiated before any files on transfers could move. This impression about the home ministry, which is the most critically important after the prime minister’s office (PMO), was not unfounded.

With the change of guard at the centre, the Narendra Modi government was expected to jettison the baggage of the past. But Goswami survived primarily because of the indulgence of home minister Rajnath Singh. Though Singh was informed about Goswami’s abrasive ways, the new home minister chose to ignore the complaints as arising out of professional jealousy. Singh’s magnanimity proved to be a mistake which he regrets now.

Goswami, along with a bunch of IPS officers, had been trying to influence the ongoing investigation into the Saradha scam in which Sinh featured as an accused. Initially, there was an attempt to shift his interrogation from Kolkata to Delhi where Sinh would find a congenial atmosphere. Goswami threw his weight around to ensure a kid-glove handling of Sinh. The Kolkata-based joint director of the CBI was pressured through hints that were insidious.

Goswami’s indiscretions outright fall into the category of illegality. In fact, under the penal provisions, such a conduct invites serious punishment since the inquiry into the scam is being monitored by the supreme court. On January 31, Sinh created a ruckus at the Kolkata office of the CBI. Prime minister Narendra Modi reacted swiftly; the message was communicated in unambiguous terms. He rejected the suggestion that Goswami’s side of the story deserved to be heard. “Let him go first; then we would listen to everything,” told the PM to the top echelon in the government.

The rise and ignominious fall of Goswami is the manifestation of a deeper malaise that has afflicted the Indian bureaucracy which is often called the steel frame of the state. The concept of a permanent and impartial bureaucracy is intended to provide a stable anchor to governance that conforms to the constitution. When, after the independence, the bureaucracy was at the receiving end from politicians, India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel strongly stood up in its favour. Patel argued that Indian bureaucracy comprised people of exceptional talent and dedication for the nation.

There was a precipitous decline in the bureaucracy’s character since Indira Gandhi’s time. At the state level, bureaucrats started wearing political loyalties on their sleeve. In the economy’s post-liberalisation phase that unleashed animal spirits, the politician-bureaucrat nexus underwent a mutation.

Shady power brokers like Matang Sinh joined this nexus and formed a compact that promoted cronyism all across the country.

Sinh’s arrest and Goswami’s sacking could well be regarded as treating the symptoms instead of the syndrome. It requires deep introspection by policy-makers to find out and eradicate the conducive climate in which politician-bureaucrat-broker nexus grows. Prime minister Modi had promised to usher in a new culture of governance which will be distinctly different from the past. However, eight months later, we are still awaiting proactive initiatives to weed out bad apples from the bureaucracy and restore the confidence and splendour of the state’s rusting steel frame. Perhaps, nothing can be a better tribute to Sardar Patel, who is a role model for the present PM, than to resurrect Indian bureaucracy from the shambles and put it on a pedestal, where it belongs.

ajay@governancenow.com

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