The Curious Case In Odisha: When Bureaucrats Chose To Compromise Ethos Of Bureaucracy

The March 27 visit of the officials was far from demonstration of Bureaucracy’s undiluted political neutrality. Congratulating the Chief Minister for electoral victory was avoidable; it betrayed allegiance to the party and dented Bureaucracy’s apolitical ethos.

The Curious Case In Odisha: When Bureaucrats Chose To Compromise Ethos Of Bureaucracy

On March 27, 2022, senior IAS and IPS officers including the Chief Secretary, Development Commissioner , DG Police, ADGs, Police Commissioner and Service Association representatives of OAS, OFS, OPS, Secretariat Service, Revenue Service, Constables and Havildars, Heads of Departments, Medical Service, Amala Sangha, Veterinary Service, Panchayat Executive officers, Gram Rozgar Sevak Sangh, Drivers, Contractual Employees met the Chief Minister and congratulated him for the spectacular success in the recently held Panchayat and Urban Local Body Elections. Chief Minister is reported to have thanked them for the gesture and asked officials to work with more commitment for development and progress of the state.

The incident raises a few issues of importance that merits a discussion. Success in elections is not new to Naveen Patnaik. He has been in power for 22 years and his party has been winning many elections, by-elections and local elections. The recent victory, both in the Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies Elections, cannot be held as something unprecedented. True, Opposition Parties in the state now are in a state of disarray like never before, and BJP for unclear reasons is disinclined to grow in the state.

This situation and the liberal freebies flow have facilitated the spread of the BJD despite severe governance deficits and exponential spread of corruption.

Elections are fought by political parties; Government doesn’t contest elections. In the recent elections to the PRIs and ULBs, BJD secured a handsome win. But did it entitle it to receive accolades from the Bureaucracy?

Had BJP or Congress won the Elections, it’s unthinkable that the same team of Bureaucrats led by the Chief Secretary would have bee-lined to congratulate Samir Mohanty, the State Chief of BJP or Niranjan Patnaik, the State Congress Chief.

While Government in a parliamentary democracy implements policies of the party in power, Bureaucracy cannot coalesce with the party. It must retain its political neutrality. It would witness win or defeat of party in power with the same sense of detachment. It would neither rejoice nor grieve. It’s an instrument of government, not of a party. The Bureaucracy must not only be apolitical but would appear to be so. Years ago, one of our seniors in IAS , late K Srinivasan, used to cite a saying in Tamil which said, "If you are drinking a glass of milk , but under a Khajur Tree, people would say you are having liquor". By way of mentoring, he would say, "You have to be not only impartial but appear to be so."

The March 27 visit of the officials, sadly, was far from demonstration of Bureaucracy’s undiluted political neutrality. The visit was not a courtesy call on the Chief Minister to wish him good health and long life, particularly because he had by and large confined himself to his residence even abstaining from Legislature and Secretariat for two years during the Covid pandemic. Congratulating the Chief Minister for electoral victory was therefore avoidable; it betrayed allegiance to the party and dented Bureaucracy’s apolitical ethos. There is a huge difference between commitment to state’s development and commitment to the party in power.

In our system, behavioural nuances of Bureaucrats should make them look apolitical and courteous. An instance is worth recalling. In 1995, Biju Patnaik’s Party was defeated and the Chief Minister was getting ready to submit his resignation. I had had close interactions with him as Finance Secretary. I sought an appointment with him and he readily agreed. I met him in his official residence. He responded with a smile. I conveyed my gratitude to him for the privilege of working with him and tried to tell him that electoral win or defeat was a part of political life. I gifted him the manuscript of a Book of Poems of mine to make him feel happy. He glanced through a few pages with interest. This incident was no demonstration of political loyalty; no effort to seek a post-retirement favour. It was normal human behavior - display of courtesy and respect.

Our Bureaucracy is meant to be politically neutral. Rise above seeking favours, work with aplomb and professionalism.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at lonewalker.1942@gmail.com)

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