Storm in a tea cup! Do Babus need to be schooled in resilience?

By Kasturi Ray

Our bureaucrats seemed disturbed, worried and a harried lot. They felt threatened after what Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said to one of the senior officers at the NIC event on Monday. So much so that in a show of strength they gathered at the Secretariat the next day to apprise the Chief Minister. Led by the chief secretary, at least 20 of them marched to the CM’s chamber to offer a memorandum citing the ‘wrong behaviour’ meted out to the officer.

The scene was reminiscent of usual school days when a few students would together approach the class teacher or principal seeking their attention towards someone who speaks or does something to hurt them. It even reminded me of all those Bollywood flicks that often focus on teenagers in college putting the ball in the principal’s court for support and strength.

It so happened that in presence of dignitaries, guests and mediapersons, Pradhan took the name of senior 1993-batch bureaucrat and presently principal secretary of the Electronics and Information Technology department Ashok Meena, while talking about the state taking credit for the works of Central government. “No work can be done without the State Government. But that does not mean with the help of morphing, the name of a person will be replaced by the name of another person on digital platform. Meena Sahib don’t do this,” Pradhan had stated. In yet another statement Pradhan pointed to Meena saying that he has a lot of capabilities and been instrumental in setting up many such institutions in Odisha but depends on higher-ups for everything.

The Babus were hurt. Under the aegis of the IAS association of Odisha, they submitted a memorandum to the CM stating, “We strongly condemn such incidents and stand by all the state government employees, facing such situations.” Vishal Dev, another senior officer, stated to media, “In a democratic polity, division of power between the political executive and permanent executive is the bedrock of the administrative framework. Both the organs have to work in tandem to achieve the objective of creating maximum good for the maximum people”.

The statements were at a public forum and maybe the minister could have avoided taking names. In hindsight, were the statements so hurtful and grievous that the Babus had to make it a controversy? Surprisingly, even the OAS association followed suit and pleaded and begged (the tone of the representative was of despondency more than anything else) before the CM to ‘protect’ them. An otherwise impatient CM heard all of them in groups and assured to speak to the centre about it. “Am disappointed and I can assure you that I will take up the matter with the Central leadership,’’ said the CM.

It was understandable when these associations lodged their grievances with the CM on issues like attack on V.K. Pandian’s residence but such reaction to a mention of the name of an officer certainly did not augur well. If voicing protest was necessary, the official concerned could have met the CM and apprised him.

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Remember in recent past when Delhi chief secretary Anshu Prakash was assaulted at Arvind Kejriwal’s residence. That warranted a nationwide protest because such instances create ripples all across. The IAS officers’ associations from many states pledged their support to protest the incident. Encouraged by their colleagues elsewhere rallying behind them, the city officials decided to go mass protest way and declared that they would not attend any meetings unless Kejriwal apologises. There have been many more examples where civil servants have been meted out raw deal, and some have even been transferred twice as many times required during their years in the service!

But Monday’s incident certainly smells more of an orchestrated reason to create much ado about something trivial than voicing protest for genuine hurt. Bureaucracy, expected to rise above others and trained in resilience, seems to be setting not an ideal example.

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