A new chapter was recently added to the old debate on the relationship between the political executive and the senior bureaucracy when the Chief Secretary of National Territory of Delhi accused a couple of legislators of the ruling party of assaulting him in the presence of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister. Notwithstanding the special status of Delhi as a Union Territory State with confusion about the supremacy of the elected government, it was a moment of reckoning for civil servants. And having spent a large part of my life in government, it set me thinking on the subject of coexistence of politicians and civil servants in a democratic set up.
It has been my recurrent discontent that the civil servants do not pay much attention to reflecting on the essence of public service adequately, and that they have failed to create sufficient energy in their transactions with the citizen. They do not see the need to force changes in the existing mode of administration. They underestimate their designated role in the system and are content to live in their comfort zones. They do not realise that their action reinforces the status quo.
It is a truism that the craft of state building requires both a political executive to envision the wishes of the people and a permanent civil service to help translate them into reality. It is also true that the subject of politician-bureaucrat relationship has not attracted much attention from the political thinkers in our country. I for one consider this relationship as critical in a growing democracy like India. Since the politician does not show much interest in resolving the problem, the civil servant will have to try to steer the relationship in the best interest of the State while keeping the institutional integrity intact.
Over the years, a number of incidents relating to the unsettled relations between the political bosses and bureaucrats have been making news. Top civil servants being shown the door unceremoniously and public scolding of district officials by the ministers are common occurrences in some states. There have been several cases of constructive cooperation between the two in acts of organised corruption. But an allegation of physical assault on the chief of the civil service in a State was something unusual. I refrain from expressing my views on the incident because the facts are unclear and vehemently disputed.