When bureaucrats embrace politics

Shah Faesal’s dramatic announcement to resign from civil services and join politics evoked mixed reactions. While some hailed it as a brave and bold move, others were not enthused about this change of track. His admirers saw this as a ‘sacrifice’ for greater good of Kashmir, others questioned the intent behind his widely circulated and debated Facebook post which cited “unabated killings” in Kashmir and “marginalisation of Indian Muslims”.

Though Faesal’s case is unprecedented in many ways, we have seen many former bureaucrats and senior police officers joining politics in the past. The trend witnesses a spike as the elections draw closer. Bureaucrats usually do not enjoy the same mass support as the grassroot politicians. But since they have the skills and experience to run the administration successfully, political parties go out of their way to court them.

Indian politics has seen a spate of high profile civil servants joining different political parties after their retirement. The list of bureaucrats-turned-politicians is long and features names like Yashwant Sinha, Meira Kumar, Ajit Jogi, Arvind Kejriwal, PL Punia, KJ Alphons, Pawan Verma, Abdul Khaliq, Koppula Raju etc. Former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh was also a bureaucrat-cum-economist before his lateral entry into the Union Cabinet during PV Narasimha Rao’s government. Kejriwal perhaps represents the most dramatic rise from a civil servant to a politician who looked to revolutionize Indian ‘raajneeti’.

Some may argue that bureaucrats make for better politicians because of their administrative skills and experience. Others may raise serious questions over the objectivity of the decisions taken by these public servants while they were in office. Many people have serious apprehensions and skepticism about this growing trend of ‘babus’ turning into ‘netas’. They raise the important question of ‘conflict of interest’. Acknowledging this concern, Election Commission of India had made an attempt to mitigate it by proposing a “cooling-off period” for bureaucrats who wanted to join politics. The recommendation of EC to bar bureaucrats from joining politics or contesting polls immediately on exit from service was rejected by the union government.

Possibly the fastest transit from bureaucracy to politics in J&K was that of former Deputy Commissioner Ganderbal Showkat Ahmad Mir who joined the National Conference within 24 hours of his retirement. Media reports quoted Mir saying that his association with NC dates back to 1973 and his active role continued till 1987. It’s not that hard to guess where his loyalties would have been while serving as “apolitical” civil servant.

IG Crime, Raja Ajaz joined PDP after his superannuation before recently joining Sajad Lone-led Peoples Conference. Other bureaucrats who joined politics include Bashir Ahmad Rounyal and Mehboob Iqbal.

Some former government servants preferred to take the ‘easier’ route of the Upper House of the State Legislature. Three former Chief Secretaries, BR Kundal, Vijay Bakaya and Sheikh Ghulam Rasool forayed into politics through Legislative Council. Former Director Rural Development Department, Syed Asgar Hussain, former District Development Commissioner Srinagar, Ghulam Qadir Pardesi and former Secretary Tourism Naeem Akthar also took route of the Council.

Many more incumbent bureaucrats would be harbouring political ambitions and may end up with some party after their retirement. Some may enter politics contesting elections as Independent MLAs. It’s probably a better proposition since nobody could turn around and accuse them of having done one or the other party any favours.

Coming to the core issue of ‘conflict of interest’, the most manifest culrpit seems to be a civil servant who worked for a political party covertly while in service and then joined that very party overtly. But what about the person who does not join the party which is in power and has served dutifully with clean service record? There is also the question of freedom of choice? You cannot deny a person his right to join a political party after he retires.

Not being neutral while in service is the real problem. In cases where a bureaucrat has not been fair or neutral and later joins his beneficiary party or politician, the conflict of interest is clear.

Like every other field of life, there are black sheep in bureaucracy. Some civil servants actively indulge in politicking while in service while there are many who reveal their weak side at the fag end of their career. They want extension and beg their political masters. It is this particular lot which perhaps poses greater danger. These bureaucrats want a post-retirement sinecure (a position or office that requires little or no work but provides a salary). They don’t want to take the hard way of elections. Post-retirement, many such high profile civil servants manage to become Governor. They have to lobby for it and stain their hands with bad politicking while in service, but they don’t mind compromising on their integrity as long as it serves them good post retirement. Contesting elections may therefore be considered a healthier form of the trend. In this regard, Faesal is better off than many of his ilk.

Back to Faesal’s decision to quit IAS, it remains to be seen whether his “act of defiance” will be worth the hype. It may serve him well personally, but it would be unfair to expect Faesal to change the things he cited for his resignation.


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