- The political slugfest witnessed in the ongoing tussle between the Centre and the State Government of West Bengal over the chief secretary is neither new nor is going to be the last scuffle. That the Bengal Chief Minister is belligerent, aggressive, maverick, and extremely volatile temperamentally is increasingly becoming apparent over the last couple of years. She is also on a perpetual confrontational collision course with the Centre needs no further elaboration. She also had a not so concealed tiff with the Election Commission of India during the course of the recently concluded legislative elections is well documented and extensively reported.
- Seemingly, the combative attitude is not going to be placed in a backburner soon. The latest episode hogging the headlines arises after the Bengal chief secretary’s sudden recall to Delhi showcasing the increasingly bitter BJP-TMC one-upmanship that is also portending a worrying larger message of the bureaucracy’s increasing vulnerability to political headwinds. The tipping point for the latest ugly episode emanates after the Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and the chief secretary left a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review cyclone damage and relief efforts. The CM was apparently unhappy that her political bete-noire Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the opposition, was present at the meeting.
PC: Ashok Chatterjee
- Let us understand what is the rules defining the officers’ central deputations first. The Centre and states normally follow a consultative process on the matter. The rules require the state government’s concurrence in deputing IAS officers to serve under the central government. However, in case of disagreement, the state must give effect to the Centre’s decision. This is the statutory position and as such, the state and the chief secretary have few options realistically. The Problem arises how politically charged the situation is placing an enormous amount of stress on the officers.
- Of course, going by the service rules, the chief secretary also reports to the PM. The question is whether the CS sought permission to leave the meeting chaired by the PM. The CM claims so. But the recall action suggests the central is initiating disciplinary measure. Now, it is amply clear that the IAS/IPS officers are sandwiched between the political abrasiveness considerably deflating the morale and efficacy of the men and women whose job is to administer a vast, complex country. The service rules ensure IAS and IPS officers serve their elected political masters.
PC: Garvi Gujarati
- But they should not be expected nor asked to serve the politics of their masters, which is the invisible redline that cannot be crossed. In reality, it is crossed with increasing impunity, by both politicians, and even more sadly, by more than a few bureaucrats. The outcome of navigating in such treacherous waters of bitterly antagonistic politics is many officers will be rendered indecisive/scared of taking the right administrative action. Make no mistake, the Centre-state standoffs are particularly proving to be hard on IAS/IPS officers largely owing to the duality of their postings.
- No wonder, there is any number of officers approaching the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for redressing grievances. Therefore, it is incumbent on the part of the Centre and states to continue the harmonious consultative process without allowing their bitter political fights to intervene. Last heard, the CS has resigned from the service and has been recruited as an adviser to the Government of West Bengal. Expect even more fireworks in the coming days.