During an interaction after I cleared the civil service in 2006, someone requested me that I should put all the corrupt politicians in their place. Similar wishes have been put to recent entrants of the service too. Majority of the public believe that politicians are bad and bureaucrats, particularly the youngsters, are good. The tussle between bureaucrats and politicians is a favourite topic of media and movies. Any officer who picks up a fight with a politician will be hailed as a hero.
During the student days too, academically brilliant people are warned to keep themselves away from politics. Most of the educational institutions do not allow political activities inside the campus. Parents in general, also do not want their wards to get into politics. As the electoral politics is not part of political science syllabus, many students do not try to follow the political happenings around. If children of political leaders clear civil service exam, there are people who point out undue influence.
There are precious few who dare to admit to any political affiliation or activism in their past during the civil service interview. Most of the candidates do not want to project the image of an activist during a personality test. Interestingly, I remember someone who asked me, whether he can mention about his participation in the “Kiss of Love” campaign. In another case, a candidate had kept his hobby as “analysing the political developments”, but he was reluctant to comment on any analytical question and failed to take stands. So, considering all these, let me explain the relationship between politics and civil service and also the importance of political awareness.
The Indian Civil Service is called the permanent executive which does the implementation part of the governance. Bureaucrats help in policy-making by giving flesh and blood to political ideas. They should point out the problems and help the legislature come up with proper laws. Then, the proper implementation of law is also the responsibility of a civil servant. In short, civil servants work hand in hand with political leaders to make things happen.
There could be conflict of interests between politicians and bureaucrats but it need not be the case all the time. If a politician approaches an officer with a demand for some illegal favour, the latter can politely refuse pointing out the consequences rather than picking up a fight. Most of the efficient officers say that if one explains patiently, many of the political leaders understand the situation and withdraw their claims for undue favours. Politicians usually pick capable officers for important jobs. Some politicians may become vengeful when their ego is hurt by the officers. Few officers who are frustrated during their career because of lack of tact, enter into politics to make up for that power deficit.
While considering the fact that civil servants need to work closely with politicians, it is important that one should be updated with the political developments. One should follow local, national and international politics to get a clear picture of things. Unlike the written examination which does not have politics in its syllabus, civil service interview can have questions on politics. The board can ask pointed questions on political personalities and one cannot shy away from answering the same. Particularly during election years, there can be a lot of questions on politics in the interview.
Student politics too, if it does not succumb to violence, gives a lot of leadership experience. Nowadays we are witness to students all over the country protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. These things are part of student’s life and one need not keep oneself isolated from these happenings. Those who are members of political parties should try to avoid one-sided views during interview and once they become part of bureaucracy, they should rise above party loyalties while implementing the law.
One cannot have an aversion to politics as it influences every walk of our life. Plato states that “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” So, even if you do not participate in politics, keep a close watch of political developments. And if you are a bureaucrat, put your elected representative as the “first among equals”.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)