Tharoor Line | Unbridled power of officialdom and larger issues we need to reflect

Deepa article image
Representational image. Photo: Manorama Online

Last week came two stories relating to what used to be called “the arrogance of power”.

In the first, a prominent national newspaper exposed on the front page of its Delhi edition the startling news that the Thyagaraj Stadium in the capital, used daily by hundreds of athletes for training and practice, was being shut down at 7 p.m. daily to permit an IAS officer to walk his dog undisturbed.

The second story revealed that an IRS officer assigned to the Narcotics Bureau in Mumbai had deliberately falsified evidence to implicate a celebrity victim, the superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son, in a drug bust.

Both these revelations resulted in prompt and gratifying action by the authorities. The offending IAS officer and his IAS officer wife, who had often joined him on their presumptuous dog-walks, were promptly transferred to Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh; it is not known which of the pair their canine will accompany.

Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor. Photo: Manorama Online

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal promptly announced that the Thyagaraj Stadium will be kept open for the use of athletes till 10 pm every day.

The offending narcotics officer was returned to his parent service and exiled to Chennai to scrutinise tax forms instead of drug parties. End of story – as far as our media is concerned.

But should it really mark the end? Aren’t there larger issues raised by these episodes that we need to reflect on as a society?

The first is the almost unbridled power we have managed to bequeath on our officialdom. In a country where an ordinary citizen cannot get the simplest administrative action changed without filling in forms in quadruplicate, standing in queues for hours or genuflecting in supplication at government offices, that an IAS officer can simply order such a major disruption in the lives of hundreds of athletes – and have his orders implemented immediately and without demur – is nothing short of shocking. Why have we created an administrative culture in which those who have been appointed to serve the citizenry can treat their supposed masters, the taxpaying citizens of India, with such cavalier contempt? How can it be that in a country where due process is taken to an excruciating extreme, and every simple action has to overcome multiple hurdles before implementation, an IAS officer can shut an entire stadium down and tie up hundreds of athletes with his dog-leash and another official can have an innocent man jailed for weeks for no reason but his desire for publicity? How is it that those whose job is to guard these processes, administer the laws and ensure their fair implementation, can consider themselves above the law – the very law they are supposed to administer?

Second, why is the government’s only response, to such flagrant violations of the basic standards of behaviour, the administrative action of a transfer? Transferring an official in these circumstances is meant to be seen as a punishment, but it is in reality little more than an inconvenience. The officer retains his rank, salary and privileges, and is assigned to a position reflecting his bureaucratic seniority. He suffers nothing but a brief spasm of indignity. The media moves on; in due course, the public forgets his name; he resumes his rise up the greasy pole of administration. There are no lasting consequences for his misbehaviour, only a temporary derailment. He will be exercising his clout soon enough, only in a different location. Is this all we can or should do to discipline the errant?

Third, what about the victims of these officials’ high-handedness? Who will compensate young Aryan Khan for the days of his life lost in detention, the hours spent in courtrooms and police cells, the stress and humiliation of repeated interrogations, all in the glare of media publicity, without the slightest shred of evidence to justify any of this? Who will make up to the athletes for their lost hours of practice and training, the opportunities foregone to hone their skills? The stark answer is: no one. The government has not even fined or demoted these officials who abused their position. Perhaps they should, and send the resultant money saved by the taxpayer to those unjustly detained or damaged by their actions. Where many are involved, as in the Thyagaraj Stadium, the money could be spent to improve the facilities available to the citizenry there. But the government should not let these arrogant officials get away scot-free.

Instead of moving on from these stories, we also need to introspect about what they reveal about our culture. The government needs to take steps to ensure that such arrogant abuse of power cannot easily be repeated.

From this week we will be ending this column with a short tailpiece on an unrelated subject. My fondness for cricket is well-known; and though I am a Test cricket fanatic, I enjoy the other formats of the game as well, including the slam-bang-wallop joys of the shortest format, Twenty20. I tune in to highlights of IPL matches whenever I can, and I avidly follow the fortunes of Rajasthan Royals, the only IPL team captained by a Keralite. Sanju Samson happens to be a constituent, from the village of Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram, and I first met him when he was 14 and already a precocious wicketkeeper-batsman. I have enthusiastically followed his rise ever since.

Sanju Samson
Sanju Samson. Photo: Manorama Online

At 27, Sanju Samson is in his prime, a sublime timer of the ball with a prodigious ability to play strokes few others can, and a captain whose stature has been enhanced by his shrewd leadership of the Royals to their first IPL final in fourteen years. Aside from asking every Malayali to be proud of him, I have one question for the Kerala cricket authorities. Why isn’t Sanju provided every opportunity to give to Kerala what he has given Rajasthan? Aside from brief stints as Kerala captain, he has been relegated to the ranks and is currently not captain of our Ranji Trophy and ODI teams. Why are we in Kerala so reluctant to hail a talent that the rest of the country and the world joyously applaud?  

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