Many of us unfortunate enough to be educated and emotionally invested in our country are in pain these days. We see our nation being plundered and mismanaged by the politicians in power. Even as the rupee collapses and industrial production growth turns negative, our top leadership discusses 60-year-old cartoons inParliament.
The Lokpal Bill, promised by the government before the entire nation, languishes. Economic reforms, no longer a choice but a desperate necessity, are stuck in limbo. Policymaking has slipped into a coma. College graduates and engineers are unable to get jobs that pay as much as daily wage earners. Almost all people involved in the biggest scams in India’s history are out on bail, with no clarity on when and if they will ever be convicted.
In such a sullen scenario, people often ask – when and how will India change? What will it take – a few more hunger strikes, a revolution, media stories, voter education or a new TV reality show? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. We have limited tools to fix our broken system. The free media is one. The Indian media has played a crucial role in highlighting the wrongs at the top. Our judiciary, largely independent, has also contributed in pointing out injustices. Social activists are another group bringing about change. Artists – filmmakers, writers and musicians – all play a role.
However, another set of people can bring about extraordinary change. These are our civil serviceprofessionals, affectionately known as babus. Sadly, this set has not used its power.
Our civil service officers run our country. Our politicians have little interest in the nuts and bolts of running the country. Politicians like symbolism – meals at dalit homes, presidential selections and cartoons. Or they like issues appealing to vote banks – religion quotas, temple locations and dividing up states.
While politicians entertain us, babus ensure the country doesn’t completely shut down. Railways officers ensure trains run, municipal corporators get garbage collected, junior IAS officers manage districts and senior IAS officers run entire ministries.
The stereotype of the babu is someone who is lazy, conservative, arrogant and corrupt. For sure, a significant number of babus may justify the typecasting. However, a large number of civil service officers work hard and are honest. Many of my own college batchmates work for the civil services. They work 12-hour days, in hostile, demotivating conditions at a tenth of the salary they could earn in the private sector. It is perhaps their madness, a misplaced idealism, a love of the country or a feeling that they are making a difference.
These are smart people. Clearing the UPSC exam is no mean feat. These people would be highly valued outside the government. Any foreign MNC coming to India would do well to hire an ex-IAS officer, if only for their ability to work through the Indian system. Civil service professionals are well educated, intelligent, influential and capable.
And yet, one factor makes the entire class of civil service people earn far less glory than they could. And that is – no guts.
Sorry to say, but despite all their qualities, government babus are some of the most scared people on earth. They are scared of their politician bosses, worried about their annual performance appraisals, too attached to their promotions, and afraid of falling behind in their career ladder. They enjoy job security and a natural rise even if they do not show extraordinary performance. On the other hand, they can suffer if they stick their neck out, suggest improvements or point fingers at wrongdoers. So they often maintain status quo. Hence, some of the brightest people in the country, close to the corridors of power, aware of what is right and wrong, do little of what is required.
They are doing their jobs for sure. However, they are not fighting for change. They are petrified. And that is a shame, not only for the civil services community, but also for the entire nation. The babus should answer some existential questions. What are you so scared of? Missing a promotion? Not becoming a secretary? Losing out on an extra bedroom in the subsidised government accommodation? What is the worse that could happen if you raised your voice against inefficient and corrupt masters? Lose your job and this fake, temporary power? Do you have no faith in your talent, that you will be able to make a living outside? After working so hard to clear a merit-based exam, does your conscience not prick you every time you see your bosses plunder the country?
More than anything, babus need to answer this – what is your dharma? To listen to your masters or to do the right thing?
At least according to the Mahabharata, Krishna advised Arjuna to fight his own cousins. Since Arjuna was fighting a virtuous war, it became his dharma to fight and not give in to attachment. The babus need to sit down and reflect on their own new dharma.
For if the babus want, they can fix the system much faster than any external activist, artist or mediaperson can. The babus are in the system and know what is going on. The babus are the most powerful lobby in the country. If babus agitate, politicians in the corridors of power will have to listen.
Don’t sit idle and watch injustice. Rebel if you need to. Don’t become part of the evil, because you have enough talent to be successful by being good. Rise, fight and rescue us. The country needs you. Your time has come.