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Cost of endearment turning too high for officials

By M K Shukla and Rakesh Ranjan- 15 Oct 2020
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Every senior official is aware of the cost involved in endearing oneself to a particular political dispensation. And there is no reason to believe that Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh (IPS:1988:MH) has been unaware of it. He's smart. So he must have thought that he could manage the cost involved in his popularity with Congress-NCP leaders. And he did indeed succeed through his career and harvested a rich reward from his political benefactors by getting the current job at the cost of his more competent competitors. 

Everything was indeed working his ways till he stepped on the TRP landmine. And the consequent media blast has exposed his deep connection with NCP-Congress whom he gave a clean chit in the notorious Maharashtra irrigation scam involving Ajit Pawar and others and the favors conferred on his wife, Savita Singh, by famous corporate houses of Mumbai. Though she holds merely MA, LLB degree, which many millions may be holding in this country, she has done extraordinarily well for herself by being on the boards of various companies. 

In the given situation, even if the TRP investigation keeps rolling and may finally lead to nowhere as happen in most of the cases, the Mumbai Police Commissioner may be in for the harshest investigation into his personal and private domain and will face cyclonic political headwinds originating from the central government.

Will he be able to save himself is the question that must be haunting his mind now?

Precedents don't suggest that he will have smooth sailing henceforth.

One may recall how some time ago,  Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar (IPS:1991:WB) landed himself in an inextricable situation for months, had to appear before the CBI, and now finds himself languishing in some corner of West Bengal - just because of what he might have done and what he did to endear himself to the state TMC government and its pugnacious and mercurial CM Mamta Banerjee.

Rajeev Kumar's is not the sole example. Ex-Commissioner in the Central Election Commission Ashok Lavasa and Ex CBI Director Alok Varma, too, had to pay the cost when they thought that they could game the system. They were made to eat humble pie because there were too many chinks in their armor, of which they became too painfully aware when they were hit back. 

With temptations galore and lurking in every corner, officials have found it difficult to internalize the dictum that professional neutrality is the best path to an honorable career, if not a shining and enduring career that entails damage to self-respect and dignity. 

They have been aware of it since the late sixties-early seventies when the Indian polity started shedding off its proclivity for the single-party rule at the centre and the states and decisively moved towards multi-party systems in the states. While in the fifties, Kerala was the only state where a non-Congress Communist government ruled for a while, much of North India - with Bihar leading the example through Samyukta Vidhayak Dal government in the late sixties - slipped into the hands of the non-Congress formations.

As the political churning continued through the seventies, eighties, and nineties and thereafter, IAS and IPS officers found themselves overwhelmed by political realities. They found it rather difficult to stick to the path of their professional neutrality, and many of them set out into the path of endearing themselves both at their cadre states as well as at the centre. Some of them succeeded, but many found themselves left by the roadside of politics.

The advent of NDA 2.0 in 2014 and its continuity as 3.0 at the centre has made things more difficult for scavengers of the bureaucracy to eat the cake and have it too. Param Bir Singh may soon realize that he might have bitten more than he can chew by opening up the Pandora's box of TRP ratings and that no Pawar and his ilk could save him from the fallout of his past Karma - because he didn't stick to the path of professional neutrality in his career ever. 

As politics turn more competitive and complex, because of an interplay between the differing and conflicting ideologies, officials may help their career by blindly following the path of professional neutrality. In this regard, they may be advised to take the Twitter advice of their senior and Ex-HRD Secretary Anil Swarup proffered in reference to the Hathras case. "Huge lesson for civil servants in the suspension of DM and SP Hathras. In case of crime and law and order go strictly by the law. Each officer should know that except ‘honourable’ exceptions overindulgence to please someone does not pay in the long run perhaps in the short-term as well”.

(By M K Shukla and Rakesh Ranjan)

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