Monday, May 29, 2023
Support Our Journalism
HomeOpinionAn ex-IAS officer on how politicians (mis)use civil servants—and the way out

An ex-IAS officer on how politicians (mis)use civil servants—and the way out

Text Size:

The damage political crossfire does to governance is phenomenal, especially if honest IAS officers are implicated.

A tweet of mine about how IAS officers and other civil servants get caught in political crossfire caught the fancy of many Twitterati.

A few were extremely concerned about current governance practices, which are being influenced by decisions that appear to be politically motivated but have a long-ranging adverse impact on the system.

Some key questions deserve our attention:

Why do honest civil servants suffer in this crossfire?

Does this crossfire impact governance? How?

How do culprits get away?

Can honest officers insulate themselves from this crossfire?

But this is about the honest officers—the proverbial Harish Chandras of Indian bureaucracy who, more often than not, are not fully conversant with the machinations of politicians and political operators.

For a politician, civil servants are like tools to be used, misused and, on occasion, even abused. If an officer lets her guard down, she could be in trouble.

There could also be instances where the political boss disowns a decision that he or she consciously took (sometimes without mala fide intention) when it is subsequently ‘discovered’ that it was ‘wrong’.

The politician often gets away with it.

Also read: India needs Reforms 2.0 to save both bureaucracy and good IAS officers like H.C. Gupta

For instance, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken the final decision regarding the allotment of coal blocks during UPA-2 but passed the buck by telling the CBI that it was for the coal secretary to highlight guidelines vis-a-vis allocation.

If it could be done by a prime minister who had the reputation of being honest, it can be done by any politician.

The damage this crossfire does to governance is phenomenal, especially if honest officers are implicated. The officers feel dejected and frustrated. The ‘fence sitters’ among the civil services start having second thoughts about honesty being the best practice (policy).

And the dishonest feel mighty justified about their conduct. What could be more devastating? Decision making gets impacted. Such crossfire leads to distrust. Decisions are taken for ‘dishonest’ purposes or they are not taken at all, or they are inordinately delayed.

The culprits get away because the enforcement machinery is busy chasing the honest and does not have the time, energy, or inclination (on occasion, politically inspired) to pursue cases against the real ones.

The culprits are not only well-connected, they are well-endowed as well. Hence, it is much more difficult to ‘ground’ those who have the capacity to ‘fly’ away from the country.

Also read: Midnight orders and hurried transfers: Where Modi govt is going wrong with IAS officers

The great escape

Can a civil servant act in a manner that he or she doesn’t get caught in political crossfire? Yes, it is possible. It requires discipline, knowledge of rules and procedures and strict adherence to them, and some sacrifice. There is a cost to be paid either way. The choice is ours. Make it early and be prepared for the consequences.

The answer lies in my tweet. To insulate themselves from political crossfire, civil servants must have a clear understanding of procedures. It is here that he or she gets caught. Mere knowledge will not help. The civil servant has to have the courage to express it and formally bring it to the notice of the political decision maker.

It may not always be very ‘convenient’ to do so, but the price of not doing it may turn out to be higher than the immediate ‘annoyance’ of the politician.

And, finally, if the civil servant himself or herself is ‘desirous’ of a ‘return gift’, nothing will work.

They have a choice — they have to make that choice or ‘suffer’ the consequences.

Also read: This IAS officer scored 171 out of 170 at Harvard. Now, he plans to solve India’s problems

The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. My own experiences with bureaucrats make me feel that many of them lead politicians in subtle ways into the pit to be able to control them. Babudom is getting increasingly politicized. The nexus between IAS officers and mantris is bad news for citizens. The entire bureaucracy is nurtured at a huge distance from the life of the people. They think they are called to be servants of political masters. So long this attitude prevails, no knowledge of any procedure or regulation will help. The crucial issue in ethics, as Immanuel Kant pointed two hundred years ago, is that the will to act according to the ethical sense which is already there is under-developed. We all know what is right and what is wrong. What we lack is the will power to stand by the good we know. So, we have become experts in inventing excuses for supporting the corrupt and violating our conscience. The worst thing about a corrupt order is the oppression it mounts on the honest. Those who are not convinced may read my Memoir titled On A Stormy Course (Hachette India, 2017). It is available on

  2. The author is only stating the obvious. A ignorant civil servant eager to please but not knowing the procedures, or that they are to be adhered to in letter and spirit, is not distinguishable from a corrupt compliant official.
    The official must do the right thing and if the minister wants to do the wrong thing, the minister is free to override the official at his own risk. Sometimes the minister may override for reasons which are justified politically. But if the minister is doing a corrupt act, he will always want to hide behind the official’s file notings.
    So there cannot be any mercy for officials who bend the rules or twist them or act against the public interest to please their political masters for whatever reasons. Officials have plenty of service protection from dismissal. It is intended only to help them take a courageous stand in the favor of the proper thing to be done.
    So good officers should not normally suffer, but bad officers whether ignorant/corrupt/etc must be punished severely.

  3. Aptly put, Mr Goel. In a recent book (Sutras for Super cops) available on, I have dealt with the visitation of karma on police officers when they violate the laws of integrity and professionalism.In fact, this applies to all those who are entrusted with power over others.

    My autobiography “Pursuit of Law and order,, might also be of interest to all civil servants.
    A P Durai IPS

  4. This is what I know about IAS Officers. As probationers, they train to be honest.
    As Assistant Commissioners, they are Indian Administrative Service officers. By the time they finish their tenure as Deputy Commissioners, they are members of the Indifferent Administrative Service .
    By the time they reach Secretary level, they are members of the Indian Association of Scoundrels.
    By the time they become ACS, they are MFs. They will do anything for money, wine, women etc. One amongst this MFs becomes CS & contests elections. I have never come across a single objective , caring and dedicated IAS officer here.

    • Please add ‘ by the time, they become secretaries, they are members of the Indian Ass kissing Service and continue

  5. IAS men and women should accept that the service is corrupt from the core. Few years back corruption used to start after some years of service. In initial years, officers used to be honest but the present trend is different. The corruption starts from the beginning and currently officers are hiring professional services for image building.

    Social media is full of such stories.

  6. The article does not give much comfort to the aspiring civil servant except to say that he must know the procedures fully and point them out to the political bosses. In a recent case, some official in the MOD has pointed out on the file how wrong it was for the Govt to release funds to Dassault without a sovereign guarantee. He has been overruled by the top politicians of the country who probably pressured the senior most civil servant to play ball .

    In the case of Coal Secy H C Gupta the case is also different. It is not that he was trapped by Man MOhan Singh, but that in the hysteria of finding wrong doers , even judges get carried away
    and fail to see that it is impossible for a Committee to check every financial detail of hundreds of allottees . If the allottees deceive the Govt with false data, it is they who must be punished . If there was no collusion, the civil servant cannot be punished . HC will have to go on appeal for all the cases filed against him.


  8. I don’t totally agree with. Whether it is civil services or any authority ,while putting up the note the concerned officer has to clearly state the rule position ,procedure and also deviation if any. Then it is for the appropriate authority to clear the file or return it. When the concerned officer does his job in a half baked way , issue may boomranging. Particularly IAS officers at any level need not worry ,provided they are up right and clean

  9. I advise the new entrants to the top AIS services to decide from day one whether they want to be honest. Or dishonest with tight compartment , no intermediate way. If you decide to be honest, you should be ready for side postings, stringent way of living, no recognition in Govt, public and in your own Department, disrespectful attitude from subordinates and avoiding behaviour from seniors , abuse sharing from wife and children before and after retirement due to financial crunch and so many difficulties but you will come through these barriers as your conscience will be strong. If you decide to be dishonest, start from the first day, upto 10 AM daily register your haxri with, CM, HM, CS and other officials and politicians who matter, be ready to accomplish their desires of every kind , be ready for persecution and prosecution of wrong orders and deeds of them , enjoy field postings and earning money with fame and medals. fascinating way of living for family, cars, jewellery and houses. Remember money makes the mare go. But at last you will repent that your children had fallen in bad society, could not get into AIS services. After retirement the money you earned shall not help you as you will be caught by several permanent diseases which will not allow you to enjoy full creamy food, drinks, namkins, sweets and early oldness will come to you as death in the dreams. Disobedience from sons and daughters in law. Wife shall be cursing rather respect you who although enjoyed best of your periods

  10. Hi dear the question raised. are genuine but the higher buracracy is also much involved in doing the misdeed to the country once they join the system they all trained to misuse the law,s loopholes for personal benefits ,as a human being of low morality so why making a noise the iron steel frame is rusted from within no morally no ethics only money money and no paroitism with regards swachh samarpit simplified samridh self done Sindhu

  11. They are all corrupt without exception.They are not misused…..they have their vested interests….. involving billions.They pose themselves as honest only after retirement to get sympathy of public.They take hefty bribes…. syphon off it either in business or real estate or gold and precious stones or send it to foreign countries through hawala where they have already settled their sons and daughters.
    So beware of these shameless corrupt bureaucrats posing themselves as honest and upright crusaders.

  12. The opinion is one sided. IAS is sacastically termed “I Am Safe” service. They play the game intelligently. If anything goes wrong they also pass the buck by stating that they were misled by the lower level officers. Very few IAS officers suffer like the coal secretary. It’s also a fact that over the years the quality of IAS officers is coming down in terms of honesty and integrity.

  13. It is basically bureaucrats who are in collusion with politicians. The bureaucrats heading deptts./PSUs sideline honest officers and get the orders of masters implemented. If these senior IAS officers could keep their spine straight, no politician can make them budge and get wrongs done from them. Yes, what happens is that certain black sheeps in every cadre are their to oblige . And, that makes honest officers suffer by being denied top posts or incentives. And the wrongdoers get all what they want. This system continues and thus, population of wrongdoers increases. Honest officers, on many occasions, endanger their own life and property.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular