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HomeOpinionPoVIAS officers are not lazy ‘babus’. Time to reject the colonial slang

IAS officers are not lazy ‘babus’. Time to reject the colonial slang

In his Parliament speech, PM Modi came down heavily on the ‘babu culture’ in India. But who made civil servants ‘babus’ in the first place?

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There are two ‘babus’ in India.

One ‘babu’ you can find in the conversations of ‘millennial lovers’ and memes. The second ‘babu’ is a much older term. On 10 February, in his Parliament speech, PM Narendra Modi blasted the ‘babu’ culture in the country. He meant the steel frame of India, its civil servants.

To quote PM Modi, “Sab kuch babu hi karenge. IAS ban gaye matlab woh fertiliser ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega, chemical ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega, IAS ho gaya toh woh hawai jahaz bhi chalayega. Yeh kaunsi badi taakat bana kar rakh di hai humne?

Both the usages of ‘babu’ lead to massive ‘cringe’ now – a Gen Z term.

‘Babu’, in popular culture, implies a government worker who is lazy, incompetent, deliberately delays processes and enjoys life at the cost of public money.

The term that reeks of the colonial era has been stuck with civil servants and other government officials ever since. We need to give up this ‘babu’. Even the IAS Association condemned the use of the word in 2016 and called it ‘abusive’.

Also read: ‘Babu samjho ishare’ — Modi’s critique of IAS evokes shock but many also call for introspection

Babu, a ‘derogatory’ term in New India?

Using the term ‘babu’ for government officials is disdainful. In reality, IAS officers are professionals with varied skillsets, just like the employees of any other office. Most of them have to handle more than one department during their service, but they obviously don’t serve all departments.

Now, the question arises, who benefits from the ‘Babudom’ that the PM referred to? Certainly the Modi government, which has appointed several IAS officers to big posts. Take, for example, Shaktikanta Das, a history graduate, former revenue secretary and what some call a ‘career babu’, who was made the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Or R.K. Singh, a former IAS officer, was given two ministries by the Modi government.

‘Babudom’ is enabled only by politicians.

IAS officers, called the steel frame of India by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, have been handling the most coveted posts in the government. But they do not appoint themselves. They are appointed by constitutional bodies.

Also read: It’s 2021 and the Indian bureaucracy remains the greatest impediment to progress

Field experience vs domain knowledge

The IAS officers fall under the All India Services, and are posted in the district headquarters initially. There, they gain field experience in health, agriculture, education, environment, law and order, and learn how to implement democratic processes such as elections. Thus, they act as facilitators of the government.

It is possible that they may not have the domain knowledge for all their new postings, such as in aviation, chemical industry or electronics, but it is also true that they have adequate understanding of government procedures. And that makes them indispensable. One can’t bypass procedures in a democracy, because that may invite exploitation of rules and lead to disdain for the rights of people.

This understanding of procedures is so important and crucial that in the much-debated farm laws, the ‘babus’ have been given the authority to deal with dispute settlement. This is ironic given Modi’s speech in Parliament.

Or take the coronavirus pandemic and the migrant workers’ exodus, for example. The government—Centre or states—could only manage the situation because of the officers on the ground – the so-called ‘babus’.

Also read: CMs pick up PM Modi trend, retain trusted chief secretaries as advisers after retirement 

Training and more professional attitude

Instead of dehumanising government officers, the State can look at them as professionals with different skillsets. Rather than making disparaging remarks, they may be appointed as per their skillset and domain knowledge, which is not done in many cases and raises questions. An officer is a public servant, but in reality, she/he has to act like a minister’s servant, and that is where the problem lies. If the government is keen on removing ‘Babudom’ from State institutions, political interference in their work should be reduced and the officers treated as professionals. 

Everyone knows that by clearing one exam, a person doesn’t become a ‘babu’. It’s the system that treats them as such. The ‘Mai-Baap’ attitude passes on to them and the public starts treating them as ‘Watan Ke Rakhwaale’. With so much pressure and responsibility, they go from being an earnest professional to a forced ‘babu’.

Time to give up that term and culture.

Views are personal.

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  1. Our Babus always pass their blame to politician. Babus are so innocent that he is bind by politician. If he has a problem on doing their task/job then why not leave/resign the job but they will stick to the job and enjoy the luxury and receive hefty money under table . Our babus are so innocent.

  2. IAS officers are not lazy babus, they are the scheming, manipulating puppeteers who have reduced government administration to a synonym for corruption and treason. Without their active support no politician can do any wrong.

    While there may not be need for any elaboration on the corruption bit of it, the treason part may need some elaboration. While the task of government administration is to deliver services of the government to the people, as per laid down laws, rules and procedure, we should know how these laws, rules and procedures are subverted by these bureaucrats aka babus responsible for this administration.The latest in the laws to be subverted is the simplest and only pro-democarcy law-the Right to Information Act. Readers may go through my articles ‘RTI: Exposing the traitors among public servants’ published in 5 parts begining with to

  3. Non-Violent Silent Relay Fast Protestants Against Injustice since 3 rd Sept 2007 for more than 500 Days in Constituency of Hon’ble BJP MLA Shri Prakash Mehta,GoM still remain as of now Victims of Misuse of Powers of IAS & IPS Public Servants. Justice before Death or Death Before Justice. Aam Aadmi can’t afford to move Hon’ble High Courts or Apex Court for Justice against IAS/IPS Public Servants ….What about Lawlessness and /or Heartlessness ??? Criminals Roam Free : Nirbhay & Surakshit(NeitherJailNorBail )Whereas Victims of Fraud( Bhaybhit & Asurakshit) : Traumatic and Stressed : Facing Trial in Fake Bogus Fabricated Case # Majority of Victims from Gujarati Speaking Community

  4. This was a term given by journalists.So I called them ‘kouwas’in Sanskrit means ‘crows’-scavenger crows.”The Hindu”published it! Hon PM was angry at Sardar Patel’s creation.Be this as it may,I have been suggesting reorganization of the Civil Services for infusing the much needed professionalism.This was given to ARCs and published too.But Govts are interested in lateral entrants for their own reasons.

  5. Politicians cannot understand civil servants. Civil servants cannot understand politicians. Common man cannot understand both !!!

  6. Views are more or less wrong. Even some of the print’s articles better represent the case for or against babu culture.

  7. Modiji is right about deriding IAS officers as useless babus. These IAS officers are creation of the Pandit Jawharlal Nehru whom BJP members and their fellow supporters call him anti national. According to Modiji, these Babus did nothing great. He believes that without them the Nation achieved 8% GDP, was the 4th standing army in the world, 5th Air Force, 2and Blue Navy. These Babus don’t toe the BJP line and that is why they are useless people. They cannot fly plane or do anything in agriculture but BJP members can do better than them. These Babus are so much educated and smart unlike the BJP ministers that it hurts his conscience. If only Babus behaved like slaves like the godi media, he would have sang their praises.

    • IAS officers are not the creation of Jawaharlal Nehru. They are a continuation of the ICS created by the British to rule over their colonial subjects. Nehru called them neither Indian nor Civil not servants and wanted to discontinue the ICS. It was Sardar Patel who wanted to retain the ICS and so it was renamed the IAS.

  8. Jyoti the problem lies in your own essay which says: ‘It is possible that they may not have the domain knowledge for all their new postings, such as in aviation, chemical industry or electronics, but it is also true that they have adequate understanding of government procedures’
    That’s exactly what is impeding the progress of the nation. Since the IAS bureaucrats do not have much or in most cases – no domain knowledge – they spend a great part of their time in maximizing procedures instead of maximizing the results that they are required to achieve.
    Tragically successive governments have not succeeded in bringing in experts to head the government machinery and the country has to carry the burden of ‘strong procedures’ instead of reaping the benefits of ‘ strong outcomes’

    • Sir, in short you are trying to say an action done without any guideline. How will you make sure that the so called “strong outcome” will benefit all or done in correct way without cutting on others rights. Believe me without strong without procedure you will never get strong result. Power without accountability and responsibility is what damaging our nation, and thing is very much found among private sectors and not in bureaucracy(Coz, they have responsibility and accountability without sufficient power).
      And about domain expertise, civil servants come from various background be it Science commerce or arts, on top of it they have lived village life themselve that’s why they know what are the shortcomings on ground level, it’s the politics which prevent them from doing good..tell me which govt or politicians have given civil servants free hands for developing n using creative ideas for “strong outcome”. civil servants ko seekhaya ja Sakta hai they can be taught and trained for various job roles. Civil servants are also youth of this nation. I assure you not even in private sector, which I suppose pm was trying to give shout-out , has all the expertise available with them, but they create it for there profit generation. So, tell govt. To use these some of the brilliant mind available with them in best way. A talented mind without any work entrusted will become babu. We have some ministers which have nothing to do with the ministry they are serving in..why don’t you tell this to our nation head.

  9. Mandarin is a better term. At least in several states, where the CM wishes to rule like a king, they are supplanting ministers. Not a healthy practice. Difficult to generalise, but the politicisation of the bureaucracy is far advanced. More so in the police. Sardar Patel might find it difficult today to recognise his creation.

  10. If our Babus were such professionals India’s governance wouldn’t be in the state that it is. The truth is that Babus are a bunch that thrive in this system with enormous powers and negligible accountability. Rated as the worst bureaucracy on the planet, other then file pushing and being obstructionist they have nothing much to show. With a gargantuan government machinery many of them end up doing things that don’t need to be done at all. Of course they are not to be blamed completely but it does take two to clap. Time for the political bosses to walk the talk and recharge the bureaucracy.

  11. IAS officers are like PSU, outlived their usefulness. Barring many exceptions who reinvent themselvs now and then, and don’t depend on the suffix “IAS” after their name, they are inaccessible, surivve by working the system. They are jack of all trades and master of none. PSUs have become a disaster because of the bad practice of appointing IAS officers as Chairman or MD over the head of career officers and technocrats of the PSUs who know their job well. The IAS hegemony has ensured that officers in other services of the Central government do not come up in their career. There is a glass ceiling for officers in other services. IAS have particularly let down Modi very badly. In 2014, when he became the PM, he placed high degree of confidence on the IAS babus, over the head of his own ministers. Barring the absence of political corruption at highest level, nothing has changed for better. In fact, corruption is at its worst. Before shedding crocodile tears for IAS officers, ask what is their contribution in the last six years to give better governance?

    • You are right. Like somebody had pointed out India made such progress in atomic energy sector and space only because these two sectors have no babus (read IAS guys) with them.

  12. What kind of click-baity article is this? Nothing of substance and poor prose. It befits Huffington Post and the wire more than The Print.

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