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From Jharkhand to Yogi’s UP, BJP leaders are sparring with bureaucracy. ‘Petty’, say IAS officers

Last week, Sitharaman berated a Telangana district collector because a ration shop didn't have PM's photo. BJP leaders in other states have gotten into spats with civil servants too.

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New Delhi: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Jharkhand MP Nishikant Dubey’s public spats with civil servants, which made news over the past week, are not the only instances of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders berating officers publicly.

The list is long and the upbraiding of officers is happening irrespective of whether the BJP is on the helm. There are even talks in the power corridors that BJP leaders — from corporators to ministers — allegedly send lists of ‘hostile’ Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers to the home ministry and the Department of Personnel and Training.

After Sitharaman pulled up district collector Jitesh Patel, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) put up photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on LPG cylinders, prominently displaying the cost at Rs 1,105, and went on to attack the BJP on social media.

In the case of Dubey, the BJP MP made news for allegedly forcing Air Traffic Control officials at the Deoghar airport to provide clearance for a chartered flight to take off beyond the scheduled time. An FIR filed against him and eight others resulted in a spat on Twitter between Dubey and Deoghar Deputy Commissioner Manjunath Bhajantri.

Dubey has accused Bhajantri of acting on behalf of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren. “He is a henchman of Hemant Soren. Since I am critical of the chief minister and expose him every time, he is doing [getting even with him] to please the chief minister,” he told ThePrint.

On their part, officers and civil servants have asserted that the trend of politicians targeting officers publicly was ‘demotivating’ and ‘detrimental’ to the administrative service. There are already rules on what action can be taken against erring officers, they contended.

In July, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak was miffed with additional chief secretary, medical and health, Amit Mohan Prasad, for not consulting him in the transfers of doctors. Prasad was transferred to the less significant MSME department in the recent bureaucratic reshuffle.

Next month, an angry Noida MP Mahesh Sharma pulled up then Uttar Pradesh Home Secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi after BJP leader Shrikant Tyagi’s goons allegedly entered a housing society. Sharma purportedly spoke to Noida Police Commissioner Alok Singh in a disrespectful manner in front of the media.

Madhya Pradesh ministers Mahendra Singh Sisodia and Brajendra Singh Yadav this month publicly accused Chief Secretary Iqbal Singh Bains of helming a nirankush” (autocratic) administration. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to step in and advise them to not vent their grievances in public.

But that was not the end of it. At a meeting of the BJP’s core group, party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, too, vented his anger at the bureaucracy.

In August, West Bengal BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and handed over a list of civil servants and police officers who “work” for the Mamata Banerjee government. The same month, Gujarat MLA Kishor Kanani tweeted alleging that officers were not working properly and had not delivered in the past 25 years.

A group of officers in Assam wrote to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in May against BJP MLA Kaushik Rai for questioning the integrity of the entire Assam Civil Services cadre. Rai had allegedly called a circle officer as “rice chor” and added that their “bodies will be infested by maggots”.

BJP MLAs in Haryana were in news in May after they complained to party national general secretary (organising) B.L. Santhosh about  “babudom” (bureaucracy) looming over governance.

Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) leader and Haryana minister Devender Singh Babli made similar charges against the state bureaucracy in August. Babli had accused the state administration of patronising the drug mafia and not taking action against the corrupt.

Also Read: Dhami ministers want say in IAS officers’ appraisal, claim orders get ‘ignored’ without it

All powerful CMO, arrogance & ‘yes boss’ culture    

A former Uttar Pradesh minister defended his fellow colleagues saying that getting work done is tough, especially when officers are not willing to move unless “calls come from Lucknow”.

“The main reason [anger towards officials] is our accountability to people. [Civil servants] don’t fight elections. We have to address the problem of more than a lakh people in one constituency. When power is concentrated in the CMO with chief and principal secretaries, officers don’t respond until they get a phone call from Lucknow,” he said.

Elected representatives, the BJP leader contended, cannot dial the CM for each and every problem. “Under the new power setup most MLAs and MPs are powerless. Yogiji has started visiting every Lok Sabha constituency with in-charge ministers of districts in tow. He has told officials to address the concerns of MLA, MP or face action. Still more needs to be done,” said the BJP leader.

He claimed the administration swung into action in the Shrikant Tyagi case only after the Noida MP made a call to the state home secretary. “Public representatives have more accountability than bureaucracy.”

A Madhya Pradesh cabinet minister, too, conceded that the concentration of power with the CMO has resulted in civil servants not listening to elected representatives.

“There is no decentralisation of power and authority. The concept of guardian minister has been formed to fix responsibility of officers, but despite that officers don’t listen till they get communication from the chief secretary and the CMO. What is the need for appointing guardian ministers, when even ministers don’t have the power to decide transfers and posting? It is another fact that [Jyotiraditya M.] Scindia’s minister has liberty to speak openly. Not us,” he said, referring to Mahendra Singh Sisodia and Brajendra Singh Yadav.

BJP MP from Ranchi Sanjay Seth claimed Jharkhand principal secretary Vandana Dadel issued a circular last year that only MLAs will inaugurate development projects to “deny space to the local MPs”.

“According to protocols, MPs are above MLAs. It [the order] was made to ensure that MPs are not invited to functions since the BJP has more Lok Sabha members from Jharkhand. This is political vendetta. Officials become easy prey of the ruling party,” Seth told ThePrint.

Two civil servants ThePrint spoke to had their own views about these confrontations.

A rail ministry official recalled how Piyush Goyal during his stint in the Rail Bhavan used to “rebuke” officials. “It was normal practice for Goyal to rebuke officials only to show that they are not hard working and that they need to bend… Many officers wrote anonymous letters to the PMO complaining about his working attitude,” the official said.

Upbraiding officers in public serves nobody, an IAS officer said. “Officers should not be disrespected and humiliated publicly. It challenges their authority. Barring a few, all of them are trying to serve people. If there is a violation by a politician or by an officer, there are rules to handle or address the issue. Why such public spat? It is demoralising.”

Retired IAS officer T. R. Raghunandan said politicians look “petty” when they attack officers who are there to do their duty.

“Of late, senior Union ministers, state ministers and MPs are attacking officers publicly. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Politicians look insecure when they do this. It also hits the morale of the service. They feel scared. There are so many bright and dedicated officers. They don’t deserve such treatment from senior politicians,” he said.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: ‘Officials don’t listen to me’, says Bihar minister as bureaucrats’ power irks Nitish’s allies

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