The Little Known Sub-cadres And Rohangiyas Of The IAS

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The week before last I had written an article for the New Indian Express disagreeing with the government’s move to introduce lateral induction in the IAS (Privatising The IAS Would Be A Mistake, 14th Oct. 2017). The feedback from the readers was interesting and has prompted me to analyse at least one part of it in some detail. Those in favour and against were equally divided, about 50:50, but what surprised me was the anger, vitriol and contempt for the IAS among those who favoured privatisation. They gave three primary reasons for this: the IAS was a service which had developed a cosy nexus with politicians, it was self-seeking, and it had made itself completely unaccountable to both the government and the public. How much truth is there in these not flattering charges?

Plenty, I’m afraid. But for the purposes of this piece I’ll concentrate only on the first one, the parabiotic relationship that the IAS shares with the politician, to mutual advantage.

The IAS has occupied all the commanding heights of government over the years, but in order to remain there it has had to strike a Faustian bargain with the political executive. It is now the gate-keeper to the political authority, controls all Cabinet Committees and Ministries, policy making and all postings, promotions and appointments, even those of judges and military commanders. No one- but no one- is allowed to breach their hallowed portals. The armed forces, for example, have been trying for years to gain meaningful entry into the Defense Ministry and to have a COAS but have been thwarted time and again. The IAS has consistently, and fiercely, protected its pay scales and promotion avenues in all Pay Commissions and even awarded itself the “Apex Scale”, an HR monstrosity, which has subsequently cost the government tens of thousands of crores in extending it to other services. It has cornered all post retirement sinecures, except where the judiciary has staked its claim first- but even that is smart give and take! It has had to pay a price for this, however. Unlike the “YES, MINISTER” model, where the astute civil servant controls the politician through deft tactical manoeuvres, team spirit and by thinking one step ahead of the politician (without compromising either his service or the public interest), the IAS has surrendered to the politician. This capitulation is of two types. The vast majority of officers have no political loyalties, try to be neutral but generally flow with the current, taking the easy way out. They are not “politicised” but merely compliant. A small minority, not more than 10%-15 of the cadre, however, become active camp followers of one political party/politician or the other and promote only their interests, whether they are in or out of power. They represent a spoils system within the service and are the main reason why the IAS is seen to be politicised. And thereby hangs a tale.

One of my readers, Mr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao from Andhra Pradesh, has sent me an interesting postulate. The IAS, like the other two All India Services, is structured into state cadres: an officer is allotted to a state which then becomes his cadre for life and he is expected to be loyal to that state. Mr. Duggaraju’s thesis is that over time an unofficial sub-cadre has emerged in all states- these are political sub-cadres where the officer is allied with some political party or the other and subserves its interests (rather than the public interest)! I find this postulate fascinating- and true!

Such sub-cadres are an inevitable progression when officers, for purely personal gains, attach themselves to a political party, preferably the one in power, and swear allegiance to it. Over time they become “branded” and rise and fall with the fluctuating fortunes of that party and constitute a distinct sub-cadre within the state cadre. Thus the UP cadre of the IAS has its Samajwadi, BSP and BJP sub-cadres, Tamil Nadu its DMK and AIDMK sub-cadres, West Begal the TMC and CPI sub-cadres, Himachal has the BJP and Congress sub-cadres, and so on. No state is exempt from this Duggaraju rule, except perhaps Delhi where Mr. Kejriwal is too hot for any IAS officer to touch, especially with Big Brother watching from North Block!

Readers from Himachal can see this thesis playing out right before their eyes! Both the BJP and the Congress have a bunch of IAS officers in their sub-cadres (and most readers can probably name most of them too!). When their parent party is in power they occupy all the important posts and hound the officers of the other sub-cadre with transfers, departmental action and even FIRs. When their party is in opposition they lie low, go on long training assignments, study leave or central deputation. If none of these escape routes are available then they maintain a low profile, leak official secrets to their mentors or sabotage the current government’s programmes. When they retire they get plum supernumerary assignments, but for this the timing has to be perfect. It is important that they retire when THEIR party is in power, or they won’t bag the sack of oats. If the timing does not match then they take premature retirement to avail of the sinecure in advance- a bird in hand is always worth two in the bush, especially if the bush may not be around for much longer!

To extend Mr. Duggaraju’s analogy, there are other types of sub-cadres also. To continue with Himachal, there is the Regional sub-cadre (do you belong to Old Himachal or New Himachal ?), tribal sub-cadre (officers from Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Bharmour and Pangi), Outsiders sub-cadre (allottees from other states marooned on this mountain), Reserved category sub-cadre (SC, ST, OBC). When I joined service in what now feels like ancient India there even used to be St. Stephens and Allahabad University sub-cadres !

To an extent, such groupings are not bad per se in that they promote an espirit d’corps, like in an Army regiment, for example, which only strengthens the organisation. But when they get overtaken by politics, and their only raison d’etre is self seeking aggrandisement (as the IAS sub-cadres have become) then they vitiate the service and weaken it. Incidentally, it would not be fair to only tar the IAS with this brush- it exists in all government services, including the IPS, the Indian Forest Service, the state services, and down to the clerk in the Secretariat or the patwari in the field. That the government still manages to hobble along is due to the other 10% who still abide by the oath they took when they joined service. They are the Rohingyas of the civil services- stateless persons allied to no party, squeezed between opposing forces and unwanted by the powers that be, perpetually under threat of deportation to Delhi or Pangi or the north-east- but THEY are the real civil service, not the time servers and camp followers of the political sub-cadres.

To conclude, Mr. Duggaraju’s law is playing out right now in Himachal, which goes to the polls on the 9th of November. Since the BJP is widely expected to replace the Congress, one can now see the Congress sub-cadre chaps frantically digging their burrows and packing in the provisions to weather the long winter ahead. The BJP sub-cadre, on the other hand, is now coming to life like grizzly bears after a long hibernation. And like the bears, they are hungry- for power, the loaves of office they have been denied for the last five years. They are already busy short listing their preferred postings and preparing a Schindler’s list of the damned. Like homing pigeons, they will soon start returning from central deputation, study leave or wherever they were in hiding, and head straight for the house of the likely CM nominee. Incidentally, I have always believed that pollsters and psephologists predicting election results spend a lot of unnecessary money and time in doing opinion and exit polls. Instead, they should simply watch the bureaucrats- the weather vanes, as it were- who always know who will form the next government. Watch the sub-cadres and you will never go wrong.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

11 Comments

  • Nodnat says:

    It is an inspiration (and a pleasure) to see such forthrightness in these bleak times. I was expecting an explosion of comments here, but I suppose as Mr Shukla says the sub cadres are too busy right now to read such things, assuming that they read at all.

    In addition to the various sub cadres mentioned, there is a chameleon sub cadre, the real smart ones, whose elite members specialise in having not one but several fingers in both the pies. These guys have risen above outdated things like ideology and are adept at quickly adapting to any changed political scenario. So, one will see soon that many of this elitist sub cadre will again manage key postings (usually the lucrative ones) which ever Party comes to power.

    Meanwhile, the ex and current Rohingayas of the civil service can derive a certain, ineffable satisfaction so well expressed in this ‘sher’:

    “Kayamat ke vaade pe kush hone vaale
    Tere sabr ka imtihan ho raha hai”.

  • Vijay Laxmi Tiwari says:

    An excellent take by Mr Avay Shukla interspersed with his brilliant sense of humour. Thanks for lending a voice to the Rohingyas of the service.

  • Col Alok Asthana (retd) says:

    Nicely brought out. It may be seen that this sub-cadre system has, sort of, started even in the army. At level of Maj Gen, people start calculating their chances of becoming an Army Cdr and/or COAS. Then they start siding with seniors, whether in army, bureaucracy (read IAS officers) or politicians, to make that happen. The benefactors help by tweaking service rules to facilitate this. It is heard that the a new rule is being proposed that one can be an Army Cdr with only 18 months tenure, just to help out one officer who would otherwise not made it to that position. As is natural, any officer who comes up by such stratagems, or ‘deep deep selection’ system, is expected to pay back to his benefactors. Why else do you think the army is so willing to take up assignments of cleaning garbage, or ‘to do its bit for national development’ by building railway FOBs in a city as advanced as Mumbai.

  • Mohan Bhandari says:

    All said & done, there is a dire need to focus on remedial measures. My own observation is that people project their boldness ONLY after their retirement.Lack of Sincerity of Purpose & Poor Bringing Up – afflicting such behaviourial patterns of shaded personas of those in power are responsible for the dismal state of affairs all over.

  • Subir Sengupta says:

    Dear Sir. Really enjoyed this article. How true. Regards

  • Balbir sandhu says:

    An extremely well analysed article. Very important input for those incharge of affairs at the apex level. They should encourage the professional and neutral lot for the good of the country . Remember good governance is an important pillar of national power.

  • girish says:

    Avaya Shukla has left out the most prominent subsects which are care based. They are Brahmins, Sikhs etc. Is this omission deliberate? Besides, calling the hard working, law abiding, neutral work force as Rohingyas is not acceptable. We don’t know if Rohingyas are law abiding, hard working, neutral people.

  • Brig Rajan Jamwal says:

    The nation has not been harmed by any political party but this (Indian assholes service). At priority what we need is a IAS mukt bharat.. Other mukt abhiyans can wait. The service is beyond redemption, it just nedds to be disbanded as it has become a self serving society of the corrupt. No heavens will fall, if this rusted iron frame of India is dismantled. It is the final bastion of general mediocrity versus technical/administrative brilliance. Does the US has a US administrative service or a equivalent and doing fairly well I suppose. No developed nation has a equivalent of such self serving organisation. now the choice is do we ever want to develop. Nation does not have a choice..

  • Sonakshi Tomar says:

    Sir. I’m an IAS officer of 2016 batch. Any suggestions about what should be the approach of young, budding and upcoming officers amidst this kind of scenarios and in a bid to choose between position of self and public interest?

    • Brig Rajan Jamwal says:

      Dear Sonakshi,

      The conflict between self and public interest or National Interest would be their for rest of your working life. Most officers start on a idealistic note, however the zeal begins to taper off for most in only a few years, the main reason being they see sychophants and the corrupt being rewarded while the truthful and honest languish. Further, their are taperings of quality of life you would see your peers and seniors leading through misuse of position or outright dishonesty. The choice between call of conscious and the call of easy life is a personal choice, and one has seen too many idealists tumble. While pure conscious does guarantees you a sound sleep a easy life will guarantee you everything but a sound sleep.

      Further, their would be occasions when seemingly innocuous decisions will lead to something you had not even dreamed of, for their would be interested parties whose interests you would have not looked after going after your blood.My advice is take it all in your stride and try to keep up your enthusiasm and spirit for as long as you can. Even after that prefer to fade away than join the ranks of unscrupulous.

      You would earn respect.

      • Avay Shukla says:

        Brig. Jamwal has put the civil servant’s dilemma in the correct perspective. The important thing is to hang to your ideals tenaciously. Do not be distracted by the”rewards” of your less scrupulous colleagues.And do not be intimidated. The worst they can do is to keep transferring you- but, believe me, every job-any job- is important and worth doing well. You are entitled to your political views-every citizen is-but be neutral in your administrative responsibilities. Do not hanker after a post retirement sinecure: that is the biggest Achilles heel which politicians exploit in the last years of one’s service. Remember, every civil servant retires with a pension, but very few retire with the respect of their colleagues. That is what you should aspire to.

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