What the Amarinder government requires to do is to redefine the politician-police-bureaucrat equation and institutionalise the procedures and systems of governance, a shift from the politicised form of governance
By Manish Tiwari: There was a time when politicians would look for pliable officers to serve their personal and political interests. Over the years, however, there has been a change in this equation. Today, there are officers who look for politicians.
This is what a top IAS officer had said about the state of affairs in Punjab some years ago. He went a little further saying that it is not the politicians but the bureaucracy which has “spoilt” the politicians.
This shift in the politician-police-bureaucrat relationship is clearly discernible in Punjab where the administration has over the years become highly politicised. There have been several instances in the past when an officer who tried resisting the pressure was either ‘made to submit’ or marginalised. The State of Punjab witnessed the politicised form of governance during the Badal regime too and the officers who were willing to toe the line of the masters were placed in important positions. The bureaucrats and police officers considered close to the top leadership reciprocated in the same manner. They taught them how to get the work done by interpreting rules in a particular way and often ensured that those who showed any kind of resistance in following the diktat of the masters were shown the door or ‘their places’.
I remember having been told once that when a senior IAS officer resisted the pressure during the previous Akali regime, one of his fellow officers close to the political bosses cautioned: “You seem to have developed suicidal tendencies.” It did prove to be suicidal for that officer. He was shifted after few weeks.
The result was that a large section of government officers, especially sitting in the Secretariat had started wishing in the run up to the 2017 polls that the Congress forms the next government; though they would publically maintain that it was the AAP which was likely to form the government. Their wishes came true and a majority of them heaved sigh of relief after the Congress, led by Capt Amarinder Singh, posted an emphatic victory and regained power in Punjab. Within days of the formation of the new Government, Capt Amarinder tried to send the right signals to the State’s police and administrative machinery that he would like them to work without any fear or favour and would not brook any political interference in government affairs.
The initial decisions taken by the State Cabinet to abolish the previous government’s halqa-incharge system and post efficient and good bureaucrats at the top level — all reflected his good intention and will to empower the system and institutionalise the process of governance — a shift from the politicised form of governance. Unfortunately, despite clear intention of the Government, a large section of police and civil servants have still not responded to the change brought about by the present government while there are some others who could not get choice postings are sulking.
The officers in Punjab agree that the level of political interference from the leadership or the top brass in the bureaucracy has reduced after the change in the Government even as there are persistent signals from the political leadership to the bureaucrats to go by the rule book while discharging their duties. However, they are still not confident whether or not to carry out the new Government’s agenda. There is a feeling in the corridors of power that the Congress did not defend or support some of the officers during 2007-17 of the SAD-BJP rule and they are still not sure if this leadership will stand by them in good stead if the Akalis come back to power in 2022 — a process of two major political parties alternately coming to power which the State has witnessed during most elections.
But Capt Amarinder does not have much of an option but to carry out his agenda. In the run up to the last Assembly elections, he had announced that this was his last chance and that he wanted to bring about good governance in Punjab. And largely because of his mass appeal and people’s faith in his leadership, he got a massive mandate to govern the State of Punjab. Political analysts would agree that the mandate this time the Congress party got was for Capt Amarinder. So, the onus to give good governance is squarely on him.
Not long ago, when the BJP formed the Government at the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too faced similar resistance from the public servants who had got used to working in a particular manner. But over a period of time, he has been able to overcome this problem and make a large section of the bureaucracy accountable. In Punjab, will Capt Amarinder succeed in bringing them round and deliver on his promise?