Durga: Harbinger Of Change?

The Durga Shakti Nagpal case should act as a wake-up call to us to change the political and bureaucratic system.

WrittenBy:Dr. Ashoka Prasad
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It’s almost impossible not to have heard of the young civil servant Durga Shakti Nagpal in the last 72 hours. Every newspaper and news channel has highlighted l’affaire Nagpal as a lead item on their front pages and in countless debates.

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At the time of penning this column, a charge sheet has already been filed against this remarkable young lady who has displayed admirable fortitude in her brief but eventful career. This move on the part of the now comprehensively discredited Akhilesh Yadav government suggests that Nagpal’s travails are not yet over. There is a governmental formation that seems hell-bent on persecuting her.

Anyone who has been following this issue through what has transpired in the television studios would be entitled to infer that politicians were solely responsible for the morass we find ourselves in. Politicians of different parties presented their views, some coherently, others incoherently. Very often, the debates ended up being hollering contests with the context totally lost.

My problems with the way it was covered by the media are twofold. First, nearly every debate seemed to covertly project that as long as we are vigilant enough to hold our politicians accountable, the unwarranted humiliation of honest bureaucrats would automatically vanish from the scene. The second was the projection of nihilism which was implicit in most of these debates as they seemed to suggest that there were no workable solutions to this problem. That on our own we would not be able to work out a solution that was constitutionally kosher.

The truth is that the problem of political obstructionism when it comes to eliminating corruption is multifactorial and multidimensional and its resolution would have to factor this.

I am not even remotely suggesting that the primary responsibility does not lie with the politicians – it clearly does. And the conduct of the politicians today, both at the Centre and state does not make for happy reading.

It is also important to appreciate that this problem is not limited to one particular party or state. Samajwadi Party spokespersons were quick to hammer the Congress by raising the Ashok Khemka affair and yet another one which came to the fore today in Rajasthan. The truth is that no political formation in India can honestly claim that they have never been guilty of persecuting civil servants.

What makes this so different is the brazen manner in which SP personnel have attempted to defend this action. So much so that they did not even think twice before allowing an incoherent and ill-informed legislator called Bhukkal Nawab to defend them on different channels. And what an awful experience it was listening to this man who had the temerity to indulge in delivering bizarre lectures on the Puranas and Puranik tales.

Deputing people like Nawab and the equally awful and smug Naresh Agarwal to present its case to the Fourth State can only lead to one inference being drawn – that the SP has no intention at all to explain its actions. The underlying message from the SP is loud and clear – that they will note revoke the suspension order. I suspect this is because they seem confident on holding the Central government, which is dependent on them, to ransom. And as long as they sit pretty with that belief, they would remain unmotivated to rectify the grievous injustice they have visited upon the people of Uttar Pradesh.

Also, the SP is not just being economical with the truth here. They have completely perverted the truth. A District Magistrate who refused to play ball and contradicted in writing that the UP government’s assertion was factually incorrect now faces the wrath of the powers that be. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s brother Shivpal, a senior Cabinet minister despite his incoherent gaffes at regular intervals, went so far as to call for her suspension because she had in her report deigned to oppose the UP government’s position.

But should we really be surprised? Mulayam Singh has made a career out of flouting all legally accepted norms. I happen to recall one particular CD of a few telephone conversations with his then Man Friday Amar Singh in which he made some disparaging remarks about a senior High Court judge and how they should strategise to manipulate him. That, to me, was sufficient to conclude that an event like the Nagpal suspension was a disaster waiting to happen – and should have been foreseen by any perceptive journalist/political analyst.

Mulayam is very good at media manipulation. No less authority than Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of Indian Express had not so long ago described this man as “deeply patriotic” for which I had criticised him in an earlier column in Newslaundry. I am tempted to ask Mr Gupta whether he still regards what has happened is in keeping with the “patriotic” spirit he commended Mulayam for. Additionally, we all know that he misused the CM’s discretionary funds in his previous avatar as de jure CM of the state (not just de facto). Like one of his predecessors, HN Bahuguna, he has never had any compunction to cynically manipulate the Muslim community. His very shady record vis-à-vis Muslims was roundly criticised by Seema Mustafa in her column in The Statesman.

Again, while I am listing Mulayam’s faults, I would reiterate that the record of other parties and their top rung is no better. Yet, we cannot blame politicians alone. The other community that would have to shoulder the blame for the treatment of Durga Nagpal are the bureaucrats themselves. It was refreshing to note that the IAS lobby has taken up cudgels on her behalf. But it seems to be too little too late. For years we have haplessly watched the cosy symbiosis between civil servants and politicians – which in the long run can only spell disaster. As far as I am concerned, the Acting Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar who signed the suspension order at around midnight in full knowledge of the fact that what he was doing was in contravention of the civil service statute – is as guilty as Mulayam  was. Kumar’s service record can be obtained through an RTI and would lead us to wonder why such a man was made to officiate as Chief Secretary in the first place. I hear no clamour for Rajiv Kumar’s resignation although his indiscretion was just as shocking.

I criticise the IAS community with a great deal of sorrow. Many would recall upright IAS officers such as Mahmood Butt who through his actions exuded integrity. He was known to have crossed swords with Indira Gandhi who used to be in awe of him. TSR Subramaniam, the ex-Cabinet Secretary was known for his uncompromising integrity. To witness this decline in the IAS is painful.

Now that the UP government has made it clear that Ms Nagpal would remain suspended, I would argue that an action like this is nothing short of a constitutional breakdown. And there is at least one person in India  who is sworn to protect the Constitution – the President of India. Will Pranab Mukherjee act and restore faith in our Constitution?

Meanwhile, it is a fair bet that electoral compulsions and expediency would continue to dominate the political landscape. In this instance, Mulayam knows that his vote-bank of the Yadavs and the Muslims is intact. And in a quadrangular contest, 25% is enough to ensure a supposed “landslide” for him.

In the past, many including myself have argued that the first-past-the-post system we have inherited from the British has failed us. In light of what has been happening, is it not time to ensure that our democracy is more representative and effect electoral reforms? This is a deeper philosophical question no well-wisher of India can avoid any longer. Politicians would in all probability be averse to addressing this question, unless the people’s power is made to prevail upon them to do so. And the sooner we do so the better.

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