Saturday, April 30, 2011

Civil Services: My Very Own Obituary

            How ironical is it that I write my own obituary today when others – notably my ardent practitioners, the civil servants – condescend to celebrate the Civil Services Day! I’m none too sure if it isn’t on purpose – to humiliate me when I am already in my terminal stage of life and afflicted with many illnesses. Without much ado, let me recount my tale of woes, which, in a manner of speaking, is my honest obituary no one else but me would dare write.
            I was spawned by the British in the mid-19th century when the Raj held unquestioned sway across the length and breadth of India. My job, to start with, was fairly simple: to collect revenue and to maintain law and order. Slowly, and little by little, my role changed, and the task of maintaining law and order became tricky and cumbersome in the wake of the national movement to free the country from the British yoke. Then came India’s independence in 1947. I looked forward to this new and, what I thought, exciting phase of my life.
But my outrageous optimism was completely misplaced. I was in for a rude shock. Far from the deliverance I thought independence would grant me, I quickly realized that the people who rode on my back were far from the jockeys I was used to up until then. They were known by the genteel term of civil servants but they were anything but that. They were neither civil nor servants. They joined the civil service not because they wanted to serve the nation and the people but to self-aggrandize and enrich themselves: wield power and abuse it, improve their lot (financial, positional or societal), gain visibility and generally make lives comfortable for their and their unborn (and unforeseeable) future generations.
I blanched at the upstarts and the parvenus riding high on their hobby horse of power and its multi-hued abuses. I was not used to such Johnny-come-latelies. This, I felt, mostly in the 1960s through to the 70s till about the 1990s. My plight began when a certain Czarina riding the crest of uber-glory in the early-197os wanted to change my DNA summarily. She wanted me to shed my time-worn and putative neutrality tag and exchange it for commitment to her cause. I wasn’t amused. But I was helpless, even distraught.
Events were moving ahead fast. Commitment had become the buzzword in the nation’s lexicon. Even the powerful and revered judiciary started feeling the pinch. The Supreme Court bowed to supersession of its three senior-most judges, though not without whimper and protest. So who was I to protest, particularly when my jockeys were mostly made of putty clay, and turncoats and time-servers themselves, had quickly jumped into the bandwagon of the season to make hay – in their mindless quest for quick upward social and material mobility.
Frankly, this was only the prelude to my demise. The rest, as they say, is history. If permit-quota-licence raj had put a cap on dishonesty, the liberalized era that was heralded with panache placed no such set limits. It was now a world of every (wo)man for (her)himself with even devil scared off to take the hindmost! How Mephistopheles had been suitably shushed!
The game-plan was different, so were the game-changers. Unbeknownst, insidiously and incipiently, natural resources attained a Midas touch. Who cares when an impersonal, insentient entity as a Nation-State can be bled to death with impunity! And protest it didn’t – this gloriously magnificent, magnanimous body! – as robbery, thievery and desecration laid waste to its every limb.
Unfortunately, Anno Domini 2010 trumped the ingenuities of all these game-planners and game-changers. The chutzpah and loot of national resources – earthly, heavenly, other-worldly – came about with quick-fire rapidity for the ordinary souls’ comfort. Every denizen of consequence helming these bodies (the honchos thought them starry!) went about on overdrive. The loot could no longer be ignored and glossed over. The world found the rape of CWG nothing but a daylight heist. A certain (in)sane institution the fathers of the Constitution had tamped down on the Indian democratic polity screamed and telecommunicated to the Indian nation through the 2-G medium, the humongous loot of its national resources. Around this time, unbidden, the Kargil war heroes had decided to sit up upright in mudra posture in their Adarsh graves by the Arabian Sea in a megalopolis called Mumbai. Like the Greek tragedy, nemesis had come calling on these limitless hubris!
The Supreme Court too had begun its share of bashing, making the defunct CBI and other vigilante outfits do its bit to earn their salary. The media – frenetically looking around to establish their credibility in 24 x 7 times – gloatingly latched on to these dollops of offering. The civil society, till the other day droopy, somnolent and complaisant, suddenly woke up with a start. The newest Mahatma, with his time-tested fast ceaselessly transmitted in the visual medium, didn’t help matters. The die had been cast.
Today, as I stand at the crossroad of history, I see nothing but the ghost of my own past. The Lokpal Bill, now under passionate drafting by the civil society, will surely write finis to my career. Who, tell me, in his senses, will like to embrace me and become a civil servant? He will not have wings to fly literally and metaphorically. No frivolous rubbernecking across the globe at tax-payers’ expense. No nightly pillage (forget the daylight swindle!) since the CCTV and electron microscopes will scan their every move and transaction.
In hindsight’s 20-20, if the Right to Information was the ultimate act of indecency, the Lokpal shall lamentably be the last fig-leaf in this striptease. As though that isn’t enough to write my dirge, there are still some shouting themselves hoarse from the housetop and simplifying a complex, nuanced issue into an easy algebraic equation: Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability.
So that’s going to be my unsung end, my untimely death-knell. So please do me the honours simply enshrining as epitaph on my tombstone!

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