Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Indian Babu's Social Darwinism

I still recall being bemused when an English friend once asked, “What ‘ism’ suffuses your administrators?” Recovering from the cargo of confusion, my quirky reply was in solemn undertone: “Socialistic capitalism,” and my mind still seeking a lattice of support from my disembodied ideas, had said from the corralling chaos, “capitalistic society sans pitfalls of marketplace!” Today, amid encircling corruption eddying around us, I’m happy my reply, blurted years ago, wasn’t entirely off-centre.
The recent news that the Empowered Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister is toying with the idea of instructing investigative agencies to probe the wealth and income of 150 retired babus who joined as consultants, advisors, members of various boards or opened their own consultancy companies or took up direct or indirect jobs with India Inc and multinationals operating in India is doubtless the first move in independent India to look at bureaucrats’ umbilicals that invariably go beyond the obvious.
The decision follows the CBI’s discovery that many retired civil servants like the former Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India chairman, former Telecom secretary and other senior officials have been connected post-retirement with various companies dealing with the telecom sector. The probe will cover bureaucrats of all hues, ex-chairmen and directors of Public Sector Undertakings and a few ex-Cabinet and Finance secretaries on the board of over dozen-odd big companies.
Though, it appears, none of these personnel faced corruption charges while in service, the government seems to have decided that officers who retired from the Ministries like Finance, Civil Aviation, Surface Transport, External Affairs, Petroleum, Tele-Communications, Commerce, Defence, and Public Sector banks, will come under the scanner. The modalities are yet to be finalized, the report says, yet it appears that various agencies like the CBI, CVC, Enforcement Directorate, and the Income Tax Department will be asked to collect information on babus dealing with infrastructure, real estate, power, mining, steel and aviation, and forward it to the Special Investigation Team set up following the Supreme Court intervention on black money.
Without insinuating any of these august luminaries on the EGoM radar, may one ask a simple question: why were they offered lucrative jobs in companies on retirement from government perches? It would be facetious to believe that their expertise to value-add products was the clincher. Rather more aptly, the post-retirement sinecures in companies mostly are reparative gestures for past services rendered when the babu held sway. There is another reason that complements the first: they become the active public relation face of the company in its myriad interface with the government. Mind you, the reward in the form of cost-to-company for such services is humongous. After all, there is a cost for making a senior retired government official do the errands in ministries and calling on his erstwhile juniors for favours!
A cursory glance at pre-retirement impulses of government officials is very amusing. Long years of acculturation in a system that has provided a lifestyle uniquely stately is on the verge of expiry. It hurts. A true blue-blooded bureaucrat therefore doesn’t wish to retire; he rather reinvents himself and adds a new tread to his already flattened self: he re-tyres no sooner he’s pensioned off. So this is the propitious time to build future foundation, with the imminent withdrawal of the edifice of perks and props looming large in his mind.
This, frankly, is very Darwinian, or to be exact, Social Darwinian – for the “cunningest” to linger on over perks, power, pelf. And, that’s when even the honest loses his honesty veneer; the burnishing sheen takes a pounding, in furious jockeying to land post-retirement sinecures. The quest is two-fold: post-retirement government and India Inc sinecures. This is when most intellectual dishonesties are perpetrated. It is a pathetic sight.
Given accusations of pliability, isn’t it time such carrots are altogether eliminated? Let all posts held post-retirement be held during period of active service: membership of Commissions, Tribunals, Regulatory Bodies, International/UN bodies or any else. And in corporate sectors, let there be a complete ban on employ in sectors the babu worked in in the last five years of his service.
Like Cassandra I’m tempted to prophecy evil and not be believed. His prophecy came true. I fervently hope my ideas have legs long and strong enough – to run for a bit. I still hope to believe!

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