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Himachal polls: Testing times ahead for bureaucracy 

Vepa Rao | Shimla |

The number of young, efficient, and politically neutral bureaucrats in Himachal Pradesh has been increasing in recent years. This holds out fresh hope for the development of this hill state blessed with natural advantages but burdened with the lack of political will and quality consciousness. Unfortunately, many political leaders do not see beyond their constituencies and are short of an overall political vision for the whole state.

Many present-day officials from central and state administrative, police, and other services (like IAS, IPS, IFS, HAS, etc.) do not easily buckle under political pressure and are more focused on people’s welfare.  But they too often face tough, testing times as political heavyweights keep making unreasonable demands on them and try to get such “inconvenient” officers transferred out. Quite a few such officers accept transfers as part of  government service – but the regular assault on their idealism wears down some of them over a period of time, and teaches them to be “practical” and swim with the political tide.

 Naturally, the bureaucracy in the state is waiting anxiously for the results of the current assembly elections to be declared on 18 December. Each time the government changes hands (as it has in Himachal in the last three decades), innumerable transfers and key appointments take place in a great hurry. Those considered “close” to the new bosses or aligned to the party’s ideology or agenda get plum postings and positions, while those who have enjoyed such privileges in the outgoing government are either side-lined or given humiliating postings – loosely described  here as “kudda line”.  A change of guard also signals opportunities to some of these officials to settle scores with their rivals or those who they think harmed their careers.

During the Congress regime all you have to do is to “whisper” to the political bosses and plant in their minds that a particular officer has a strong affiliation with the BJP and was quietly obliging its bosses. Similarly, during a BJP regime the whisper campaign that does the trick is that a particular officer or his family has had a Congress connection or Leftist leanings even if it was during his student days.

Many officials, despite their efficiency, neutrality and commitment to the state’s development, have often suffered at the hands of such unscrupulous and jealous fellow officials as well as selfish politicians at different levels. After a time, a sense of insecurity and cynicism creeps into his mind, thus robbing the state of a valuable human resource. 

During the last BJP regime, a few officials were upset and confided to The Statesman how they were branded as “Congress-minded” and humiliated by their “BJP- minded” bosses. Similarly, during the current regime too a few officials narrated to us how they were branded as BJP-minded and were shunted out to less important positions.   

If the Congress continues to stay in power, such mass scale changes in bureaucracy would be unlikely in the early phase of the government. However, if BJP comes to power, many of those “enjoying power and position” will be shunted out from cosy positions which will be then occupied by the new “favourites” who had been “helpful” to the party during its dark period. Deputy Commissioners of districts could be shuffled, police officials could be shifted around and such wide-scale “rearrangement” is sure to take place – in the name of governance. Unreasonable grouses and petty issues raked up by political worthies have often derailed development plans and projects in the state during the regimes of both the major parties in the state.

On their part, it has become fairly common for some officials to find “political protectors” who would stand by them when they feel “victimised” in matters of transfers and postings. Such leaders may not do it purely out of compassion.  Either way, in the unreasonably and totally politicised environment of this small state struggling for development, many honest officials find it difficult to survive and make progress with self-respect. Unless the topmost leaders of both BJP and Congress set aside their party prejudices and pass key assignments to officials purely on the basis of merit, Himachal Pradesh will continue to suffer.

Will the two major parties introspect on this issue, at least between now and the night of 18 December? Will they put the state’s progress above their narrow personal and party interests? Will they truly ring in a Happy New Year for this beautiful state, by modifying their attitudes? These questions are rapidly gaining currency among the common people of Himachal.