How powerful are the bureaucrats and how important are their administrative capabilities for running the government effectively in a democratic country like India? Experts and analysts say bureaucrats are the real government – the ones working behind the scenes, influencing policies, making decisions and achieving results – when the politicians are enjoying the spotlight. Hence, to a large extent the bureaucracy does run the politicians and thus runs the country.
As such, the importance of bureaucracy with regard to taking the real decisions and getting things done can never be overestimated. Therefore, a motivated, well-organized, efficient and rational bureaucracy with the right vision is the secret behind the successful operation of most modern governments. Furthermore, officialdom is a fundamental part of any democracy, rendering solidity and consistency to the administrative setup, even while welcoming new rulers after every electoral process.
In other words, leaders come and leaders go, but bureaucrats stay, thereby ensuring administrative perpetuity. Political groups compete hard to grab power-packed positions claiming that they are doing it for the country’s prosperity and citizens’ pride. However, bureaucrats are not elected nor selected on the basis of the results they have delivered in the past or based on the performance of the government they have backed to date in the administrative process.
In the Indian governmental scenario, numerous civil servants have consistently held offices during the reign of political groups with completely dissimilar approaches towards development, governance and policy making. The allotment of secretaries to distinct ministries, after our new government took charge in the last week of May 2014, also reveals that many past office-bearers of the UPA regime have been wholeheartedly accommodated, which substantiates the organizational eternity theory.
Here, one may say that since the elected representatives are the policy framers, they are the ones who weld supreme power. However, the fact that every endeavor of theirs needs endorsement and support of the concerned bureaucrats to ensure targeted results cannot be overlooked. In such a scenario, why should accountability also not flow to these office-bearers, and why should they not be held liable for the non-performance or letdowns of the government in power?
In the currently prevailing system, the administrators have found it very easy to escape liability by pinning the blame on their political masters and claiming that they were just following orders. This is just an excuse. Moreover, if what these officials claim is true, why should they even hold an important position in the governmental hierarchy? In fact, every bureaucrat should be loyal not just to their superiors, but also to the law and democratic principles of their nation. They must also stay steadfast to their own conscience, ideals and expertise in both economic policy and political thinking.
Since bureaucrats were never intended to be the lapdogs or whipping boys of politicians, blindly obeying political superiors in a bid to escape personal responsibility or official accountability is not a bureaucratic virtue. If a public official is doing that, then he is simply following a mistaken model of administration since blind obedience cannot be termed as a democratic value. In no way can any country afford the burden of those who are given so much authority, weld so much power and are paid so well without having to bear a proportionate responsibility and accountability.
Undoubtedly, bureaucrats are not the only ones at fault. So, accusing the bureaucracy alone is not fair. However, liability for the wrong conduct has to be invariably fixed where it is due. So, let us here look at the big picture and seek the right solution. What can the civil servants do if they are dominated by political masters who are guided by absolutely different economic policy, political ideology and a distinct style of functioning?
This mismatch in political thinking and style of functioning can retard the pace of delivery and adversely affect the overall performance of the respective ministries and the concerned government departments. As such, bureaucrats who do not appreciate or agree with the policies and ideology of the political party in power should voluntarily move out from very important positions to obscure roles or they should be compelled to opt out from holding powerful positions in the government because by staying in such important positions they may end up acting as obstacles in the decision-making process or on the path of achieving the targeted goals.
Since the perpetuation of these officials will not bring in the desired outcomes, only those bureaucrats who are supportive and favourably inclined to the ideology of the political party that holds the reins of power should be drafted to all the important and powerful positions. In this context, ‘party-line bureaucracy’ may be a workable solution while deciding on the appointments as well as transfers and postings of senior officers.
Party-line bureaucracy envisages appointing civil servants not only on the basis of their competence, but also by taking into account their affinity, enthusiasm and ideological orientation for the economic policies and political principles of the ruling party. This measure will not only ensure that right persons are posted at the right place at the right time, but will also guarantee total commitment of those bureaucrats and enhance their efficiency and productivity.
It is equally important to set up an effective whistleblowing mechanism so that all kinds of wrongs, frauds and scams, if any, get detected and eliminated promptly. In view of whatever has been delineated above, it is my sincere suggestion that the NDA government should prefer the candidature of adept bureaucrats, who agree with as well as appreciate and admire the policies, ideology and political thinking of the BJP, while finalizing the appointments, transfers and postings of senior officials in powerful executive positions in various government departments and ministries.
Once this aspect of party-line bureaucracy is taken care of, the next goal for the current NDA government is to create a framework that will motivate the officialdom to deliver outstanding results in all the work assigned to them, and also in all other activities and responsibilities they undertake. For that to happen, all bureaucrats should be made to think, plan, function and execute like the private sector CEOs. Furthermore, their performance should be measured like CEOs and each one of them who delivers outstanding results should be rewarded generously.
Currently, the performance of bureaucrats is measured by the Performance Management Division of the Cabinet Secretariat using Result Framework Documents (RFD), which gives over 80% weightage to process goals and less than 20% importance to outcome goals. Because of this, there is hardly any pressure on our civil servants to become outcome or goal-oriented as their performance is not being judged on the basis of the results they generate. As such, there is no way to differentiate between deadwood and high performers.
To boost the performance of all our government officials and to make them more accountable, there is an urgent need to design and use appropriate RFDs having some Measurable Time-bound Real Outcomes (Metros), which will make them more result and performance-oriented and less process and procedure-oriented. They should also be empowered enough to enable them to accomplish the desired goals. Finally, the performers should be generously rewarded, while appropriate action should be initiated against non-performers and deadwood.