Honesty and its pitfalls for Indian bureaucrats

Honesty is the best policy, a proverb coined by Benjamin Franklin, is oft quoted in Indian textbooks. However, it is unfortunately not a character trait much sought after or rewarded among Indian bureaucrats. As the recent incident involving UP Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav and the 2010 IAS cadre bureaucrat, Durga Shakti Nagpal has highlighted, honesty is rewarded only till it doesn’t affect the ruling class. Nagpal had dared to tackle the infamous sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh, but was allegedly accused of razing down the wall of a mosque under construction, and was charged with abetting communal violence. The incident had, not surprisingly, been criticised heavily by former UP chief minister Mayawati, who reiterated the growing goondaraj in UP under Samajwadi party’s rule. Unfortunately, Ms. Mayawati’s tenure as chief minister was not bereft of cases of corruption or lawlessness, and her consistent attacks are more a sign of blaming the ruling party by the opposition, than constructive criticism encouraging honesty and transparency in governance.

Nagpal’s case is not an aberration neither did it uncover truths earlier unknown. The uncovering of Robert Vadra’s DLF deal also brought to light the tribulations of Ashok Khemka, who has been termed as ‘Haryana’s most transferred civil servant’. His inquiry orders into Vadra’s real estate dealings were not appreciated by the Congress ruled Haryana Government, which decided to refuse his family security cover, even after receiving multiple threatening messages by the real estate mafia. These are not one-off incidents, as the long list of honest bureaucrats includes, Arun Bhatia who decided to report his corrupt colleagues; Uma Shankar, who uncovered the cremation shed scam; and G.R. Khairnar, who had demolished the unauthorised encroachments in Mumbai, and went against the direct orders of the Maharashtra chief minister. Although, all these numerous cases of honesty among the executives are encouraging, the advanced and persistent harassment faced by them from the ruling parties is extremely unfortunate.

An exception to this rule was the case of the former Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Vinod Rai, who decided to target any wrongful political action. Rai was earlier criticised for solely focussing on the ruling UPA government, but gradually also included the popular Modi government in his scathing reports on political wrongdoings directly or indirectly affecting the exchequer. An important reason for Rai not being publicly harassed or transferred was his position, seniority, and the body of work possessed by him, although he was heavily criticised by the ruling parties, both at the centre and the individual states.

It is essential that the Indian voters introspect and find the root cause which explains why honesty is something that is frowned upon in the political system. The voters ultimately are responsible for electing their representatives, and the widespread corruption benefiting the ruling elite is clearly against their interests. If honesty and transparency continue to be punished, Honesty is the best policy shall be a proverb which would be forever buried only in textbooks and eradicated from the Indian democracy for good.

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