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Civil Servants: From Colonial Clones to Compliant Managers?

Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, the ethos of civil services has been shifting from constitutional values to management compliance. This has been attempted through a huge lateral entry of 'compliance managers' to capture the IAS.

By M.G. Devasahayam
Writing on the Civil Service Day, April 21, Srinivas Katikithala, director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie (LBSNAA) dished out this pearl of wisdom: “The task of defining an Indian ethos for the civil service began in the 75th year of India’s independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address where he spelt out the country’s vision and the Panch Pran – the five pledges – to drive India’s transition from Amrit Mahotsav to Amrit Kaal. The second pledge – the removal of a colonial mindset – demanded a revision of self-imagination and the shedding of colonial baggage among the civil services.”He signed off the article with this exhortation: “The shaking off of a former colonial mindset, sharing a sense of pride in the Indian roots, and a duty-bound set of civil servants with a nation-first approach is the new ethic of civil servants who pass out of its hallowed doors as ‘Mussoorie wale karmayogis’.”This sycophancy has a similarity with what actress Kangana Ranaut said a couple of years ago: “India’s Independence in 1947 was not freedom but ‘bheek (alms)’…Of course, what we got [in 1947] was not Independence but alms. Independence is what we got in 2014.” Though she came under severe criticism, she reiterated her contention and gave the credit for India’s independence to Prime Minister Modi.Katikithala has taken this forward. A person like Kangana had to say what she said to stay relevant. But on what basis is Katikithala saying that Narendra Modi has taken India’s civil services out of colonial clutches in 2019 and more so during Amrit Mahotsav through his ‘Mission Karmayogi’ announced in September 2020? Does he mean that all IAS/IPS officers prior to the 2019 batch are colonial clones? Is it not criminal defamation a la Rahul Gandhi of the Modi faux pas? Should defamation proceedings be launched in Gujarat, the cadre state of Katikithala?
Mission KarmayogiBe that as it may, what is this ‘Mission Karmayogi’ which is described as a tool to build ‘future-ready’ civil servants with the right attitude, skills and knowledge, aligned to the vision of a “New India”? The New India Movement 2017-2022 launched by the Prime Minister envisages an India free from poverty, corruption, terrorism, communalism, casteism and uncleanliness, and unite the entire country by adopting good governance and using technology. Under this ‘movement’ the Government of India has launched flagship schemes such as Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Jan Suraksha Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana etc.‘New India’ dream is also to double farmer’s income and to create a $5 trillion economy by the year 2022 – which is now well past. In short, it is a National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building to make civil servants more creative, constructive, imaginative, innovative, proactive, professional, progressive, energetic, enabling, transparent and technology-enabled.