Dragging civil servants into political fights is a dangerous trend?

Monday, 4 February 2019

Making civil servants part of political agitations is a very dangerous trend that we see in West Bengal currently. The civil service has always been above politics and it must remain that way. Such public agitation by a sitting Chief Minister also sends a wrong message to the global investor community. If we want to attract global capital, we must work on image management.

International investor community gets the wrong signal looking at this picture

As the drama unfolds in Kolkata and visuals of a sitting Chief Minister of a large state like West Bengal launching a public agitation against the central government go globally viral, the question on everybody’s mind is where all this is headed and how much of political polarisation will India see ahead of the election season.

What happened in Kolkata on Sunday night is now well known to the entire country. It seems like this is a clash between two headstrong politicians that will make some major impact on national politics. Many political leaders from across the country including Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati and Chandrababu Naidu have shown solidarity with Mamata Banerjee the interesting part is BJP’s alliance partner Shiv Sena has also somewhat sided with the West Bengal Chief Minister in the ongoing battle between her and the centre. So political battle lines are drawn and this battle may convert itself into a full blown political war ahead of the elections campaign season.

However there are two things that are happening as a consequence of these developments and both are very dangerous for the country. Firstly in this political battle, India’s senior bureaucracy is seen getting drawn. Perhaps for the first time very senior IPS officers were seen sitting on dharna with West Bengal Chief Minister in Kolkata. Senior IAS or IPS officers have never been seen participating in agitations against the government. This means the civil service is being drawn into political battle and now faces the risk of losing it’s a-political standing. This is very negative and bad for democracy. India’s civil service has had illustrious history. Especially IAS and IPS service officers have played an important role in keeping the bureaucracy above politics in the past. If officers of this service are seen agitating on behalf of one side or the other, it could be the beginning of a very slippery slope for the administration.

Secondly the signal these agitations send to the international community and especially the global investors is very negative. Today India is competing with many other emerging economies. International investors are watching what is happening in various parts of the country. This unrest that they see today in Bengal, yesterday in Kerala, earlier in Maharashtra (Maratha agitation) is very damaging for the country. Private investment will get diverted to other markets if India continues to send out this picture.

In the Centre versus Bengal fight that we see unfolding currently, both sides have clearly made it a big prestige issue. It seems that its not going to end anytime soon. National news media may gain ratings by playing this drama to the hilt, but the nation stands to lose a lot with this damage to its image.

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