This is about the other proverbial cyclone that preceded YAAS, the cyclone that swept through Odisha and West Bengal late last month. A cyclone triggered by high pressure instead of low, that exacerbated chaos & confusion along the constitutional coast. In the eye of the storm was Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the then chief secretary of West Bengal, its Chief Minister, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, The Governor of the state and the Centre. Landfall [meeting called for review]was in Kalaikunda on the 28 th May 2021. This proverbial cyclone is neither the first of its sort, nor is it the last.
The debris it left behind is that of mangled centre-state relations, shredded constitutional provisions and questionable conduct of members of civil service and their mutilated inter-se relationship with the political executive.
India’s form of democracy and its constitution is fashioned largely along the British westminster model while it also drew on a bevy of world constitutions. Quite unlike the federal structure of countries like the USA, where 13 sovereign states came together to form a Union. India is a union with West Bengal being one of the 28 states and 8 union territories created and carved out of subsumption and integration of over 500 odd princely states to form the present day India. The primacy of the Union and its government of the day is pretty well established. Indian Constitution is unequivocally clear as it states in its’ Part I;
Article 1 “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”.
Article 2. Parliament may by law admit into the Union, or establish, new States on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit.
Article 3. Parliament may by law;
a Form a new State by separation of territory, from any State or by uniting two or more States or parts of States or by uniting any territory to a part of any State;
b Increase the area of any State;
c Diminish the area of any State;
d Alter the boundaries of any State;
e Alter the name of any State.
These three articles leave no doubt whatsoever that the very being of any state forming part of Indian Union, draws its legitimacy from Union. Given such provisions, the government of west Bengal and its chief minister have clearly violated the letter & spirit of the Constitution, hitting a new low and must be held accountable for such violation in manner so exemplary that no other state may ever dare a trespass. Given the global geo-political tensions and border challenges near home, such a trespass and indiscretion is not in the national interest.
Not to forget that Indian polity has traversed from one low, that is when the Congress governments at the centre invoked provisions of article 356 during 1970s through the 80s to supersede elected state governments at will – to another low when an elected state government openly violates its constitutional obligations.
At the next level, we are also seized of issues around separation of powers amongst the three organs of state; Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive. It stands distorted and freely infringed. The conventions with regard to the functioning of state and in particular the schema and provisions of Indian constitution need to be renewed and rehabilitated. The judicial trespass in the exclusive domain of the executive for policy formulation and execution is ominous. Be it the municipal functions of the state or distribution of oxygen or managing the pandemic, the know-all judiciary pontificates on just about anything, thus blatantly transgressing in to the domain of executive.
As I reserve this debate for another day, we will presently confine this to the issues relating to the separation between the political and permanent executive. And simply put, for the uninitiated, the political executive is largely drawn from the legislature or is appointed from amongst the political class, whereas the permanent executive comprises of salaried cadres who are selected and appointed through various modes to perform well-defined roles in governance. The ministers in the union or state cabinets are political executive, while the civil service that includes all group A or B all India services, e.g. IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS or its counterpart state services and personnel below, being government servants, are the permanent executive. The permanent executive or the civil service was designed, its members recruited and trained, to execute the mandate given to the political executive by the people and the legislature.
With exceptions though, the political executive has morphed, through the years after independence, into ‘Politics for Privileges & Profit’ from its pre-independence role of ‘Politics for Purpose’. The rise of family run, caste based regional parties pandering to certain religious or caste groups, found the role of permanent executive politically convenient and financially rewarding and hence started to nibble into its functional domain. While the rot set in soon after independence, it only got worse, as professional politician, especially in states, smelled privileges and profit that come with political success and executive control. In pursuit of their new found love for profit and privileges, they had to ensure a compliant and supportive local administration as an essential accomplice. The result was a burgeoning ‘transfer industry’. The members of the legislature or even local politicians of influence, though not part of the political executive, meddled into the affairs of administration and encroached the role of permanent executive.
Cash or favours for votes, political and financial favours, the rise of crony capitalism, a rewarding transfer industry of the family run regional party, were some of very dangerous and disturbing consequences. Just consider how many of such family political satraps have become filthy rich at the expense of the common man!
As the civil service, functioning directly under the control of political executive, became vulnerable and fell to their avarice and greed, the pragmatic ones join the bandwagon and proactively share the spoils with political bosses or with people with political influence.
Those who do not, do so at a possible personal peril. Some civil servants do suffer career reverses, while personal vendettas by the state are not uncommon. The decline continues, the trend is irreversible. There are innumerable stories of rise and fall of civil servants.
The Police has always been a symbol and manifestation of state authority. As some amongst the civil services caved in to the machinations of the political executive or turned collaborators, the police, on the other hand and in most cases, became a willing collaborator or even an extended arm of the avenging political executive. Police excesses in West Bengal and Mumbai are cases in point. The police excesses triggered by political vendetta or lure for profit is now commonplace phenomenon. Remember the police -Mamata nexus in West Bengal? Anil Deshmukh, former Home Minister of Maharashtra asking the city police to collect 100 crores a month? Killing of Mansukh Hiran by Police Inspector Sachin Waze, well within the knowledge of political executive or maybe at their behest? The case of former Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh hounded by his own ilk? The list of cases of political vendetta against its own citizens and the civil services in the case of West Bengal and in some other states since long is long and growing. So, How independent and reliable is permanent executive? The one that could not defend its own assigned turf is expected to safeguard the interests of common man? Is this not a wakeup call?
Sections of the partisan media, peddling fake news with total impunity, ill-informed and contrived media opinions traded as news supplemented by sections of maverick and mischievous social media activists, has added to the worsening confusion and media noise. So, Alapan Bandhopadyaya may be held accountable as per law and All India Service Rules. For whatever be the outcomes, it is time that we dispelled any misgivings about the primacy of the Union. States must know and adhere to their constitutional obligations. The issues around separation of powers be revisited and the boundaries and relationships be redrawn and redefined. The permanent executive must be accountable and be allowed its due space with an end objective of achieving Sab ka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sab ka Vishwas.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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