A bureaucrat’s dilemma: To work in the shadows, or in the public glare?

Published: November 30, 2018 3:38:43 AM

The quintessential bureaucrat, if there is one, is changing. The invisible civil servant is now attempting to come out of the cocoon. Civil services can’t afford to remain just the foundation. It has to make its presence felt. The key to it is ‘how’. Can the civil services evolve as a group and dispel the (mis)apprehensions the people have? To do that, the members of the civil services will have to be aware of the pitfalls of promoting themselves as individuals

bureaucrat,  civil servant,  social media, Union Public Service Commission, Election Commission of IndiaThe social media seems to be bringing forth a new breed altogether.

“Dikhayi kam diya karte hain, buniyaad ke patthar;
Zamin me dab gaye jo, imarat unhi par kayam hai.”

The civil servant is like the foundation of a grand building that never gets the credit for the grandeur, even though this is the “steel frame” that holds the structure together. What gets to be known about the civil servant is what goes wrong. Very rarely does he/she get the credit for all that is happening. But that is what the civil services is all about. Slog it out invisibly.

They are put to test, time and again, beyond the routine. From the earthquake in Gujarat to the floods in Kerala, this “invisible” civil servant does it all, but the contributions rarely get recognised. It is only on some rare occasions that the Seshans and KPS Gills grab the limelight. However, this appears to be changing now. The social media seems to be bringing forth a new breed altogether.

And why not?

The invisible civil servant is now becoming more and more visible in the ever-evolving complex ecosystem. The jury is still out. Yet a number of civil servants are preferring to become visible. In the context of the social media, the approach is pretty clear—can’t beat them, join them. Whether it is Twitter, Facebook or on any other medium, a large number of civil servants have chosen the social media to communicate with the world at large. The civil servant has been badgered far too long. It is high time that not only should the social media be used to bring forth the facts, but the “achievements” also need to be “road-showed”.

This is a part of the larger context to combat the negativity that seems to be becoming all-pervasive. “Nexusofgood” is a movement in that direction. It is a campaign to identify, understand, appreciate, replicate and scale all the good work that is being done by the civil servants and the society as a whole. The idea is to evolve an alternative narrative to the negativity that is becoming all-pervasive in the social media and other mediums of communication. Such a negativity is impacting the thoughts and actions of a large number of people. The “premium” on good work appears to have been lost in the din of high decibels used for promoting negativity. The “good” are struggling for recognition and a large number of them are fighting their battles against a much more organised set of “negativity mongers” all alone.

The quintessential bureaucrat, if there is one, is changing. The invisible civil servant is now attempting to come out of the cocoon. It should definitely change. It can’t afford to remain in the “ivory towers”. It can’t afford to remain just the foundation. It has to make its presence felt. They key to it is ‘how’. Can the civil services evolve as a group and dispel the (mis)apprehensions that the people have? To do that, the members of the civil services will have to be aware of the pitfalls of promoting themselves as individuals. There is absolutely no doubt that most of the civil servants are individually bright and brilliant when they enter the service on account of the objective and impartial nature of selection to the civil services.

The problem, however, is that a number of civil servants find it difficult to evolve as brilliantly as a part of a group. Hence, even though a number of them make a name for themselves, the institutions they man do not get benefited in a similar way. In this sense, the social media, or for that matter any media, is a double-edged weapon. The key is how is that media used.

As we look around, there are a large number of institutions that are manned exclusively by the civil servants, and these have done everyone proud. The Election Commission of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Union Public Service Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission are some such institutions. Can the civil servants commit themselves to replicate the ethos of these institutions? It might not be easy, because the mentioned institutions are, by and large, insulated from political interference. Moreover, these are exceptions, and not the rule. If most of the other institutions acquire the ethos of these institutions, bureaucracy would not have the “name” it has. It might be difficult to insulate the institutions from political “interference”. However, with the increasing use of technology and the consequent transparency, the “ill-effects” of such interference can be mitigated. The political master can be induced to make a much more informed decision. He/she can be made aware of the implications of his/her decisions in a much more aware world.

In fact, today, a large number of brilliant and committed civil servants are already attempting to do that. Officers like Vivek Bhardwaj (putting in place a transparent and non-reversible regime for coal block auctions), Naresh Gangwar (bringing about a transformation in school education in the state of Rajasthan) and Dinesh Arora (now a part of the Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Mission after successfully implementing the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana in the state of Kerala) are making things happen despite serious limitations.

Their stories need to be told, so that the others believe that despite political, social, technological and financial handicaps, individuals can transform institutions. These officers are using their individual brilliance to bring about and sustain change. It can be done because it is being done. The key is to first appreciate the good work that they are doing, understand how they are doing it, and then try and replicate what they are doing. The civil servant does face a dilemma, though:

“Muktar si zindagi ke ajab se afsane hain;
Yaha teer bhi chalane hain, parinde bhi bachane hain.”

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