This book “Bureaucrazy Gets Crazier” by M.K.Kaw, a senior IAS officer bursts many myths associated with upper bureaucracy in India.
- IAS/IPS/IFS/IRS officers are there to serve the people. check!
- Corrupt politicians are the problem, let the officers do their duty, we will be better off. check!
- Through reservation, IAS now represents oppressed sections of society. check!
From the blurb on the book jacket “the way they bootlick superiors is only matched by the fervour of their pontification at juniors. The tussles at the top get really gory, as the commitment is to individuals rather than principles.”
We have added, subtitles and bold highlights to this book extract.
The Burra Sahib Syndrome
ICS (Imperial Civil Service) – forefather of today’s IAS
The ICS were the primal burra sahibs; that too its British members, for whom the honorific was initially coined. They were the ones who lived like lords in sprawling mansions, guzzled beer over a five-course lunch while the perspiration flowed in rivulets from rubicund face to starched collar, then lay in siesta stupor to the breeze blown by a punkah-boy, played tennis in the afternoon and bridge in the evening, and took a dusky concubine to bed.
Sovereignty vested in them, as bequeathed by the British Crown; there was no Minister, MP, MLA or sarpanch to share authority. Their lightest word was law, and the entire might of the state available to back up that word with lathi-blow and sword-thrust, whiplash and gunfire.
Seated on their caned thrones, they would peremptorily shout, “Arre! Koi hai?”, for there was strewn around them a retinue of jamadars, khansamas, and chuprassies, whose name they were too arrogant to remember. They could pretend ignorance of vernacular tongues and get by with a smattering of broken Hindustani. There was nothing incongruous in their clothiers being at Savile Row or the attempt to recreate the cliffs and downs of the emerald isle in ‘little Englands’ everywhere.
Indians in ICS – aping the white masters
When Indians gained entry into the rarefied realm of the ICS, we got the brown burra sahib; as hermaphroditical a creature as one could conceive of. The white sahib might on occasion let his hair down and come off the pedestal, call khidmutgar Raheem Bux, interject an adulatory obiter while imposing a jail-term on a half-naked fakir or learn to speak chaste Urdu. But the brown sahib, dragging is schizophrenic self, ashamed of being part of a draconian system yet proud of having penetrated into the sanctum sanctorum of the Raj, dared not make a slip. He had to speak the Queen’s English, keep the stiff upper lip, display officer-like qualities, behave like a gentleman and, in general, be metamorphosed into a caricature of the real thing.
It never occurred to the brown sahib that a dark suit went off well with the fair colour, for it enhanced the pale and the pink. A sable skin in a black suit just threatened to turn invisible. He could not see the incongruity of savouring civilized slivers of mango on a plate, when the fruit was meant to be held in the hand and sucked dry with ravenous lips. Or the absurdity of eating an aalu ka paratha and achar with fork and knife. On the contrary, he spent sleepless nights trying to master the art of munching a crisp papad with nary a crackle, or the greater virtuosity of breaking wind soundlessly.
IAS (Indian Administrative Service) launched a non-colonial counter part of the erstwhile imperial service
Then came the great divide. Further induction into the ICS was stopped and the IAS launched as a non-colonial counter part of the erstwhile imperial service. This would have been the right time to bury the burra sahib mentality, but a great opportunity was lost. ICS officers continued to rule the roost till recent times and provided a role model for newfangled recruits to the nationalist cadre.
A few years of the pseudo-burra sahibs and the country could take no longer. Analysis showed that the memsahibs of an earlier generation had spawned most of the newcomers, who tried to ape the British by watching the brown burra sahibs. Thus they were the copy of a copy, than which there can be nothing more ridiculous.
Induction of boys and girls from ordinary families
Several committees later, the Government decided on various steps to ensure induction of bright boys and girls from ordinary families, rural areas, scheduled castes and tribes, backward classes and so on. Getting pass marks in the interview was not longer compulsory.
It is not that it did not have impact. Quite a few children of common people came in. Had they been left alone and allowed to grow in their own natural way, these kids might have chartered a new course and country avoided the tragedy of the Burra Sahib Syndrome.
But that was not to be. Government set up the National Academy of Administration at Mussourie to instil the right values and attitudes among the probationers.
“How could a common variety Indian be the Collector of a District?!”
So, this Mahabir Singh from a village in Haryana was taken in hand. He ate Sarson ka saag and makki ki roti and desi ghee using his five fingers. He drank prodigious quantities of lassi and sharbat and kanji. He wore a khaddar dhoti and kurta. He answered the call of nature int he wide open fields where men are men, lota in hand. He lived with his rustic wife Phoolan Devi and sometimes made love to her on a stack of hay or in sugarcane field.
How could this kind of man be the Collector of a District? He behaved just the way a common garden variety Indian did. Could he command respect and obedience? Why, he established in pure Haryanvi illicit relationships with people’s mothers and sisters in every sentence he spoke. This would not do at all.
How to become an insider in bureaucracy?
So Mahabir was shown the ropes, by precept, example and peer group pressure. Now he sat sedate in dining chair, napkin in lap, elbows not resting on table, using the right fork and spoon, drinking red wine with red meat and white with white. He called for cold beer at lunch, gin and line in the afternoon, whiskey and soda in the evening. He learned to like his coffee black. He wore blue blazers, three-piece suits in brown and steel grey, cufflinks, and tiepins, red silks handkerchiefs in upper left pockets. He abandoned Phoonal Devi in favour of Patricia Gomes, a dark delicate brunette from Goa. He appreciated Hari’s desire to be address as Harry, Grover became Groovy, and Jyoti got converted into Jo Jo.
Two bright boys he begat from Patricia and they landed straight into Sanawar, where their classmates were children of business tycoons, film and sports stars, political personalities. Now their careers were assured, for they would remain on first name terms with future captains of the industry, leaders of the nation, bureaucrats and sundry bigwigs.
Mahabir lost his robust conversational style, wild, plain and turbulent; he cultivated a frigid, formal, frosty manner which did not encourage communication. Gone was his gay chatter, easy informality and natural ebullience. He became a prim, prissy, pinched-nostril kind of person, with a permanent frown on his forehead. Above all, he stopped saying “oui” if pinched; his reaction now was the more sophisticated “ouch”.
Today, looking at this grey-haired, distinguished looking, potbellied, middle-aged man, one hand in trouser packet, holding a pipe in the other, with a forbiddingly stiff exterior, it would be well nigh impossible to recognize the rustic Mahabir. He is ashamed of his family background, of the fact that his father was just an ordinary peasant and his mother an illiterate woman. He disclaims them, compels them to stay on in the village, and once when they arrived at his house while a party was on, rushed them to some inner room, hoping to hide and bury his past.
Burra Sahib of the 1990s
Pity this burra sahib of the 1990s. There is no khidmutgars for him to shout “koi hai” at. All power has been siphoned away from his job, but he still has the accoutrements of authority. It is he who writes the note and approves a proposal and gets the sharpanel when the file explodes. Because he is close to the political masters, he chooses to fantasize about his real importance in the decision making process.
That accounts for his nose-in-the-air attitude, his intolerable superciliousness, his taking on airs as if he hails from divine lineage while the rest are mere mortals. He deems it infra dig to socialize with the common run of humanity. It is not unusual to hear his drawing nasal query: “Which service?” at a party. If the other says, “Railway Traffic”, or something to that effect, you can see his eyebrow twitch a millimeter and his eyes acquire a slightly contemptuous glaze. “oh”, he says and adds, “hmmm…” and does not know what to say next and soon passes on to join a group of equals, where he might feel more at ease.
One telling indication of the image of the service in a cartoonist’s evocation of a senior bureaucrat’s doings in burlesque line: A comically rotund figure, overdressed in formal attire, puffing at a cigar held at arrogant angle, with smug, complacent eyes, saying no to everything, dithering, delaying, getting all entangled in ribbons of red tape, making obtuse utterances that sound sensible but are just convoluted jabber, moving in lackey-like subservience to the dhoti-clad politician, changing views with the alacrity of weather-wane, jockeying for power – that is how cartoonists see the average IAS officer.
No one can accuse them of being too far away from the truth.
An extract from be book Bureaucrazy Gets Crazier: IAS Unmasked by M.K. Kaw