Q) “The concept of civil servants being neutral to political dispensation has been debated in context of India.” In this light highlight the conflict areas between political executives and civil servants.
Demands of a committed bureaucracy have been implicit on change of governments, if not explicit. Further, what is the extent of neutrality that can be observed in practice. The reasons for a potential conflict between civil servants and political executive can arise because of the following reasons:
- Societal consensus about the goals to be pursued varies among people. In West, there is a certain consensus on goals of development. There is also a certain degree of homogeneity in societal formation. Lack of consensus on the goals and path of development creates ambiguity in the policy preferences. This in turn leads to adhocism, which cannot provide clear direction to the permanent executive. On the contrary, political process start occupying the space (i.e. more interference) meant for civil servants. This can strain the relationship.
- Political executive may pressurize the permanent executive to violate the very rules that they themselves formulated. Civil Services, being rooted in a rule-based system resist this pressure. This may again lead to conflicts between the two.
- Presence of shared belief system: It means there is common belief system with respect to vital social issues. Belief system is a product of various factors, important amongst them the culture, society, surroundings that one has grown up in, the education system one was exposed to, etc. In India, the civil services have mostly come from a urban middle class where as political executive is more diverse. Although the character of bureaucracy is changing, it has been changing rather slowly. While a bulk of the members of the political executive, particularly at the state level, have been drawn from the rural and agricultural background, the top and middle level administrators are from the urban middle and upper middle classes- most that qualify for civil services are from urban towns, whereas political representation is spread equally, and since roughly only 32 percent of population is urban, the distribution of seats would also be similar. These differences are manifest in their style of living, mode of communication, ways of looking at things and their mannerisms. The relationship between the two is partly shaped by this factor of value system.
Further, it is argued that, in developing societies, there are weaker sections that must be supported by the administration if the devised policies are ill-suited to their needs. In this context, one of our former Prime Ministers said, “In developing countries, civil servants, to be genuinely neutral, has to take side of the poor.”
However, it must be remembered that neutrality is an ideal, like any other ideal such as democracy, which can’t exist in its perfect form, simply because it is an ‘ideal’. But it doesn’t mean that we should discard them for this reason only. Just as the absence of democracy would lead destruction of individual rights, similarly absence of neutrality would cause chaos in functioning of public administration. Therefore, this ideal is worth pursuing forever in the appropriate cultural context.