Dilip Cherian | Eye to polls, Haryana goes after corrupt' govt officers

Can Mr Khattar succeed in his aim, and will it be enough to tip the electoral balance in the BJP's favour?

With about a year to go for the 2024 Assembly elections, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is seizing the opportunity to convey a strong message against corruption by holding senior officials in the state administration accountable. According to information, as many as 41 senior officers in the state are under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau for their alleged involvement in corrupt practices.

The transformational shift in the fight against corruption began when Mr Khattar renamed the State Vigilance Bureau as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) earlier this year, headed by a senior IPS officer Shatrujeet Kapur. The move was a reaction to Opposition accusations that the government was soft on corrupt officers. Mr Kapur has reportedly led a sweeping investigation that ensnared several government employees, including 12 IAS officers, two IPS officers, three IFS officers, 20 HCS officers and four HPS officers.

According to the ACB chief, several officials were arrested by his team for accepting bribes, and the bureau is pursuing cases seeking permission to prosecute them under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Sources have informed DKB that at least two senior IAS officers who are facing corruption charges have approached the state government challenging the ACB’s action. Can Mr Khattar succeed in his aim, and will it be enough to tip the electoral balance in the BJP’s favour, is something we will have to wait and see.

Mystery behind the midnight shuffle

Amidst murmurs of impending changes in the Central government, there are rumours about finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman being dropped from the Cabinet, though it seems unlikely given that the next Budget is only a vote on account, in practical terms. Such ridiculous talk likely stems from the exit of Vivek Kumar as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the finance minister.

An ABVP stalwart, Mr Kumar’s unexpected curtailment of tenure left many puzzled, wondering about the reasons behind it, particularly as it happened at midnight, suggesting a sudden decision. Mr Kumar, a private person, has been at the helm of affairs and his premature departure makes it all the more surprising. But then, that’s to be expected given the nature of this regime where transparency often remains elusive.

What adds to the intrigue is that Mr Kumar was appointed as OSD to Sitharaman in January 2022 for a four-year tenure. While some sources claim that Mr Kumar aspired to play a more active role in the upcoming elections, others assert he may not be interested in running for office. Regardless, it is said that he is expected to take up a new assignment in Jharkhand, coinciding with the election process.

The not-so-civil origin of the Indian babu

It is one of those fascinating historical “double-engine” ironies that the East India Company, a relentless imperial juggernaut, invented the term “civil servant”. The irony lies in the context of the term’s origin. The East India Company relentlessly pursued the extension of British influence in India across two-and-a-half centuries. But it needed Indian compradors to maintain control over its dominions. The civil servant was imported from China, the only thing they brought to India, besides tea, in exchange for opium.

The concept of civil servants embodied a notion of impartiality and public service, even though the reality was often tainted by the company’s colonial objectives. Over time, the term “civil servant” evolved into a government official who works for the public good and administers state affairs, and in the Indian context, the humble babu! Back in the heyday of the Mughal era, ‘babu’ was the ticket to respect, the ultimate honorific for an Indian. The British picked up ‘babu’ along the way and decided it was the perfect way to address their trusty Indian assistants.

Today the ‘babu’ has quite the reputation, with a mixed bag of accolades and brickbats. It has weathered the ages, transforming from respect to ridicule, from honour to humour, and back. Babus are on a mission to rewrite the narrative. Along with administrative reforms, they are striving to redefine the term, emphasising professionalism, accountability and public service. While the origins of ‘civil servant’ may be tied to a rapacious private enterprise, the transformation of its meaning reflects our complex history and the evolution of administrative systems.

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