Indian democracy and its bureaucracy is a very complex subject. Without understanding both, it remains mysterious how Indian democracy works. To know how Indian democracy works, it is a prerequisite to first perceive how its driving force, called Indian Administrative Services, that is, IAS, works. This book is a chronicle of a 38-year career of an upright, senior bureaucrat.
It gives a timeline of a young IAS trainee crossing various stages to reach the highest stage of career where he has the potential to become Cabinet Secretary of India. M. Ramachandran starts his career in Hardoi, UP. He hails from Kerala and doesn’t understand Hindi in which all business is carried out. Being an outsider, makes Ramachandran view everything from a neutral ground. The books gives an insight into how political masters control administration. And, as per latest news reports, after the introduction of ‘lateral entry’ anybody can become joint secretary without bothering about IAS – a dangerous trend indeed.
After reading about private-public partnership projects and its execution it seems this model of development is already doomed. Tragedy is, even though we have good bureaucrats like Ramachandran, the system is such that we cannot use their skills and experience for the development of the country. Political reason and myopic political calculations change policy without any rhyme or reason. Though it is a good suggestion to create metropolitan authority and give more authorities to them. But as the author says, accountability is a casualty and there is no way to change and improve policy without political calculations and political will.
Metro Delhi is the best example, but Shree Dharan’s experience is not being used in other cities to set up new metros. In Mumbai, success of metro is not assuring. Small lines like Andheri-Versova-Ghatkopar are working, but it is not profitable, so other metros have become a big question mark. Though political calculations suggest the various metros in Mumbai are supposed to be showpieces to win next elections. But as usual, work is been delayed for various legal and technical reasons, and it looks like the ongoing metro projects are not going to be completed before 2019 elections. If this is the case, then there are chances that the next political incumbent may drop these projects on the pretext of it becoming economically unviable. We have the experience of Monorail.
So in this country what we need is political stability and long-term vision, which should not change with every government. Point is, though Ramachandran functions under various government there is no continuity of policies and IAS officers also get transferred after a certain period of time without bothering about performance of the officer. This may be necessary from an administrative point of view, but it is also detrimental for continuity of policy, which we need as a developing country. Now lateral hiring has become a reality, so it is going to be more difficult for upright IAS officers like Ramachandran, who are in service, to give their best.
It is Interesting to read about Ramachandran’s experience in higher education. But he failed to highlight public and private approach in higher education and how it affected education itself. His experience also failed to indicate which is better. Today we have many private universities in the country, but still, we don’t have one university in the global ranking. As a book, it gives a bird’s eye view of a career as an IAS officer, and it can become a guiding light for those aspiring to join IAS.