Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Failed Talisman

You do not know me.

You do not know me because I never wanted that. I do not boast about my work, nor do I ever list my achievements on Facebook/twitter profile. You also do not see my picture in newspapers inspecting schools, hospitals because when I do that, I never tag reporters along. You do not know me because I never aimed for that.

I am the nameless, faceless bureaucrat who is present all around. I believe in impersonality, hierarchy and work ethics and I represent the honest bureaucratic tribe. Believe you me, our percentage is much more than what it is made out.

My daily routine often involves fighting with politicians but the fight isn’t something you see on television channels. It is much more refined and nuanced, an art that I slowly picked up in all these years. I let them have their way when they are right, convince/cajole or force them alter things when they aren’t and I also occasionally need to put my foot down. Often politicians respect me for that and at times we part on amicable terms. Agreed there are bureaucrats not like that, but I can speak only for my tribe.

You do not know all this because I do not call news channels and tell them how everything is wrong in this world yet my dissent is taken seriously and often decisions are changed due to that. I also work very hard and enjoy my work. I doubt if any other profession can give satisfaction that I derive from my job.

I was brilliant in academics and I come from a place where reputation mattered more than anything else. I got goosebumps when national anthem is played and there was lump in my throat whenever I saw a hungry child. My parents said there was no other place better than Civil Services and I followed that. I was on the top of this world when I joined and my friends and family thought that I will change this country and so did I.

Things were more complex that I had thought; there was white, there was black and then there was a large zone that was undefined. Decision on black and white were the easiest but there was no norm for grey areas. I did many things in my job, there were many things I could not but at the end of the day when I lied down at night, I slept a satisfied man. There was this common man who looked at me with hope and trust and I was happy if I could protect his interest.  The talisman given to us was to do our work honestly with a clean conscience, and one would be respected for that. In hindsight, most of my decisions were right; some were probably not.

You do not know but I never felt worried as to why I took any decision on grey areas.  I never wanted the system to come to a grinding halt. My reputation traveled fast and I beamed with pride when I was appreciated for that. I knew I was honest and felt that would take care of everything else.

Then came a day when our country was angry at the corrupt. There were reports of scam after scam and all of us were aghast. I was as angry as anyone else, and wanted punishment for those who were responsible for that. There was loss and there was presumptive loss and lot of anger around that. Everyone wanted to fix it immediately and Courts were too willing to do that. They took upon themselves the burden of administering speedy justice and punish guilty for all that.

The jolt came when the first one to be convicted in this conundrum was Mr HC Gupta for Coalgate scam. They did not find politicians, they did not find any big businessman but conviction was awarded to a ‘bureaucrat’. He was an IAS officer, retired almost a decade back and was leading an obscure life before courts found him responsible for all that. This is not the first conviction of any bureaucrat but the problem comes when all agree that he is an honest man yet responsible for this ‘presumptive’ loss. There were people who put up the cases for coal block allocation, there were people who approved and then there were those who actually reaped benefit from all that. Being the Chairman of the committee that recommended the case, he was found guilty for all mess that went around.

I always thought Mens Rea or Guilty mind was prerequisite to commit any crime. I cannot be convicted for something I did not aim for. But I was told in case of corruption, any loss to public exchequer was enough. No personal favour was required and it did not matter if one did not aim for that loss. A scapegoat is as good as a solution and who better than a bureaucrat.

In all that cacophony, I found judiciary, press and many others bayed for the blood of bureaucrats. How could Mr Gupta not know what all was going around? How could he not do more than that? I felt for the first time that working with a clean conscience is not something that suffices. One also has to think how no blame could be attributed to oneself. I wonder if Judges will be sentenced when their judgement is overturned by higher courts due to any discrepancy, police officers will be charged for a crime if accused is let free for improper investigation and lawmakers would be booked if a law turns out to be wrong in hindsight.  

Today, whenever there is a grey area in decision making, I dread deciding on either side. Protecting myself may also matter equally than protecting interest of common man. Maybe I should just push the files and hide behind committees and committees. My conscience doesn’t agree, and for one person questioning bureaucrats, I see scores of helpless common men who look at us with hopeful eyes. I love my work and my country too much to be affected by Mr Gupta’s fate but it has left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I will continue to work as I did all these years and just ask future generations not to opt for this job.

The talisman to be personally honest and do what one believes is right, failed Mr Gupta. In a way, we failed him too. Corrupt always had a motive in doing what they want but for us there is nothing more than reputation. It may not be worth it to spend years of your life fighting in courts for that.


You do not know me but I am sad. Just being honest doesn’t suffice anymore and today there is a threat to our tribe. The irony is it does not come from the corrupt, but from crusaders of honesty who are out to get as many executions as they can!

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