By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, April 30, 2024: “Bureaucracy is aristocracy of idols and democracy of idolaters”. It was the famous saying ascribed to play write and satirist, Bernard Shaw at a time when bureaucracy which meant in ordinary sense a body of civil servants drawn from elitist class and with educational background in the Universities like Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

The word Bureau originated from the Latin word Burra and the French word Burel which meant closed space where people worked using desks. Those who worked there as employees of the government,public officials, or servants of the government, later known as civil servants, inherited the sobriquet “bureaucrats” and whole body of such paid employees of the government was described asthe bureaucracy. For a long time, the word was pejoratively used to refer to civil servants. Such was the authority of civil service at the turn of the last century it was considered as “new despotism” by Lord Acton.

Civil service is as old as the early form of government. Whether government is monarchy, monocracy, aristocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, timocracy or democracy it must have an architecture of governance which is bound to have personnel to assist the rulers or ruling class or ruling dispensation to implement the decisions of governors.

In the ancient China it is stated that civil service evolved through competitive process of rigorous examination.Even in the ancient India as is revealed through discourse of Kautilya’s Arthasashtra, officials were recruited based on their competence.
In the modern times formal structure, well defined methods and procedures took roots starting with Britain with the object of effectively administering colonies commencing with India.

The famous Indian Civil Service often called during imperial days as twice born or heavenly service became the model in the world although the imperial Prussia the predecessor of the modern Germany was known to have created an extremely efficient civil service during the time of Chancellor Bismarck and also at the time of Metternich in Austria. In France Napoleon played a crucial role, after emasculating aristocratic class, in bringing uniformity of civil law, what is generally called Napoleonic code, necessitating professional civil service to take shape with identification of functions, defined span of control and hierarchy etc. It can be called a reflection of military discipline, a natural outcome of Bonaparte’s long war experience and military expedition.

Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is an approach that proposes a specific way to manage an organization. It proposes that the most appropriate way to run an organization is to structure it into a rigid hierarchy of individuals governed by strict rules and regulations. Maintenance of written records, specialization, competence, hierarchy was postulated by Weber.

As democracy took roots political party system developed and governments became responsible to peoples’representatives through legislative bodies based on election , permanent civil service became a prominent feature of government more so in matters relating to method of recruitment which was based on competitive process also through an independent body like public service commission .Rules of recruitment,code of conduct of civil servants were defined, first based on executive fiat and later by legislative instruments and also finally through constitutional provisions.

Increasingly political neutrality of civil service became sine qua non of democratic governance.

When the British government experienced change of political party in power from the Conservative Party under Churchill to the Labor Party of Attlee, the political neutrality of civil service was tested.Attlee brought the scheme of nationalization of steel and coal, very important sector of the British economy of the time as a socialistic measure.The civil service not only drafted the law of nationalization withsinceritybut also implemented the law diligently after the parliamenthad passed it. When later the Labor party was replaced by the Conservative Party which brought denationalization of steel and coal, it was done with equal dedication by the same civil service. When Labor party returned under Wilson, the civil service did the same to supervise nationalization again, and so was the case when Margaret Thacher brought privatization in the eighties which was also pioneered by the civil service.

This is considered as the classical example of political neutrality of civil service which was often quoted in the field of public administration and political science in the fifties and sixties and later.

Political parties may come to power or go, the civil service, which is a permanent feature of the government, must remain apolitical. The basic underlying principle is that civil service must implement policy which elected government decides. At the same time there is, however, a clear rider which both civil servants and members of the elected government including Ministers, and Prime Ministers must recognize that civil servants must render advice to political bosses freely and frankly unfettered by any constraints explaining pros and cons, existing rules, regulations, laws, provisions of fundamental law like constitution,the basic law, constitutional morality, ethics, and time-tested values, quoting historical precedents and customs and conventions. Even if political executive takes a decision contrary to the advice, civil servants have the right of resubmission. In this regard procedures have been incorporated in the secretarial manuals and codes.

Under constitutional democracies rules of business and transaction have been delineated along with detailed instructions. If a civil servant is instructed to do something palpably illegal and unconstitutional, he has the right to refuse. Sometimes he or she may even decide to quit when decisions emanating from political sources are against the conscience of individual civil servant.

In Grammar of Politics, Harold J Laski, while dealing with political institutions has clearly described the role of political executive and that of bureaucracy. The raison d’etre is crystal clear.

“Every state is enormously dependent upon the quality of its officials. Administrationis of its essence; it is inevitable that those who carry out the application of law should hold its virtues in their keeping. How are such officials chosen? Ought there there be a permanent body, which the political executive cannot change?”

“There seems now no reasonable ground for doubt that the less control the political executive possesses over the appointment of permanent officials, the better it is for the State. Absenceof constant tradition will tempt the political executive to twist the law it applies to its own advantage”.

Politicization of the civil service, in general, can be defined as an expansion of the executive branch, political officials’ influence and control over the civil service, as far as it becomes possible to make decisions prompted by party interests. Politicization has different forms and manifestations. The most widespread manifestation and instrument are the appointment prompted by political / party interests.

However, given the context and circumstances of different countries, manifestations of politicization and consequently, the instruments and approaches to their prevention are rather diverse.

While individual civil servants could cherish personal political views, the established conduct rules prohibit a civil servant from participating in political life. In France, interestingly, civil servants are allowed to take leave from government and join politics and get elected to the legislative bodies.

In US where the “spoil system” prevailed from the inception of constitutional government withthe change of government key posts in the higher echelon of the government are changed, and how deep is the spoil system would depend upon the decisionand policy of the President or Governor of the State. Notwithstanding the system, civil service exists in the USA guided by the recruitment process of independent public service commission.

In India constitution under Article 309 prescribes recruitment and conditions of service of public officials.The Public Service Commission has an independent constitutional status for recruitment of civil servants.They have also been given the task of advising the executive government in matters relating to promotion and disciplinary matters. Although the appointment of members to the public service commission is done by the executive government, the present manner of selection of members of commission is not transparent. In the recent times, views are expressed in publicfora including from judicaturethat like other constitutional and statutory bodies,selection of members to the public service commissionshould be done by a collegial system, and should not be left exclusively to the political executive’s discretion.

When reference is madehere to civil service it includes all services including the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Police Service,the Indian Audit and Accounts Service,the Indian Revenue Service apart from the Indian Administrative Service,and other central services.The State civil services are also part of civil service.

It is pertinent to mention that personnel under public sector or government undertakings like banks, insurance companies etc.are expected to maintain a code of conduct which keepsthem insulated frombeing influenced by political parties whether in power or opposition.Local self governments also maintain large body of public officials who are expected to remain politically neutral.

In the international organization setup under multilateral treaties, charters, conventions etc. the member states undertake not to influence the international civil servants from their respective countries in discharge of their duties. Codes of conduct prescribed for international civil servants prohibit any political alignment with any member state or group of member states.
In plurilateral institutions like the European Union, the civil servants also follow strict code of political neutrality.

In the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Socialist Bloc mostly described as liberalization phase in the world, elan of privatizationand globalizationhave influenced governments across the world in matters relating to recruitment, its source, security of tenure, most importantly different from established codes of the past.Contract employees drawn from open market mostly from business enterprises come with values and standards different from civil servants of yesteryears. Their recruitment is based on a head-hunting process.How strict they would be about political neutrality is always under a question mark.

In India the concept of management pool was introduced during the period of prime ministeship of Jawaharlal Nehru which brought into civil service brilliant people like Mantosh Sondhi and Lovraj Kumar as Steel secretaries who made mark in government. Their political neutrality was never in question.

In recent years lateral recruitment to civil service from private sector has begun although expectation should be that their entry should be done through public service commission.

Sometimes the question is also raised regarding constitutional and statutory bodies and how they should be constituted. Through judicial interventions rules have been laid regarding selection of members to the Central Vigilance Commission and Central Bureau of Investigation which envisage a collegial approach including representation from the apex court and leader of opposition. Expectation is raised that this collegial selection process should be extended to all constitutional and statutory appointments.Those who form these bodies cannot be considered as civil servants as they are independent of the executive government.

The expectation from society is that they should be politically neutral. In a healthy democracy they are answerable to the public at large through free media and legislative bodiesand remain answerable to judicature.The civil society through many non-governmental bodies also raises questions regarding neutrality of these constitutional and statutory bodies.

To sum up, civil service being a permanent institution in the governing structure in a democracy where elections may bring different political parties having different ideologies whether political, economic, and social to govern,civil service should remain politically neutral.

Finally, one is inclined to state “Between the idea And reality, Between the motive And the act, Falls the Shadow T. S. Eliot, ‘The Hollow Men’.

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