Honest alone is not enough
For a bureaucrat, blind honesty untempered by prudence and efficiency is a sure path to failure, both in their duties and their quest to change society
Bureaucracy has been condemned, criticised, castigated and ridiculed all around the world but it has not withered away. It is, in fact, considered an essential tool to carry out the programmes of the government. However, to carry out its tasks effectively, it not only has to survive but it also has to thrive in the interest of the country and its people. But if it is to thrive, honesty alone is not enough. Honesty is necessary but not a sufficient condition for the welfare of the people.
A bureaucrat is paid to perform, to deliver. Ironically though, on account of the emerging socio-political environment, this performance is not always expected to be for the public good. It is also a pity that, on occasion, the bureaucrat is expected to perform in the interest of a select few. Unfortunately, such occasions are increasing by the day and those bureaucrats who do not conform are not only shown the door but are also inevitably harassed. What is even more appalling is the fact that, far from recognising good performance, there are instances of officers being penalised for performing well. Such signals do not augur well either for the system or for the society. However, there is still a huge area where such pressures either do not exist or, if they do, they can be managed. Whatever be the situation, honesty alone may not serve the desired purpose.
It would be wrong to assume that all honest officers fall into a single category. Some are honest, efficient and non-pliable while some are honest and efficient but pliable. These categories also include those that are honest but think that the entire world around them is falling apart. They then take upon themselves the task of cleansing the system. The 'crusader' in them gets the better of them and media attention adds fuel to the fire. A campaign is launched against those whom they perceive as dishonest. Honesty becomes an end in itself. Such 'honest–only' officers forget the fact that they are paid not merely to remain honest but to perform as well. They evaluate their performance in terms of punitive actions that they take against others, the number of people or institutions they expose (becoming quintessential whistle-blowers, a role that brings 'name' and 'fame' to them), the number of disciplinary proceedings they get initiated and the number of First Information Reports (FIRs) they lodge. In fact, in the final analysis, such precipitate actions do not even serve their professed goal of cleansing the society as, in their enthusiasm to hunt down the bad guys, no effort is made to evolve systems that can reduce, if not eliminate, the incidence of corrupt practices. Evolving systems is a time-consuming process and may not provide immediate fodder for publicity.
A bureaucrat has to deliver. They are the prime instrument available with the State to deliver. The 'honesty-only' bureaucrat does a huge disservice to this cause. They smell a rat everywhere and in every file. Hence, nothing gets delivered. And, if it does get delivered, it is too late for the desired impact. More often than not, there is 'paralyses of analyses'. For them, honesty pays because they lead an honourable life as an honest officer. They revel in being recognised by many as a crusader against the dishonest. However, through an 'honesty-alone' approach they would have done precious little to encourage initiative or motivate those working with them to perform. They do not have much to write home about their performance except proudly displaying the trophies of the victims of their crusade.
A bureaucrat, especially in the higher echelons, has to evolve as a leader and has to cultivate such leadership qualities as do not inspire awe or fear but respect. This is done through leading by example, with focus, objectivity, consistency, empathy, commitment to the tasks and an ever-burning desire to deliver. All these are necessary virtues that need not necessarily be consumed in the crusade against the dishonest. These virtues need to be used for evolving better systems and for inspiring colleagues to perform. Fortunately, several bureaucrats are honest and efficient. They may not be as visible as those who are going hammer and tongs after the 'dishonest'. They are not crusaders. They are the 'doers. The 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' led by the redoubtable Parameswaran Iyer has created an impact. Fortunately, it is becoming visible as well. The thrust on efficiency and integrity in Railways by its erstwhile Chairman, Ashwani Lohani yielded results. One could witness the impact of the changes he brought about in the functioning of the Railways. He did not go to town with what he had done but it was all visible. The team of Indu Bhushan and Dinesh Arora (subsequently on study leave), engaged in implementing the Prime Minister Jan Aarogya Yojana (PMJAY) as a part of Ayushman Bharat, provides another example of honest and efficient working. What was done by a technocrat, E Sridharan to usher in the metro railway revolution is legendary. These are honest and efficient bureaucrats, committed to the cause for which they are paid from the public exchequer. They are performing their tasks as professionals. Their crusading spirit is directed towards the tasks assigned to them. Fortunately, such civil servants are gradually becoming visible. Their stories are now being told with pride by organisations like the Nexus of Good and Better India. The social media is no more monopolised by Cassandras of doom. However, unfortunately, there are still several bureaucrats who stop at just being honest.
Views expressed are personal