The voice of bureaucracy
A new generation of civil servants must, as a group, use the media effectively to promote their achievements and counter negativity regarding the services
A civil servant is like the foundation of a grand building that never gets its due credit despite being the 'steel frame' that holds the structure together. Unfortunately, the only time the common man gets to know about a civil servant is when things have gone wrong, while their good deeds, usually, fail to earn them the recognition that is due. But that is what the civil service is all about.
A civil servant is expected to slog it out without, hidden away from view. They will be challenged to rise to the occasion, time and again. They will be expected to perform commendably even the most severe of tasks. For example, they might have played a crucial role in times of grave disasters like the earthquake in Gujarat or the floods in Kerala and now, in managing the unprecedented COVID crisis; however, there is a scant chance for this 'invisible' servant to get recognised for their contribution. It is only on some of the rarest of rare occasions when officers like E Sreedharan and KPS Gill may get a chance to grab the limelight.
However, this seems to be changing now. Social media seems to be giving voice to the new breed of officers. It is helping invisible civil servants to drop their cloak of invisibility. It is helping them become prominent in the ever-evolving complex eco-system. In the context of social media, the approach is pretty clear. Can't beat them? Join them! Whether it is Twitter, Facebook or on any other platform, a large number of civil servants have chosen social media to communicate with the world at large.
After all, one must not forget that the civil servants have been at the receiving end for far too long. And with the aid of social media, these new-age officers are trying to bring forth not only facts but also to provide 'road-shows' of their 'achievements'. This exercise can be interpreted to be a part of the larger purpose to combat the negativity that seems to be becoming all-pervasive.
In fact, 'Nexus of Good' is a movement that embodies the very ethos of this exercise. It is a movement to identify, understand, appreciate, replicate and scale good work that is being done by the civil servants and society as a whole. The idea is to evolve an alternative narrative to the flagrant negativity that is rampant across all media. After all, the true impact of this negativity is its ability to influence the thoughts and actions of a large number of people. The 'premium' on good work seems to have been lost in the strident din of high decibels used for promoting negativity.
It will not be hyperbolic to state that the 'good' are struggling for recognition and a large number of them are fighting their battles against a much more organised set of 'negativity mongers'. As the poet wrote, 'The best lack conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity!'
The quintessential bureaucrat, if there is one, has been left no option but to change. They have been forced to attempt to come out of their cocoon. And I feel that they should change. There is no way they can afford to remain in the 'ivory tower'; to remain just the silent foundation. They have to make their presence felt. The question is, how?
Can the civil servants evolve as a group and dispel the apprehensions that the common man has about them? To do that, the members of the civil service will have to be aware of the pitfalls of promoting themselves as individuals. They should also be aware that just glitz and glamour could be counter-productive in the long run. There is absolutely no doubt that most of the civil servants are individually bright and brilliant when they enter the service. This is on account of the objective and impartial nature of the selection process. The problem begins after that. A number of these officers find it difficult to evolve brilliantly as a part of a group. Hence, though a number of them make a name for themselves, frequently, the institutions they man do not benefit. In this sense, social media, or for that matter, any media is a double-edged weapon. The key lies in how they use media.
As we look around, we find stellar examples of a large number of institutions that are manned exclusively by civil servants and have done everyone proud. The Election Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Union Public Service Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission are some such institutions (though the credibility of some of these institutions has been questioned on occasion in the recent past).
Can the new-age civil servants commit themselves to replicate the ethos of these institutions? It may not be easy because the above-mentioned institutions are by and large insulated from political interference. Moreover, these are exceptions and, unfortunately, not the rule. If most of the organisations acquire the ethos of these institutions, the bureaucracy would not have acquired the 'name' or reputation that it has.
There's no denying that it is extremely difficult to insulate institutions from political interference. But with the increasing use of technology and the consequent transparency, the ill effects of such interference can be mitigated. The political masters can be induced to make more informed decisions. They can be made aware of the implications of their decisions in a much more aware and transparent world. A large number of brilliant and committed civil servants are already attempting to do that.
Take for example the likes of officers like Sanjay Agrawal (transformed whichever sector he handled, the turn-round of the Uttar Pradesh Road Transport Corporation being the most significant one); Ajay Bhalla and Vivek Bhardwaj (put in place a transparent and non-reversible regime for coal block auctions); Sutirtha Bhattacharya (Former Chairman, Coal India Limited, whose efforts led to record production of coal in the country); and Ajay Seth, Naresh Gangwar, Nand Kumar, and Sandhya Rani (brought about a transformation in school education in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh respectively) who 'made things happen' despite serious limitations.
These are just a few instances of the outstanding work that has been done by focused and driven officers. Thankfully, the list of such officers is a long one. And there is no doubt that their stories need to be told so that others believe that despite political, social, technological and financial handicaps, individuals can transform institutions and usher in the next level of progress.
These officers have used their brilliance to bring about and sustain change. And their success is the proof of concept. The key is first to appreciate the good work that they are doing, understand how they are doing it and then try and replicate what they are doing. Civil servants frequently face various dilemmas. There are sacrifices involved and, on many occasions, the choice itself is difficult. And the jury on this is still out!
"Mukhtsar si zindagi ke ajab se afsaane hain; Yahan teer bhi chalane hain, parinde bhi bachane hain" Views expressed are personal