Why Mayawati is wrong on Devyani

Speaking on the indignities heaped on Devyani Khobragade by the US law enforcement agencies, BSP chief Mayawati said that the Indian government had done precious little to help her only because she was a dalit.

‘Whatever has happened with a dalit lady in the US, we cannot ignore it. But it has also unmasked the
Centre’s anti-dalit mentality,’ Mayawati said. She couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
A look back at the early years of Devyani’s Indian Foreign Service career will, however, show that she had quite a privileged start.

When Devyani entered the IFS in 1999, her career aspirations did not match her merit scores. So, rules of allotment were junked, new rules invented and the system subverted to give her what she did not deserve. In the bargain, Mahaveer C Singhvi, a higher ranked batch-mate, became collateral damage. He was forced to take options he did not choose and when he protested, he was bulldozed into submission. (He was eventually sacked from the IFS in 2002 and reinstated in 2010 but more of that later.) It all happened thus: the batch of 10 IFS officers, including Devyani and Singhvi, was appointed on 21 September 1999.

As part of a compulsory requirement to learn one foreign language, they were all asked to indicate four languages in order of their preference. Singhvi opted for French, German, Arabic and Spanish in that order. Devyani opted for German as her first choice.

As per the rules of allotment in existence till 1999, Singhvi, who was placed two places higher (No. 5) than Devyani on the merit list, deserved to get German. But only for that year, the allotment rules were changed so that Devyani got German, her first choice, and Singhvi was left with no choice but to take Spanish, his last choice.

These changed rules have never been used again after 1999, making it apparent that they were altered that year only for the benefit of Devyani and to circumvent the legal and professional rights of Singhvi. Singhvi protested in writing but was allegedly asked to shut up. He then fell foul of the powers that be when he asked for repeated postponement to take up his posting in Spain citing the ill-health of his parents. Then a woman levelled allegations of harassment against Singhvi. The then foreign minister (Jaswant Singh) ordered an internal inquiry. Though the inquiry could never verify the charges, Singhvi was discharged from service on 13 June 2002.

In his legal battle against dismissal that ended on 29 July 2010 in supreme court, Singhvi maintained that he was sacked because his superiors entertained ill-will against him as he had dared to challenge them for illegally denying him his choice of German.

Though the supreme court struck down the dismissal order on a technicality (without going into the merit of the harassment charge), its ruling makes for an enlightening reading on how rules can be made or unmade on a whim.

Here’s an extract from the judgement of Justices Altamas Kabir, J M Panchal and Cyriac Joseph: ‘The petitioners (Union government) have not been able to satisfactorily explain why the rules/norms for allotment of languages were departed from only for the year 1999 so that the respondent (Singhvi) was denied his right of option for German and such choice was given to Khobragade who was at two stages below the respondent in the gradation list. The mode of allotment was amended for the 1999 batch in such a calculated fashion that Khobragade, who was at serial No.7, was given her choice of German over and above the respondent who was graded at two stages above her.

‘In addition to the above, the then minister of External Affairs, Government of India (reference to Jaswant Singh), appears to have taken an active interest on the complaint made by Narinder Kaur Chadha and, although, nothing was found against the respondent on the basis of the inquiries conducted, the same was taken into consideration which is reflected from the observation made by Jayant Prasad, joint secretary (CNV) that he had no doubt that the respondent would blacken the country’s name.There is absolutely no material on record to support such an observation made by a responsible official in the ministry, which clearly discloses the prejudice of the authorities concerned against the respondent.

So Mayawati need not worry. If Devyani got such preferred treatment in the infancy of her career, it is highly unlikely that the government will leave her to her means now when the entire country feels slighted by the US.

By arrangement with Governance Now
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