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Thursday 7 April 2022


    Mr. D. Subbarao, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and ex- Governor of the Reserve Bank of India has, in a recent article in The Times Of India and in an interview with Karan Thapar, castigated the IAS in no uncertain terms and accused it of betraying and failing the country. His tirade (what prompted it?) goes beyond the usual quick fixes many retired officers are fond of advocating. It's a bit of a fashion these days for superannuated IAS officers to run down the service and to distance themselves from it. But Mr. Subbarao is a sober and moderated person, and so his harsh views need to be examined with some seriousness.

  To encapsulate his words, he says that the IAS has become corrupt and incompetent, that 25% of its members are corrupt, 50% are incompetent, leaving only 25% to shoulder the brown man's burden: what delivery there is, is owing to this last fraction. This, he says quite rightly, was not so in the 1960's and 1970's and he ascribes the rot to flaws in recruitment, training, lack of specialisation and proper career planning. The cure, he continues, lies in overhauling these processes and lateral induction on a much larger scale than the token numbers attempted so far.

   I am in agreement with him on some aspects, but disagree on most. Mr. Subbarao is right about the corruption and incompetence (though one may quibble on the percentages which may differ from state to state) but his diagnosis is superficial and not very different from the groove already carved out by other retired IAS officers like Deepak Gupta and Anil Swaroop. They all make the mistake of peering at the IAS under a microscope but not seeing the larger picture, the context in which it functions. They all concentrate on the obvious-training, career planning, performance evaluation, promotion, etc. Admittedly, there is scope for improvement in these areas, though I emphatically disagree about lateral entry. A huge and diverse country like India can only be managed by a "generalist" civil service with a 360* vision, not tunnel visioned specialists. I have explained this perspective in great detail in an earlier piece :


and will not dwell on it here. For none of these factors/ problems address the primary issue, which is one of national character and values, and the effect they have on the civil services.

   If the IAS has failed it is because the country has failed (or is failing, at an accelerated rate). In terms of character, values and ethics India is no longer the nation it was in the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's. This is true not only of its polity but also of its society in general. The post- Independence leaders and influencers like Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Ambedkar, Madan Mohan Malviya, T.T Krishnamachari, Acharya Kriplani, Jyoti Basu, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaiprakash Narayan (to mention just a handful), industrialists like JRD Tata, Jamnalal Bajaj, Dinshaw Petit and GD Birla, editors like Desmond Doig, Arun Shourie, Sunanda K Dattaray, Kushwant Singh, Frank Moraes and Russi Karanjia have been mostly replaced by pygmies and carpet baggers. These people may win elections, make 29 billion US dollars in one year or run up huge TRP ratings, but they are incapable of promoting public values or morals, or establishing ethical corporate standards, or writing an editorial (let alone investigating a story). In fact they do the reverse, and have contributed hugely to the deterioration of the national ethos and character. In short,  for the last five decades or so the country has had no principled leadership worth the name in any sector of social, political or economic activity- there have only been Pied Pipers who have strutted on the roads for some time, played their tune, and led us over a cliff to moral bankruptcy and worse as a nation.

   And things are getting worse every passing day under the present government. Over the decades just about every institution has been hollowed out and is on the point of collapse- autonomous bodies, Parliament and state Assemblies, Regulatory agencies, all governmental services, even the judiciary and the defense forces. In none of them is there any inspiring leadership worth its name, almost all are compromised by power, pelf and their biases. The message this sends to the bureaucracy and public at large is that unscrupulousness, sycophancy, corruption pays.

  The average Indian has become completely transactional and self centered, without morals or scruples. Everything is seen in terms of personal benefit and convenience, for which we allow the corrupt state a long rope. Morals and ethics be damned so long as we can make a few more bucks, buy another car or house, evade some more taxes, cheat a few more idiots. This was particularly evident during the Covid lockdowns when the poor and the vulnerable were left to fend for themselves while we watched Netflix in our barricaded housing societies. And now of course we have the ultimate Viagra- minority bashing. We can overlook just about every wrong or mistake of the government- inflation, joblessness, cronyism, covid deaths, police brutality, purloining of our basic rights- provided we can teach Muslims and Christians and their supporters a lesson.

  The perfect proof and demonstration of this was Lakhimpur Kheri, where a Union Minister's son allegedly ran over four farmers and a journalist deliberately. The state allowed five people to be ruthlessly killed in broad daylight, did every thing to cover up the crime. It refused to dismiss a Minister who is the father of the main accused and himself mentioned in an FIR. The judiciary appointed an SIT in a half hearted manner and then released the prime accused on bail! (The bail was later cancelled on appeal after a huge public outcry). And what did the good people of Lakhimpur do just months later in the polls in 2019 ? They elected the same party that did all this back to power, giving it all eight seats from that area ! Lakhimpur exposes, in microcosm, all that is wrong with India today.

   The IAS is rooted in the Lakhimpur Kheris of this nation, and its members come from there. Why should we expect it to be any different, or better, than any of the other governmental institutions or the rest of a sick society ? Why should we expect its members to be guided by a moral compass that is any different from the one that guides the rest of society to its perdition? A six month semi- vacation in Mussoorie is not going to change substantially the values and code of ethics they have picked up in their families and social circles, or to make them unlearn the fundamental lessons they have picked up- that nothing else matters other than money and power, that one should do unto others before they do unto you. They cannot but be influenced by the unprincipled and amoral environment in which they function. The deterioration in the IAS is the inevitable result  and reflection of the degradation of our society, polity and principles, the lack of any pathfinders. No amount of tinkering with recruitment, promotion, training or evaluation processes is going to change this basic reality, Mr. Subbarao, and the IAS will not change for the better unless its external environment changes for the better first.

   Ironically, this external environment is only getting worse under the present BJP regime. The IAS's constitutional status as a federal, not central, service is being eroded everyday, its inconvenient members being hounded by central agencies, attempts being made to reorient its loyalty from the states to Delhi, all independence of thought or action being crushed, even the All India Service Rules being amended to establish complete control by the Center over its officers. It won't be long before that 25% (officers with integrity) plummets to 5%. The service is doomed if things continue in this manner. At the end of the day a country gets the government- and the civil services- it deserves for (as the old adage goes) what you reap is what you have sown. In India's present context, to expect a civil service which is upright, independent, just, empathetic and honest while the rest of the country is going to the dogs is a pipedream.

   At one point in the interview Mr. Subbarao compares the image of the IAS (quite unfavourably)  with that of the British civil services, pointing out that people there trust the British Cabinet Secretary's inquiry into the 10 Downing Street covid parties, whereas no one today reposes any credibility in any inquiry by an IAS officer. Absolutely right, but I wish he had also mentioned the factors which ensure the upright reputation of the civil services in the UK, and that the Cabinet Secretary's report will be impartial and independent: the high standards of public life, a free and fearless press, a watchful and unforgiving citizenry, a Parliament that does much more than just sing paeans to its leader, an independent judiciary that does not seek sinecures, a govt. sensitive to public opinion, rock solid protection for civil servants which no errant and vengeful Prime Minister can dismantle. None of this is available in India today to motivate a civil servant to behave like his British counterpart. A spine is only as strong as the bones, tissue, muscles and ligaments which surround it, like a protective sheath and keep it in place. The IAS has been losing this sheath for sometime now, a few more years and the "spine" will only be fit for mounting in a natural history museum in the nation's capital. If we have a nation still left that is, or one that is worth preserving.

  Blaming the IAS is a cop out, an alibi which may make some of us feel good. What we all need to do instead is some serious soul searching, for the rot lies within.



  1. Even a quick check brought a degree of relief that institutions are people. The giants of probity mentioned, stood tall because of what they were. That formed who they were. And who and what they were shaped the offices they occupied.
    Not unlike now. The paradox of homes in hunger for prestige and prosperity in a free India of opportunity laid exposed the price of speed and exigency. Too many from nowhere stood up to be counted. They were. But at the mercy of the feral, brought out the ludicrous. Morals uncertain, the confusion between conscience and want and steadily, surely, more and more of the heirlooms put up for sale. Who are the good that will heal the country? Where are they? How can they withstand the same degeneration - not only among their own, their peers but from whom they have been placed below. Complete with gold watch and chain?

  2. Brilliant commentary on the state of affairs, sir. All segments of society make it 'whole'. We can not blame one organ for the trouble; it is the system which has to be improved.Indian Administration is a prisoner of the past and is also shackled by the traditions and values of the civilization. Governance can be improved by inducting new methods,processes, and technology.

  3. Avay, while your main thrust about 'system to blame' has some merit, you are in an oblique way condoning the bureaucracy in general and individual bureaucrats in particular. This, in my view is incorrect. The so called 'System' does not comprise of bureaucrats alone, but very much includes practically the complete polity, which does include the political leaders and the armed forces of the nation. Despite the 'system', the military has not succumbed, barring a few misguided ones, who tend to get swayed easily. Hence, the lack of rigour in training and inadequate mentoring thereafter; the please all cadre; and lack of accountability must be blamed for the rot that has not only set in but is galloping away. 'Systems' do have drawbacks, but they have to be countered.

  4. The British cabinet secretary can be trusted to give an impartial report!
    Certainly not by the British,i can avow.
    Just watch Dateline London on BBC.
    The Indian counterparts," here" think they are following a nebulous tradition
    Boris jonson was saved by the Ukrainian war.

    The Indian Street is not stupid( as no Street is,hence Street smart) The Exalted View From There, the IAS is
    Neither Indian
    Nor Administrative
    Nor a Service.

    Also as the common Indians grew we never witnessed many greats.
    Arun Shourie did deoderise Modi.( He himself said his sisters in law warned him)
    Those Indians of the vernacular character you say lack character,is not true they have their vernacular ways.
    The west underwent a lot of sophistication sophistication

  5. Churchill's foibles were thoroughly dissed.
    Brendan Bracken literally invented him.
    The thing is we don't have our own identity.
    The IAS, unfortunately has never really cared.

  6. Sad that you treat the non ias mass of Indians( barring a few ancients) as a homogeneous amorphous vernacular mass which basically populates the doings of your service.
    So it's come to pass
    Mostly ias has been rendered irrelevant.
    Not the despicable nation,it will find a way.

  7. This week’s blog is a gallant defence of his garrison by Avay Shukla from the onslaught of a brother retiree. Not 'any' brother retiree, but a very illustrious one. And when Dr. Duvvuri Subbarao berates his own institution from where he has emerged, administered and exited, one must sit up to take notice. I had a sense of deja vu after listening to the interview that a Shuklan rebuttal would follow!

    Dr. Subbarao opines that once an IAS selectee emerges from the institute at Mussoorie, he must, equipped with his superior training of the mind and nourished on the values of the civil services, necessarily be above societal decay and moral degeneration. This must not be permitted to atrophy, says he.
    Avay Shukla avers that an individual is but a product of the ecosystem and so, will reflect the influences of society. It is therefore, almost insurmountable for him to transform himself after entering the laundry of Mussoorie and emerge from it fresh, cleansed and distilled of intrinsic character.

    Another point of distinction between the two is in their choice of skills that each would like to impart to the recruits. Dr. Subbarao prefers specialists who are later given charge to manage as generalists. This is perhaps in tune with his preference for meritocracy to be furthered into the recruitment and training processes as he indicates. He explains how he would like the civil services to have a suitable mix of hedgehogs (generalists) as well as foxes (specialists)! I infer that he is not against lateral induction per se. Lateral entry of specialists is one more strengthener of meritocracy, and reduces corruption which he wishes to see eliminated.
    Avay Shukla is a self-professed confirmed generalist. He is opposed to lateral entries from other sectors into his corridors. Not for any imagined sense of insecurity I gather, but that lateral entry inherently does not contribute to qualitative accretion, is his staunch, unshakeable conclusion. I admit his reasons are coherently explained and fortified by him. However, his posturing finds opposition at the very top - Narendra Modi has on more occasions than one made his displeasure with the generalist bureaucracy abundantly known, even before the Parliament.
    This can be interpreted as a pushback by those upright in the bureaucracy to oppose a leader known for his bigotry. Alternatively, it can be their timidity to flow with the tide and not take a decision for fear of reprisal or punitive action should things go wrong. Essentially it reflects inner resolve. If positive, then Dr. Subbarao says he would like to see more of it in his juniors currently in service at the risk of job and promotion. To Avay Shukla, this deliberate immobility is due to the miasma of avarice in our system and the society we are reared in. He accounts for the lackadaisical attitude as a function of self preservation.

    I thought Dr. Subbarao brought out hope more than despair, and spoke of what the institution could inculcate in itself to uplift those it moulds and sends out.

    You, Sir, appear condoning of the corrupt and listless, and I detect justification in your mien. Compelling as your reasons are, we cannot stay dystopian and wallow in this continuum.

    I thought Dr. Subbarao was on the right side of right and Avay Shukla was…to apply a term of his usage…'defending the indefensible'.

  8. An attempt to respond to the observations/ reservations of Gen. Oberoi and Mr. Patankar:
    I am not "defending" the IAS or the 25% who are giving it a bad name, I have tried to go beyond the obvious and explain the deeper malaise that infects it. Merely branding the service as corrupt, politicized or incompetent is a lazy response. The question we should be asking instead is: why has the preeminent civil service of the 60's and 70's been reduced to the camp follower status of today? There has been no significant change in the recruitment, training, posting or promotion processes since then, so why the decline? The answer lies in the type of human material which is inducted- the recruitees- and this is deeply effected by the changes that have taken place since then in society and the polity at large.
    We cannot ignore this vital aspect simply because we wish to exonerate ourselves of all blame: this would be a self-serving, dishonest and lazy response. I am reminded of what Oscar Wilde had remarked: We dislike people for having faults that we do not have, but we hate people for having the same faults that we do. It appears to me that this is the problem with the observations of Gen Oberoi and Mr. Patankar, the rejection of our own culpability for the IAS's decline.
    As I have emphasised in my blog, the deterioration in the IAS is not singular or peculiar to it alone- it is part of the decline in the entire eco-system of governance which is what lies at the heart of the break-down. It is not due to lack of expertise or technical specialisation. Please read my earlier blog on the subject I have referred to. In 2018 more than 50% of those selected were specialists- engineers, doctors, IT graduates; in the same year ALL 20 toppers came from these categories! And yet the decline continues unabated, as it does for all services, politics, journalism, corporate entities, judiciary. No amount of superficial quick fix solutions will address this rot unless we acknowledge that something else is at work here. And this something, according to me, is the erosion of our national character and values.
    A passing word for the defence forces. Yes, the general rot has not effected them to the same degree as the civil services. But that is not because they are genetically superior beings but because they are much more insulated from politicians and civilian life ( except at the highest levels where, not surprisingly, a similar rot has set in).

  9. I thought the rigourous UPSC examination sieve of fine mesh would always separate the grain from the chaff.

  10. I have an IAS relative who was not ashamed to say that he got all his information about the ills of our country from India Today. And his wife disdained to travel "with the common people".
    He is a relative but I have NO respect for him. And his wife.

    1. Very well said. If these fellows can evoke such reactions even among their own relatives, what else can anyone say. A day will come when the country would have got rid of them for ever.

  11. Avay Shukla cannot hope to exonerate his ilk by bringing all Indians into the blanket of assumed culpability and say "we are all like this only".

    Civil servants are exceedingly intelligent individuals and that is testified by the rigorous yardstick of the UPSC examination.
    They are essentially NOT in the civil services with a clear plan to amass wealth through unbridled avarice, honed over two decades of venal family influence or societal teaching. They have NOT been trained to practice corruption as youngsters.
    All (or almost all) Indians are NOT promoters of greed and vice for Avay Shukla to presume that the civil services can only be as scrupulous as those it serves, hence the masses must accept culpability for their fall.
    When officers like Dr. Subbarao excel with glory, we credit them and the IAS for the excellence displayed. Why should the polity then be made to partake the shame when some officers bring disrepute to themselves and the institution? The country and its character must not be made a scapegoat of the administration's frustrations.
    There are numerous instances of Indians having excelled in the most extenuating of conditions, beating exploitation, politics, and other obstacles to rise triumphant.

    I would prefer to remember these victories of the commoners than draw upon Oscar Wilde, who was a classic example himself of an Oscar gone wild.

  12. Your assumptions are wrong on just about every count and your naivete is mind blowing, sir. Enough said .

    1. Oops...apologies Sir.
      I cannot allow my fatuity to vaporise your fecund mind.
      The bat is yours, and you are privileged to stop the game after your batting is done.

  13. Utter crap. This alone shows his calibre and that of his ilk. You can't ask a criminal to pass judgement on himself. The rationale that he is using to justify the rot in his service exposes the innermost workings of these bigots. When they have absolutely nothing to save them, they try to bring down the whole structure of the nation. Rather than thumping his back in secret personal messages the pests of his colour should distance themselves from him. But being rhe bigots they are, they will do this also. The PM must dusmantle this rotten edifice in one powerful blow rather than appease these looters and parasites.

    1. I have to sound you out Unknown, because the utility, necessity and existence of the civil services is not the subject of debate. It never was, and can never be. Unless the mandarins of uniformity and majoriatarianism decide to instill mendicants and monks to replace bureaucrats and work a system devoid of all imagined complexities.
      Till such time as the apocalypse not befall the nation, and hopefully never will, let us maintain the discussion to acceptable levels of decorum. Acrid language, foul verbiage and offensive rebuffs need not be made the vehicle to present a point. I get the impression you are helpfully trying to lend heft to my argument, but we can do without the calumnies at the blog owner. If it is your personal comment, I apologise for getting a silly idea in my vacuous mind.

  14. Society in general has lost its moral compass. Honesty has now become liability, humility is equated with mediocrity, and a spine is flexible so that one can bend rather than stand erect. IAS officers come from this very same Society, and just because they scored better marks and qualified to run the government machinery does not mean they are cut from a different cloth.An honest man with humility and a spine who is an IAS officer belongs to a vanishing breed.