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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

The 1970s seem to be coming back with a vengeance

June 19, 2008

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The Jammu & Kashmir homepage
Former chief secretary Kundal inducted into J&K cabinet
Roughly thirty-five years ago, some of Indira Gandhi's [Images] acolytes issued a clarion call for a 'committed' bureaucracy and a 'committed' judiciary. They did not know, or chose to ignore, that in American slang asking that someone 'be committed' is to say that they are fit only for the mental asylum. (Or perhaps they did know -- taking it all too seriously and condemning India into the loony-bin that was the Emergency!)

Be that as it may, 'commitment,' as they interpreted it, did not mean dedication to one's given tasks, it signified an unquestioning obedience to the Nehru-Gandhis, without bothering about niceties such as the law. Don't you think they would have beamed approvingly at B R Kundal?

B R Kundal was once the chief secretary to the Government of Jammu & Kashmir. He quit that post in May after he was promised a ministerial berth under Chief Minister Ghulam [Images] Nabi Azad. This followed the enforced resignation of Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed from the ministry after allegations of corruption.

B R Kundal was expected to take the oath of office on Monday, the second of June. The ceremony had to be postponed for a few days after angry MLAs from the Congress itself complained. Sadly, their protests seem to have been about an outsider grabbing the loaves and fishes of office, not about the irregularity of the proceeding itself.

To clarify the point, take a look at what might have happened had B R Kundal decided to retire and join a corporate house. There are strict rules about such things; he would either have had to wait for at least two years before taking up such a job or he would have had to win special permission.

The logic is easily understood. Civil servants possess the power to take decisions that favour one party over another. In the interests of a free and fair administration, the regulations insist on a cooling-off period, so that nobody is tempted into taking a call favouring Company 'X', then taking up a cushy post with the same firm as a sort of retirement benefit.

The cynics among us would say that politics today have been debased into little more than a business, a money-making enterprise. I myself would not go as far as to daub all politicians with that brush but I accept that there is no smoke without fire. So, why then should the rules be different in this case?

As you can see, the safety measure of seeking special permission is no handicap at all. The man making that call would be the same person who invited B R Kundal into the ministry.

Should we be charitable and assume that the former chief secretary was invited because Ghulam Nabi Azad wanted to ensure that someone both clean and competent would join him, not embarrassing him as Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed did? Well, not really, because the Congress was surprisingly candid about the reason.

When the consumer affair and public distribution Minister, Taj Mohidin, was quizzed by reporters about the delay in inducting B R Kundal, the minister was quick to deny rumours of opposition within the party. The real reason, he said, was because 'the Bahujan Samaj Party is making inroads in our vote bank in Jammu.'

There you have it -- B R Kundal is a minister not because he possesses some special talents, it is a case of his having the right parents!

I can honestly say that I never knew that 'Kundal' is a surname belonging to a 'Scheduled Caste' or an 'Other Backward Caste'; nor had I ever bothered to find out. But trust the Congress to have the caste profile of every civil servant at its fingertips!

One might argue that it is utterly naive to expect better of the Congress. But should B R Kundal himself have fallen for the Congress's bait? Isn't a civil servant expected to act without favour to any particular community? How do you think it will sound when the former head of the civil service in Jammu & Kashmir suddenly starts talking about working for 'his' community? The implication is that he has been 'committed' all along to 'his' party and to 'his' caste.

It would be bad enough if this episode was something that broke the pattern, but the truth is that the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir was merely following in the footsteps of the prime minister of India.

If a former chief election commissioner can be inducted into the Congress, then into the Union council of ministers, isn't that a precedent of sorts?

(It seems the prime minister has called on his colleagues to practice 'austerity.' If true, why not abolish the Union sports ministry, M S Gill's current nest? Surely, there can't be a more utterly useless department!0

When the controversy over M S Gill broke out, some Congress defenders dredged up the name of Chief Justice Subba Rao, who had contested the Presidency in 1967 as the joint candidate of the non-Congress parties (then including both the Jana Sangh and the Marxists). I am not sure if it is an apt comparison; both high offices are non-partisan, and in any case Justice K Subba Rao never joined any party but stood as an independent. Neither M S Gill nor B R Kundal have even that fig leaf.

In India we supposedly follow the British system. The only comparable case to B R Kundal's that comes to mind is that of Sir P J Grigg in 1942, who went from being the Permanent Under-Secretary of War (a bureaucrat) to being the War Secretary (a minister) overnight. But that was in World War II, and a certain latitude is allowed in wartime. Second, Grigg wasn't joining a Conservative government, but a national coalition where the Labour leader, Clement Attlee, served under Winston Churchill. Third, Grigg himself honourably insisted on standing for a by-election rather than enter Parliament through the backdoor of the House of Lords.

Neither India nor Jammu & Kashmir is at war. There is no overarching coalition of national unity either in Delhi or in Srinagar [Images]. And M S Gill was brought in through the Rajya Sabha though we still don't know how B R Kundal will enter the legislature. Not quite the same as Grigg, is it?

The 1970s seem to be coming back with a vengeance -- from double-digit inflation and long waits for gas cylinders to a return of Naxalism and the licence-permit-quota Raj. Is it too much to ask that the Congress at least stop asking for more Indira Gandhi-style 'commitment?'


T V R Shenoy




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