Public interest & prerogative

Whose interest and prerogative?


The current imbroglio over the transfer of the Nagaland State Police chief has raised pertinent questions on governance and accountability in the state, and adds another dimension to the process of statecraft and polity.


Increasingly, with the onset of technology and public awareness, those at the helms of affairs are under constant scrutiny and the state’s bureaucrats are no exception.


Bureaucracy, the backbone of the entire administrative machinery, can be simply understood as “office power or office rule, the rule of the officialdom.” German sociologist Max Weber was effusive in admiration and indispensability of bureaucracy, considering it as the most rational and effective mode of organizing the activities and ensured decision-making according to “general rules rather than the whims of officials.”


He, however, was equally cynically and cautious reminding about the danger of an “iron cage,” limiting individual human freedom and potential, instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free.


It would lead to a technically ordered, rigid and dehumanized society with the concentration of large amounts of power in a small number of people and tends to generate oligarchy (with few officials having the political and economic power), he averred.


In the highly acclaimed 1980s BBC series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, the high-ranking civil servants were shown fully convinced they kept the wheels of government in motion and the ample advisor to rotating and often malleable politicians.


Albeit with some creative exaggeration for dramatic impact, the aura of preeminence and most narratives in the sitcom were concurred as reflecting reality.


In the current imbroglio, apart from concerns over its ability to handle intense scrutiny, one wonders whether the ‘pecking order’ is other way around for the higher echelons of the state bureaucracy and they are ‘Just Following Orders’ of the political organs.


Sounding Kafkaesque, the top bureaucrat of the state told the media that the ex-DGP was ordered to step down and disciplinary action initiated against him for allegedly “creating hype” and “engineering protests” for his retention. Without specifying the nature of the “reports” and its sources, he noted it would “be inappropriate to make such matters be let out in the public domain” and “it is the prerogative of the government.”


Another unmanned official was also quoted as being “‘disappointed ‘on how an administrative decision to appoint the DGP, a prerogative of the state government, has become “a matter of public debate and discussion.”


Earlier, his replacement was sought citing lack of “requisite experience’ which resulted in “challenges and issues” in the conduct of the recent state Assembly elections.


While the ‘lack of experience’ assertion has been rendered untenable, as successive actions of the Government has amply illustrated that it take refuge in ‘technicalities’ at its convenience, another pertinent question is raised.


Is bureaucratic/government’s action immune to public scrutiny?


The former Chairman of the 20th Law Commission of India and Chief Justice of Delhi High Court AP Shah has amply answered this recently when he asserted that, “The public’s right to information is the cornerstone of a democracy – a founding ideal that gives priority to transparency over secrecy.”


Unless conscientious citizens “do not rise up and demand accountability from the government, there will be no change in the situation,” he added.


Theoretically, the government has to act on behalf of and answerable to the people, and its action liable to scrutiny by citizens and the media.


Thus, the false pretense between “public interest” and state’s “prerogative” over the current DGP imbroglio does not augur well for the state of affairs in Nagaland.


Just as the government has the ‘prerogative’ to discipline and replace a civil servant, the public also has the right to know the incident which led to the current imbroglio.


Else, punishing a person considered as ‘upright’ in the eye of the public can only result to a substantial decline of public confidence on the bureaucracy and possible allegation of working ‘hand-in-glove’ and hidden agenda with their political masters, and not the permanent objective advisor.