‘Babu Minds’ Need To Be Rewired; Sacking IAS ‘Won’t Do Nothing’BloombergQuintOpinion
Sab kuchh babu hi karengey. IAS ban gaye matlab woh fertiliser ka karkhana bhi chalayega, chemical ka karkhana bhi chalayega, IAS ho gaya toh woh hawai jahaz bhi chalayega. Yeh kaun si badi takat bana kay rakh di hai hamnay?
Translation: Will babus (an unflattering, mocking description of Indian bureaucrats from the colonial era) run everything? Just because they’ve cleared an IAS exam, does it also mean they’ve become competent to run fertiliser factories, chemical industries, even fly aircraft or manage airlines? What is this all-conquering force (perhaps he meant ‘Frankenstein’?) that we’ve created?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s acerbic barb in parliament against Indian Administrative Service officers, a constituency thought to be among his ‘pets’, shocked everybody. Never one to lose control or use unmeasured words, he clearly wanted to jolt and petrify listless bureaucrats. This was music to my ears. I’ve written countless columns bemoaning how IAS clansmen have kept our economy chained and caged in archaic, anti-competitive, ‘socialist’ policies that have ironically spurred unbridled crony capitalism.
Before I proceed further, here’s an honest disclosure – my father was an IAS officer from the 1957 batch; my wife also comes from an illustrious IAS family. Yet I hold steadfast to my conviction. IAS officers may be splendid general administrators but are highly uninformed and didactic in matters of economic policymaking.
A decade ago, in Superpower: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise (Penguin Allen Lane, 2010), I had written as follows:
Now, This Is How They Torpedo Reforms…
Some years back, Prime Minister Modi had given a clarion call to empower India’s digital entrepreneurs equal to or more than their global competitors. Perhaps inspired by BBC’s iconic sitcom Yes, Prime Minister, I had written a cameo about how the IAS gang would torpedo this effort to digitally de-colonise our country:
Cynical Micro-Managers, Stillborn Reforms
In a similar vein, I suspect that Prime Minister Modi’s noble intention to “rid public sector companies of IAS managers” could be a poor half-reform, destined to fail.
The real problem is not that a handful of babus run a clutch of commercial enterprises. The awful reality is that unless IAS officers give up the levers of economic policymaking, their cynicism will be contagious.
Why? Because their cradle-to-grave security ring-fences them from volatile success and failure. Their monetary rewards are completely unhinged from merit or achievement. Whether you are a fast-tracker or a laggard, you move in the same slow lane. This stalemate often creates an aversion to taking risks; it nurtures a deep suspicion about free markets. Hence the urge to micro-manage and ‘create provisos’. Until this malady is cured, India’s economic reforms shall always be stillborn half-measures.
Raghav Bahl is Co-Founder – The Quint Group including BloombergQuint. He is the author of three books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’, and ‘Super Century: What India Must Do to Rise by 2050’.