India has a long tradition of legislating problems out of existence, thus depleting forest cover and further burdening the creaking shelves in lawyers’ chambers at the same time. Now, the fashion seems to have caught on in the field of rule-making, too. The Cabinet has approved a revision to the code of conduct for ministers which requires them to “uphold the political impartiality of the civil services and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the duties and responsibilities of civil servants.” And bang, we shall have the end of all evils, from riots to clogged sewers, both at the level of the Centre and the states.
But what is this “conflict” that the code speaks of? It is conceptually impossible. Where administrators are perceived to be the robotic arms of political authority, subserving political imperatives unquestioningly is the foremost duty. Duty towards the public, or to the nation, is an afterthought to be moodily entertained after hours. And dismissed following a decent interval, like long-lost friends that one never really liked.
It is easy for politicians to pressure administrators because, well, that has come to be perceived as the default mode of governance. This is why the problems besetting governance call for systemic change, not Band Aid jobs of this nature, but serious administrative and police reforms have been successfully held off by successive governments, for reasons of realpolitik. In their absence, the government can get away with well-meaning fig leaves like the amended code of conduct which has just been cleared by the Cabinet, and carry on using the administrative machinery and the police as their captive work force.