This article will help you to learn about the relationship between Ministers and Civil Services in social welfare states.
It is an era of welfare states. Gone are the days when states were either instruments of tyranny or mere custodians of law and order. Nowadays the states not only protect and restrain but also foster and promote. As such the role of the ministers, who work for the states has become of vital importance.
The ministers may not necessarily be embodiment of knowledge and competence. Anybody 25 years of age can get elected to the Parliament and thereafter if fortunes smile at him, become a minister. A socially tangible person, clever in art of canvassing or maneuvering can sweep the polls. Administration requires expertise which a minister does not possess.
Hence he banks upon his secretaries who have seen the tides of times and on account of rigorous training after their recruitment and vast experience are fully acquainted with the ins and outs of the department. A minister being a layman cannot run the department entrusted to his care. The secretaries and other top services in the department give him judicious counsel.
In fact they lay down the policy, the minister in most cases signs the dotted line. An experienced minister goes a step further. He himself lays down breadlines of policy though the secretaries chalk out the details.
The execution of policy also requires tact, courage and skill which of course the civil services possess in an ample measure. If they find a particular policy unworkable, they may point out flaws to the minister un-reluctantly and suggest modifications in the policy.
The minister will be judicious enough to accept their mature counsel as he is fully conscious of his limitations and the responsibility of efficient administration that he owes to the electorates. He won’t unnecessarily reject their advice just to show his superiority knowing it fully well that his future prospects will be bleak if his administration earns denunciation at the hands of the electorates.
Ramsay Muir has given a very analytical portrayal of relationship between the ministers and the civil services in the words “Think of a newly appointed minister taking command of a great public department such as Ministry of Health or the Colonial office. He has obtained the position because of his achievement in the general field of politics, because he is a good platform speaker or a good parliamentary debater or commands a great deal of social influence or is a prominent trade union organizer. In majority of cases he has no special knowledge of the immense and complex work of the department over which he is to preside. He has to deal with a body of officials who may be and often are men of far greater natural ability than himself They bring before him hundreds of knotty problems for his decisions but most of them, he knows nothing at all. They put before him their suggestions supported by…………….. the most convincing arguments and facts. It is obvious that unless he is either a self important ass or a man of quite exceptional grasp, power and courage he will in 99 cases out of 100 simply accept their views and sign his name on the dotted line. In the 100th case, some question of party principle, some promise that has flourished on the platform may be involved. The officials of course know this. They perhaps point out the practical difficulties in the way of limited fulfillment of the pledges. They suggest to him a plausible compromise. They know that with one type of minister, they will have to go slow and that with the other types of ministers they can suggest bolder devices… on the whole the policy of the office will nearly always prevail; its powers of quiet persistence and of quiet obstruction and its command of all the facts are irresistible except to a man of commanding power”.
Ramsay Muir’s analytical approach of relationship between the ministers and the civil services is very apt. A minister of exceptional grasp over the situation can alone ignore the advice of the civil services, otherwise in general he toes the line laid down by his secretaries.
A dynamic personality like Jawaharlal Nehru could make the secretaries dance to his tune. Nobody had the courage to dictate terms to him. Shastriji, the next Prime Minister, had to bank upon his secretariats advice quite a great deal because of his limitations.
When compared with his predecessor. Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the initial stages leaned too heavily on K.L. Jha and later P.N. Haksar, her secretaries, as she did not muster clear majority in Lok Sabha and was shaky in administering national affairs.
With the passage of time she emerged out to be a very dominant leader and a capable administrator. She no longer got dictation from her secretaries in political or administrative affairs. Rather, she made them blow her trumpet. Rajiv Gandhi, her illustrious son being a politically novice in the initial stage banked upon bureaucrats to a great extent. Mrs. Sarla Grewal was one of such bureaucrats.
Thus no hard and fast line can be drawn regarding the extent of dependence of a minister over the civil services. However, it is wrong to presume that ministers are always subservient to the civil services on account of their lack of administrative acumen.
The competence and calibre of the concerned Prime Minister or a minister matter a lot. It will be indeed a sad day for democracy if the civil power represented through the ministers, is subordinated to the civil services.
However, the importance of the vital role a bureaucrat plays has been well portrayed by Joseph Chamberlain before a congregation of civil servants “…you could do without us but I have an absolute conviction that we could not do without you.”
The civil services are quite conscious of the fact that the ministers are cross examined on the floor of the House. A wrong advice by them can land a minister in difficulties. Evidently, they won’t be able to save their skin if the minister is exposed on the floor of the House.
They will be subsequently fired. Mr. Kaul, ex-Secretary of Lok Sabha, rightly points out, “When the minister is questioned on the floor of the House, the heart of the secretary is under constant palpitation in the lobbies”.
Thus it is not correct to hold that civil services can become arbitrary and arrogate the authority to themselves or misguide the ministers. They know their place. They have to remain incognito. They cannot come in the lime-light.
They are aware of ministers’ leadership and also support by the majority party. If the Council of Ministers acts as a team, no minister can be defied or bypassed by his secretary. It is, therefore, rather an exaggerated view to conclude that in a social welfare state, democracy is misnomer, it is bureaucracy that rules.
Both the ministers and the civil services have to work as a team for the socio-economic uplift of the masses. A.D. Gorwala has rightly remarked, “The relationship between the ministers and the official of whatever rank and between officials of various ranks is not that of master and servant but rather that of senior and junior colleagues engaged on the same beneficial tasks”.
In case of India in the present contest of the things the role of the civil services vis-vis ministers has undergone change. The positivity is replacing the negativity. A positive motivation of civil services is being considered as the crying need of the hour.
Hence the Ministers have not to act as political bosses and ride tough shed on the will and the spirit of the civil services. On the other hand the civil servant is to be people-oriented and responsible to the new political pressures.
As such, he has to learn how to get along with the politicians. That necessitates pragmatisms dynamism and adaptability to the emerging situation and keen willingness to take prompt action, at times adhoc and bypassing the procedural complexities.
In the fast changing socio-political scenario, the civil services are to be flexible in their approach”, outgoing and people-oriented while executing policies and prepared to undertake risks and on the spot decisions, rules and regulations not with-standing. This can enable him to win confidence of the Ministers and follow the policy laid down by the government.
It may not, however, be irrelevant to say that bulk of critics in India feel that bureaucracy has in general earned a bad name. The Public accountability is sadly missing from the Indian administrative system. The politico-bureaucratic wall has become so strong that it defeats all possible attempts at enforcing liability of both the minister and his administrative secretary.
It is for this reason that the Lok pal Bill has been falling since 1968 to see the light of the day. A vicious nexus of sizable corrupt politicians and some of their henchmen the civil servants lacking integrity can wreck the political edifice itself if proper safeguards are not only promptly contemplated but also implemented with celerity.