These initiatives were taken after a great deal of planning. In 2017, Modi spent nearly two days interacting with a diverse group of nearly 400 civil servants in the foundation course during workshops at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National
Academy of Administration in Mussoorie. They were asked to prepare presentations to be submitted to the prime minister to help improve governance. “The idea was to catch them young and train them to align with the government’s agenda,” said an official involved in drawing up the training strategy. In his address, Modi pointed out that the combination of experience and freshers’ perspective would help improve governance.
But this is not the only initiative that could radically alter the complexion of the Indian bureaucracy.
Take for instance the decision of the lateral entry of 10-odd officers at the level of joint secretary and 40-odd officials at the level of deputy secretary in the central government. Almost all these officers, drawn from the private sector, would be given a crash course in governance before finally being deputed to take charge. The Indian Institute of Public Administration in Delhi is being readied as the first training ground for these officials. For dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats, lateral entry of private sector executives into the hallowed precincts of power is nothing short of unacceptable. Yet this innovative experience of mixing private sector experience in governance is intended to change the work culture and create a better synergy between the private sector and the government.
It is too early to assess the real impact of these initiatives. But what’s evident is a resetting of equations between the political executive and permanent bureaucracy
in the past five years. There is no doubt that the bureaucracy
is re-orienting itself to work under a strong government whose sustenance is not dependent on coalition partners. A generation of bureaucrats
who climbed up the seniority ladder since 1989 has found this experience quite unique.
For instance, the Department of Personnel silently introduced a 360-degree verification of the career of a bureaucrat before promoting him or her to the position of additional secretary or secretary to the Government of India. In the past five years, many bureaucrats
were denied promotion on the basis of this critical scrutiny, which caused a flutter in the ranks. Those denied promotion would often criticise the PMO for introducing a methodology by which every aspect of a bureaucrat’s career is analysed, even his/her relations with subordinate staff. The government is aware of this criticism but attributes it to the loss of a sense of entitlement among bureaucrats
for promotion by virtue of their seniority in service.
That there is pressure on the bureaucracy to adapt itself to working with a stable and strong government is clear. The message was conveyed unambiguously when the government forced the retirement of 27 officials from the Indian Revenue Service on charges of misdemeanour and corruption immediately after Modi took over as prime minister for the second time. The message was loud and clear: The bureaucracy might be a permanent “steel frame”. But it does not guarantee jobs for deviants. In the process of resetting this equation between the bureaucracy and the political executive, the features that traditionally defined the bureaucracy will undergo a gradual metamorphosis in the next five years and may acquire a distinctly different character. The change has already begun: Silently, and at the top.