India Insight

Nagpal case highlights challenges for civil servants in India

(Any opinions expressed here are not of Thomson Reuters)

How does a civil servant survive India’s labyrinthine government bureaucracies? The question has come up again after the government of Uttar Pradesh suspended an employee and charged her with illegally allowing the demolition of a wall that was going to form part of a mosque.

The case of Durga Shakti Nagpal, 28, boils down to whether she was inciting religious disharmony through her order, or whether she was getting her comeuppance for trying to stop a sand mining racket in India’s most populous state. Her suspension also has highlighted the difficulties that bureaucrats face every day.

We asked current and former bureaucrats: how do young officers deal with hostile politicians and superiors? Does the IAS need changes to how it operates to make it easier for civil servants to do their jobs honestly? Should the judiciary control the IAS, not the legislature?

JM Lyngdoh (former chief election commissioner of India): In the beginning [politicians] didn’t like rules and regulations to be put up to them. Gradually, things became worse, and eventually they had nothing but contempt for rules and regulations. Officers become stenographers and nothing better than that.

Basically, if you are entering service today, you ought to enter with your eyes open. It is a very tough world, and you have to be tough to survive without being dishonest to yourself. In my time, you would at the most be sidelined for getting in their way. Today’s politicians can even get you killed if necessary. If you don’t have it in you, then you shouldn’t be here.

Too poor to buy a car, Mr MLA? Dig into your development fund

For a politician whose party’s symbol is a bicycle and who used the “aam aadmi’s” (common man’s) mode of transport for an election rally, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has stoked all the wrong emotions with a proposal to let lawmakers buy cars using up to 2 million rupees (about $36,800) from their local area development funds.

Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh have panned the chief minister’s proposal, one that would cost the state exchequer 806 million rupees ($14.6 million) — in case all 403 lawmakers in the state assembly buy cars priced at 2 million rupees each.

Shouldn’t Yadav, who won the assembly polls earlier this year riding on popular sentiment and promises of reform, use the money to develop Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states? Just days ago, his father — Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav — urged the Congress-coalition government to spend money on development there.

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Live coverage of election results from Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh.

Parents to get top marks for voting in UP

Students at a Lucknow college will earn extra credit if they can get their mom and dad to vote in the Uttar Pradesh state elections this month.

Getting those 10 extra marks is no easy task. A girl student at Christ Church college said she would have to work hard to push her “lazy” mother to go out on polling day but it would be worth it.

School officials insist this is no bribe, only an incentive to ensure students learn the value of their vote. At a parent-teacher conference immediately after the election, the ink-stained fingers of voting parents will show which students have succeeded in the task.

Mayawati’s memorials a waste of money?

As chief minister of India’s most populous state and the country’s most influential dalit leader, Mayawati is used to getting her way. The memorials she has built around Uttar Pradesh are a testament to that.

The latest one is the “Rashtriya Dalit Smarak” (literally translated as National Dalit Memorial) in Noida, just across the river from the capital New Delhi.

Inaugurated last week, it is certainly an expensive project. Adorning the park are 24 pink sandstone elephants, the electoral symbol of Mayawati’s party, each reportedly costing 7 million rupees and about 12 life-size statues of B.R. Ambedkar (one of the authors of the Indian constitution and a hero among the dalits or “untouchable” caste), Mayawati herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram, each costing about 70 million of the taxpayer’s money, according to news reports.

Graft charges bite as Mayawati eyes polls

By Annie Banerji

While the government of India announced austerity measures in July to rationalise its expenditure in an attempt to meet its fiscal deficit target, the chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh didn’t seem to get the message.

Mayawati, popularly known as the “untouchables’ queen” for her championing of poor, lower-caste Indians, has spent over $4 million from the state’s contingency fund without budgetary approval on renovation and new construction at her bungalow.

This year, her government will spend more for her house, personal security and comfort.

Much ado about Rahul Gandhi’s ash claim

By Annie Banerji

Days after Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic motorcycle pillion ride to twin villages in Uttar Pradesh to quell land acquisition agitations between police and farmers, the Congress general secretary told Indian media that he found a 70-foot pile of ashes with human remains inside.

He added that women had been raped, people had been beaten up and the police had torn down houses during the protests.

On questioning the villagers of Bhatta and Parsaul, the Indian Express found that not a single person backed Gandhi’s assertions. The main refrain was that of police beating up villagers and mistreating them.

Statutes and statues: Mayawati gets Supreme Court nod for sprawling memorial park

Every powerful politician deliberates their legacy. For Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state and one of the country’s most recognizable politicians, hers will be set in stone.

Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stone statues, to be precise.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Mayawati releases a manifesto, which she termed an "appeal", for the upcoming general elections during a news conference in the northern Indian city of Lucknow March 20, 2009. India will hold a general election between April 16 and May 13, election officials said on March 2, kicking off a mammoth process in which 714 million people will be able to cast their votes.  REUTERS/Pawan Kumar
Ridiculed by some quarters of the media for her seemingly exorbitant narcissism, she was granted the right to continue construction of a 34-acre memorial park by the Supreme Court on Friday, after staring down mounting criticism over the size of the so-called ‘memorial’ budget from the coffers of one of India’s poorest and least developed states.

Dubbed the “Untouchable Queen” for her success in championing the cause of Dalits, one of India’s former backward castes, and turning their support into numbers at the ballot box, Mayawati has ruled over India’s most populous state since sweeping to power in the 2007 elections.

Mayawati’s public display of wealth or affection?

MayawatiGarlands of flowers have been a standard greeting for politicians in India. Ceremonies and inaugurations with a political leader as chief guest mean more prosperity to florists than anyone else.

Most of these garlands get swept aside or badly crushed. But not the one recently presented to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

The several metres long garland made up of 1,000 rupee notes is now garnering scrutiny from Income Tax sleuths of the country.

Will Mayawati’s Brahmin card work this time?

Much has been written about Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s inventive politics that saw her forging an unlikely alliance between Dalits and Brahmins — from the two ends of the Hindu caste spectrum — to win an election in Uttar Pradesh in 2007.

She did this with a promise to widen the appeal of her party beyond her traditional Dalit voters and bring Brahmins and other upper castes into her programme of all-round development.

As proof, she gave tickets to scores of Brahmins in 2007 and appointed a Brahmin (Satish Misra) as her chief adviser and strategist.

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