Ranjit Sinha is among the numerous appointees of the Manmohan Singh government who are either serving the current dispensation or who have retired with honour. Mr Sinha’s qualifications for the top slot at CBI were obvious: he was the officer who looked into the soul of Lalu Yadav and saw a blameless soul, even while the uncharitable were metaphorically throwing gobs of fodder at the poor man. Almost every night of the week, the then CBI director was gracious enough to meet at his official residence those who his organisation was investigating. It would be churlish to claim that such meetings were born out of a desire to negotiate a satisfactory conclusion to the probes against them. The Sinhas were probably discussing the Indian team’s prowess at the IPL matches, or were engaged in conversation about how the rate of growth of the Indian economy could get pushed up to the double digit figures, needed to eliminate poverty in India within a generation?
After all, the targets of CBI probes could very well be authorities on these and other subjects of interest to the Sinhas. Is Ranjit Sinha blameless of the allegations made against him, despite his odd choice of visitors to spend a quiet evening with, now that a government elected to office on the promise of accountability and clean governance has allowed him to serve out his full term, rather than suspend him and launch proceedings against him?
The BJP secured an absolute majority of Lok Sabha seats ten months ago, entirely because a significant number of voters believed in the efficiency and probity of Narendra Modi. Since 26 May last year, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat is the Prime Minister of the country, and therefore in effective charge of the CBI, the ED, the DRI, the Income-Tax Department and other investigative wings of the gargantuan governance mechanism in India. In view of his stand against corruption, especially the vow that neither would he indulge in “eating” up funds or allow any other leader to do so, citizens are awaiting the promised period of accountability, when government begins to initiate action against the many VIPs and VVIPs guilty of having enriched themselves illegally through misuse of their office during the preceding two decades. Narendra Modi will be judged by two criteria, first his success in inflicting punishment on those guilty of large-scale corruption, and next, in boosting economic growth to two digits. Such a process would get speeded up and made more comprehensive were Civil Society to be brought into the cleansing act and not just the Civil Service.
For example, why should it be the just CBI which has been entrusted with a government-initiated probe into the death of D.K. Ravi, the IAS officer from Karnataka? Why could not have a “Civil Society Investigation Team” been set up with the inclusion of those having a record of battling graft, individuals of the mettle of E.A.S. Sarma or S. Gurumurthy? Why not empower such non-official probe teams so that they can record evidence and examine both records as well as personnel? Why not SITs of such individuals rather than officials and retired or serving judges? Why not appoint to the Election Commission at least a few individuals who have actually fought an election, so that practical experience is brought to bear, besides length of service within the administration? Why not appoint as information commissioners those with a record of seeking transparency, rather than merely confine such choices to officials, who for decades have resisted precisely the sort of openness which the 21st century demands of all but a few processes of government? Why not go ahead with appointing direct recruits from Civil Society to fill at least a quarter of Civil Service posts? Indeed, even posts as vital to good governance as that of principal secretary to the PM or other posts within the PMO and other ministries could in future get filled by those from professions outside government with a proven record of overcoming obstacles to progress in a country still bound by a colonial system of governance.
At the same time, those in the Central services should be encouraged to spend stints outside government, in think tanks, in universities and in the corporate sector. In this way, the two sectors will seed each other rather than remain separated by a colonial-style wall.
Prime Minister Modi exemplified the promise of change, a transformation introduced at a speed closer to the way in which technologies and mindsets are changing in this century than the bullock cart pace of our colonial administration. Calling on a fusion of Civil Society and the Civil Service in more of the essential tasks of governance would represent a welcome initiative by Prime Minister Modi in the necessary process of changing the governance system from its longstanding colonial and people-smothering mode into a mix that is democratic and people-empowering.