There is something glorious about Indian Administrative Service (IAS). It’s always been the crown jewel for civil service aspirants. After all, power is attractive. Yet bureaucracy, in general, has left laymen quizzical – How does the government work? How do men in power bring laws that change course of our history? Learning bureaucracy and power calls for a source having loads of wisdom. And who else can be a better person than T R Raghunandan – an IAS officer with 27 years experience?
Sowing career seeds
Like millions who take part in civil service exams, Raghunandan’s path was ‘the desire for stability, opportunity to see India and scope for versatility the job offered’. He found it ‘had great scope to transform lives’.
“Apart from district, sub-district postings – sectors in which I worked from protocol officer to determining energy policy, agricultural marketing and dealing with local governments – there was a diverse range of responsibilities,” he says.
As his career forged ahead, Raghunandan found his groove: “Working in democratic decentralization at State and Union government level.’ Later when he quit, he realised ‘the outside world was novel and fast moving but also naive and ignorant when it came to understanding governance.”
Governance has always been a mystery. Raghunandan had a burning desire to shed some light. :I wrote a blog for Centre for Policy Research which attempted to unravel governance,” he states.
The blog eventually gave birth to his book, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Bureaucracy But Were Afraid To Ask. Raghunandan says it’s his take on how things work. “It has tended to be irreverent in parts – most of how government functions, particularly when it is inefficient and disjointed – like a full-scale black comedy,” he says.
Over the years, Raghunandan figured some measures to uplift government. He believes civil service isn’t professional enough. “They aren’t monitored well. Monitoring systems are easily distorted and subverted. Eventually, nobody is held accountable for failure,” he says.
“Higher civil service doesn’t provide adequate leadership or inspiration to front level officials delivering services with a few notable exceptions. Very few officers are dedicated and committed to inviolable principles rather than to individual politicians who can advance one’s career,” he says.
To rectify such glaring loopholes, Raghunandhan says we need to ‘accept these failings and admit that a top-down, hierarchical bureaucracy can’t be reformed beyond a point’, and believes, ‘bringing in more ordinary people into governance can make a difference.’
History has taught power breeds darkness which people succumb to. How can one stick to integrity in a system laced by corruption? “I think those who enter government should have patience, work hard and a great deal of healthy skepticism to succeed. They must have compassion and reach out to the marginalized,” says Raghunandhan.
“The poor don’t have anybody other than politicians and civil servants to work for them. If civil servants forsake constitutional values, then there is no hope for India,” he adds.
Raghunandhan runs Avantika Foundation. “It’s a not-for-profit company working on decentralized public governance,” he says.
“The foundation imparts effective leadership amongst government officials. Raghunandhan discovered lack of organizational strength that hampered local governments from functioning effectively. ‘No amount of training and exhortation of elected people would help if Panchayats were not given adequate staff and tools to perform their responsibilities,” he explains.
Today, the foundation aims to empower women and hopes to work closely with elected women representatives in Panchayats and Municipalities.