Former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh's move to kick his job to join the BJP ahead of Lok Sabha elections has renewed the debate around preventing civil servants from using their positions to further the agenda of political parties.
Singh was briefly the chief of the special investigation team constituted to probe the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case in 2011. But he asked to be moved out of the team, citing differences of opinion within the team as the reason.
Last week, the 1981-batch IPS officer took the plunge into electoral politics when he put in his papers, declaring that he wanted to work for the country, and "world peace". On Sunday, he shared the dais with BJP's prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in UP, from where Singh is expected to get a party ticket.
Just a few months earlier, former home secretary RK Singh too had joined the BJP and went on to spill the beans on his former boss, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
Singh insisted neither he nor the Mumbai top cop had erred.
"Once I retired, I was a free man. What's wrong with joining politics?" the former home secretary asked. "Let's not forget that the civil servants work under the minister who is a politician and is empowered to take all the decisions," he added.
Shekhar Singh, an academic who has lectured civil servants for a larger part of his career and worked at the Planning Commission, said the fear of civil servants divorcing the idea of impartiality well before they quit service was pretty real.
And it does shake the confidence of people when civil servants who hold important posts or judges take the plunge. "How do we then know that the decisions they took in office were on merit," he said.
But, he added, civil servants doling out favours to a political party for a ticket was less problematic than senior bureaucrats losing their spine for a post-retirement assignment.
There was a time when you could expect secretary-rank officers to call a spade a spade. Now, it is a rarity.
Last year, the Election Commission called for a cooling period of 1-2 years before a civil servant could join politics. Also, an existing rule requires officials to take permission if they want to take up a private job within a year of leaving the government. But the law ministry rejected the proposal, citing a retired officer's basic rights.
Shekhar Singh said cooling off period could be a reasonable safeguard, but stressed on steps to prevent civil servants on the verge of retirement from hankering for fresh assignments.