The raids at the house of former Tamil Nadu chief secretary P Rama Mohan Rao and other places on Wednesday did not surprise me. It is the order of things in the hallowed state, which used to be once proud of itself for being a land of austerity, honesty and propriety. Gone are the days of Rajaji, Kamaraj and Annadurai — all tall leaders adored for their selflessness and simple lifestyle. The rot started around 1970 and the state has not looked back after that. This is unfortunate but true. The distressing development concerning the chief secretary comes on the heels of the suspension of his predecessor, who was alleged to have committed irregularities, not possibly on the scale of those under scrutiny now.
Nevertheless, the two episodes cast a huge shadow on the manner in which top appointments are made in the state, which still has a sizeable number of officers whose professional skills and probity are second to none. It is tragic that such civil servants are now sidelined so as to avoid resistance while implementing dubious policies. This may be true of many other states but Tamil Nadu takes the cake for maltreatment of upright civil servants and a distinct preference for those with a dubious reputation.
This state of affairs causes anguish to all those who want Tamil Nadu to regain its place among regions known for integrity and hard work. Officers from the all India services have been the worst hit by successive governments in Tamil Nadu.
How did all this happen? Right from the chief secretary of the Annadurai-led DMK government, that trounced the Congress in 1967 and captured power for the first time, no senior civil servant was willing to stand up to bullying and intimidation.
Annandurai was a perfect gentleman, who was willing to learn and abide by the rules. But the administration’s readiness to crawl and not merely bend set a bad example to Annadurai’s successors. Work ethics and personal uprightness took a beating from then onwards, especially after Annadurai’s early demise in 1969.
Did the AIADMK learn from the DMK, or was it the other way about? The two have been alternately in power in the state. In light-hearted banter, some observers equate this to the question as to whether it was Sachin Tendulkar or Sunil Gavaskar, who raised the bar of Indian cricket standards.
I will not blame the politicians in the state alone for the pits in which the administration finds itself. If only we had a couple of chief secretaries who were not fond of the chair as much as they did of their public image and probity, Tamil Nadu would have been better off.
I am not very sanguine that a transformation of the right kind will come about. It could take decades for that to happen.
I see a ray of hope if the Centre steps in by way of advice to the new chief minister, O Panneerselvam. He is a beginner who is a good man. He may be willing to learn if adroitly handled, administratively and politically, by the Centre.
The state is on the cusp of a change, and there is no better time to try and stabilise the civil service, which is now generally terrorised and demoralised. A good chief secretary known for his integrity, and who owes his appointment to an anxiety on the part of the new CM to give a clean administration, rather than yield to political compulsions, and who is given a free hand in postings and transfers, is the need of the hour.
Is this asking for too much? Perhaps yes, if you study Tamil Nadu in depth.
RK Raghavan is former CBI director
The views expressed are personal