Bureaucracy has fast emerged as a smooth entry point to politics in Punjab, especially in the run-up to the assembly elections. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), traditionally known for its jathedars (leaders) with salt-and-pepper, flowing beards, is leading the pack by fielding three retired officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and one from the Punjab Civil Service (PCS).
And the Congress, in political wilderness since March 2007, is banking on bureaucrats-turned-politicians on three seats so far while several of the 117 candidates remain to be named.
The newcomer, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has declared over 100 candidates, has given the ticket to one ex-officer each from the Indian Police Service (IPS), Punjab Police Service (PPS) and PCS. Even the Aapna Punjab Party (APP), after breaking away from the AAP, has fielded a Himachal-cadre Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer from Faridkot.
The number of babus in poll fray is likely to swell after all parties announce all candidates.
“Politics is a serious affair to transform people’s lives. It should not become an arena for dropouts from different fields such as bureaucracy, theatre personalities or celebrities to capture power,” said Pramod Kumar, director of the Institute for Development and Communication.
- Darbara Singh Guru, ex-IAS: Bassi Pathana
- SR Kaler (sitting MLA), ex-PCS: Nihal Singh Wala
- Som Prakash (sitting MLA), ex-IAS: Phagwara
- Tejinder Pal Singh Sidhu, ex-IAS: Mohali
- Kuldeep Singh Vaid, ex-IAS: Gill
- Ajaib Singh Bhatti (sitting MLA), ex-PCS: Malout
- Amar Singh, ex-IAS: Raikot
- AAM AADMI PARTY
- Kartar Singh, ex-IPS: Tarn Taran
- Sajjan Singh Cheema, ex-PPS: Sultanpur Lodhi
- Harbhajan Singh, ex-PCS: Jandiala
- AAPNA PUNJAB PARTY
- Hardip Singh Kingra, ex-IFS: Faridkot
On Tuesday, Tejinder Pal Singh Sidhu, a 2004- batch IAS officer, became the latest bureaucrat who quit the service to contest polls on the SAD ticket from Mohali. The case of TPS Sidhu is a standout example of how in Punjab bureaucrats start nursing political ambitions while in service. The 59-year-old Sidhu is a son-in-law of Akali stalwart Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and was Mohali deputy commissioner for nearly three years until February last year..
He is not alone. Kuldeep Singh Vaid, 56, was DC of Moga until a month ago. The IAS officer quit the service to come under the wings of the Congress and will contest from Gill segment in Ludhiana district.
Observers say the first phase of Punjab bureaucracy taking a turn towards politicisation began during the days of terrorism when under President’s rule the civil servants exercised absolute powers. “In the post-terrorism days, after 1992, politicians began banking heavily on civil servants and shared power. But, after 1997, politicians and bureaucrats adopted a policy of ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’,” a political analyst said.
Not all babus have been successful in their poll plunge. Darbara Singh Guru, former principal secretary to CM Parkash Singh Badal, had to face a humiliating defeat last time. But he is again in the fray, and so are 10 others from his tribe.