Khanday: The Fall Guy

Notes on political interference in Public Administration

IQBAL KHANDAY is all set to resign as the Chief Secretary of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Apparently the outgoing chief secretary is quitting over interference in the administrative affairs of the government by some sections of the political class. There is no reason to doubt this reason given that politicians do try to impose their set of preferences on bureaucrats and government officials. What is alarming is that this has happened at the highest echelons of government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir at a juncture when it was asserted that good governance would be the hall mark of the current political dispensation. In this sense, the fiasco surrounding Khanday’s resignation may held to be a metaphor for what is wrong with public administration, policy execution, implementation and governance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Elaborating upon this theme calls for a brief exegesis on the nature of public administration and then wrapping up the discussion with a detour on its relationship with politics in generic terms.  The nature of public administration is dynamic; it has evolved over a period of time and in the developed world, it has perhaps even charted new territory but its core remains the same: provision of neutral policy advice to elected officials and governance. There are different interpretations on the nature of the relationship between politics and governance but one major and rather path breaking hypothesis was advanced by the scholar-politician-statesman, Woodrow Wilson.  In an essay written in 1887, titled, The Study of Administration, Wilson posited that politics and administration were inherently different and should be approached as such. Wilson added that, although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices. This came to known famously as the Politics-Administration Dichotomy.

This school of thought and practice treats public administration as a world with its own values, and methods separate from politics.  In this formulation, the primary values that inform public administration are neutrality, expertise and hierarchy. And the overarching goal of public administration is to provide neutral and competent policy advice to elected officials. Neutral competence implies the ability to conduct the work of government in conformity to explicit , objective standards than to personal, party or other loyalties( Demir: 2009). This takes us into the domain of policy practice. In this domain, the primary responsibility of public administration is to translate and execute public policy (Ibid). In a nutshell then, public administration should be defined by a clear structural division of authority between elected and administrative officials to eliminate or minimize undue political interference on Public Administration and obviate potential conflicts (Ibid).

Enter Iqbal Khanday and his resignation here. Khanday resignation suggests that the converse has happened in this instance. If news reports are to be believed, Khanday differed with some politicians and objected to their interference in matters of public administration- undue influence and interference that the Administration-Politics Dichotomy cautions against. The result is the out going chief secretary’s protest by way of a resignation. This is in the nature of an even but it has broad and far reaching implications on governance and administration in the state.

In a political milieu defined by the politics of patronage , the political class appears to deem it exigent to interfere in administrative matters and governance. The aim is to extract political benefits by pleasing and pandering to their respective vote banks. In this schema, a favorite official is held to be key  in implementing and executing public policy that favors a politician or politicians. He or she is sought to be elevated to the top position and a hatchet job done through him. There are some officials who willingly oblige for their own advancement. Perverse incentives are generated and the infamous babu- politician nexus emerges. This affects the smooth functioning of administration and its concomitant, governance.

Can the Augean Stables be cleaned? Unlikely is the answer. The problem is too deeply entrenched to be remedied and there’s not many people who can stand up to the interference of the political class. And, moreover, in the final analysis, this may be a problem peculiar to mass democracy. Mass democracy throws up elected officials who might not act in general public interest and public good because they are beholden to the their vote banks. The demands of these vote banks may be at odds with general public interest. The politician then has an incentive to pander to his or her vote bank. The prognosis then is bleak: we may have to live with the interference of the political class in public administration. That is,  unless a tsunami of change shatters the existing paradigm.

Wajahat Qazi is a senior editor at the Kashmir Observer.

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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