‘Silo Mentality’ !

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 21 Oct 2017 10:48:32

The bureaucracy understands the Prime Minister well, and is willing to go full distance. Despite this, however, there is a difficulty -- it is still looking at how the political leadership conducts itself. Its view appears simple: Set the right example, and then we will create an administrative infrastructure for the ‘New India’ dream.

The Hitavada,

Delhi Bureau New Delhi,

October 18:



Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked bureaucrats to break out of “silo mentality”, which is a big bottleneck” in the functioning of the Union Government, an official press release from Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said on Wednesday.

During interactions with around 380 Directors and Deputy Secretaries working in various Central Ministries, in four groups over the last fortnight, Modi asked them to work with “full dedication” towards realising the dream of New India by 2022. He emphasised that it was important to break the “silo mentality” for effective functioning of the Government. ..

SUCH appeals have come time and again from many leaders and thinkers and academician. Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has made similar appeals to the bureaucracy on many occasions in the past thee-plus years of his regime. He has realised very well that if the Government has to function well, the bureaucracy will have to lend itself fully to the cause, breaking out of what he described as silo mentality. Nobody can under-estimate the importance of the Prime Minister’s appeal. Nobody can miss the intensity of his words as he is the man who has seen it all, first as a young activist, then as a national office-bearer of the Bharatiya Janata Party, then as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and now as Prime Minister. The critical importance of the appeal coming from no less a man than the Prime Minister himself cannot be missed.

Howsoever serious may the Prime Minister be, it will often remain a matter of question and suspicion how serious the bureaucracy will be in conducting itself fully to the expectation of the leadership. It has been a very big challenge for all political leaders to motivate the bureaucracy to implement the national vision. The overall experience is that the bureaucracy is barely moved to serious and sincere action following the appeals from national leadership. Whatever good that is visible in the bureaucracy comes from the intrinsic goodness of some individuals and not as an abiding virtue of the collective. The bureaucracy, at all levels, is otherwise an administrative mechanism manned by well-trained and highly educated personnel on a national scale.

Obviously, the Prime Minister realises this fact fully. That is the reason we have found him making similar appeals to the bureaucracy, especially at the highest levels, on several occasions in the past three years. He wants to have a human face to the bureaucracy so that it feels the pinch of people’s suffering and decides to act appropriately to help those in distress. His grief seems obvious: The bureaucracy is certainly efficient and knows the art and science of administration, but it lacks the human emotion that should be actually the driving force in modern democracy.

The bureaucracy understands the Prime Minister well, and is willing to go full distance to fulfill the national dream by 2022. Despite this, however, there is a difficulty -- the bureaucracy is still looking at how the political leadership conducts itself. Its view appears simple: Come on, do your work properly and set the right example, and then we will follow your appeals and also create an administrative infrastructure in which fulfillment of the ‘Indian Dream’ would be more easily attainable.

In fact, for ages, the bureaucracy is often known to be an impersonal mechanism, all willing to do everything for the powers that be. ‘You order us whatever you wish us to do and see the effect’, a senior bureaucrat had said to no less a person than Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. As a sole outsider witness to the conversation way back in early 1970s (in the wake of the triumphant Bangladesh war), I saw the Prime Minister squirm uncomfortably as the very senior civil servant expressed his views. She realised and only nodded, realising her part of the responsibility.

Subsequently, however, Mrs. Gandhi took tough stance and made the bureaucracy bend the way she wished once Emergency got slapped on the nation on June 26, 1975.
During those days, what I realised as a young journalist was that the bureaucracy was all willing to oblige the leader who had expressed her needs and wishes in no uncertain terms. That gave me a detailed comprehension of how the bureaucracy thinks. It was not without reason that a political thinker once called the bureaucracy as a handmaiden of political bosses. This is a global experience -- that the bureaucracy operates correctly once it knows the political will in unmistakable terms.

Certainly appealing to the good sense of the bureaucracy is one way of trying to motivate the administration appropriately. But the better way would be to see that the political leadership of the Government has its goals clear and its methods clean. Once this is achieved not for nano-seconds but for all the time without exception, then the bureaucracy would be the first to take the clue. If there is a strong and united political will, then the bureaucracy is the first to get the right message. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten by political leadership.

This is not to support the bureaucracy blindly. This is only to highlight the method and manner ingrained in the bureaucracy over time. Thus, political will assumes a greater importance in realising the dream of ‘New India’ by 2022. If this component is serious about the dream of ‘New India’, then the bureaucracy will fall in step. If there is even a grain of insincerity in the political component, the bureaucracy, too, will follow suit.

In other words, this is the actual meaning of the ancient adage Yatha Rajaa Tatyha Prajaa! (The subjects will be as the King is). Of course, the subjects are not the bureaucracy. But loosely considered, the adage can be extended to apply here as well. If the King is committed to his goals without compromise, then the bureaucracy, too, will follow suit. If there is even a grain of doubt in the political conduct, the bureaucracy will not care a damn. In a democratic set-up, the bureaucracy offers the first idea of how people would conduct themselves subsequently.

Is this not the experience of every political leader and party? Haven’t all of us seen how the bureaucracy behaves if the political leadership adopts a no-nonsense approach to things and issues and schemes?

There is little doubt about Mr. Modi’s way of thinking. He knows every bit of details when it comes to handling the bureaucracy. He knows very well that the bureaucracy in Gujarat was his trusted and loyal follower because he made no secret of his wishes. He did not have any hidden agenda and he did not have to camouflage his politics in the developmental garb. He was transparent in his thought and action, and the bureaucracy followed him to the hilt. It is obvious, Mr. Modi is trying to pass a similar message to his top bureaucrats once again. May his effort succeed.