At least they knew when to quit

Jan 14, 2019, 05:00 IST | Aditya Sinha

The resignation of two top bureaucrats like Alok Verma and Shah Faesal, one after another, reflects the failure of Modi's governance

At least they knew when to quit
IAS officer Shah Faesal announced his resignation in Srinagar on January 11, the very same day IPS officer and erstwhile CBI chief Alok Verma (right) quit

Aditya SinhaThe recent tale of two bureaucrats was no ordinary tale: one is India's second highest Police Service (IPS) official — the Intelligence Bureau chief protocol-wise our top police official — and the other is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, the civil services' topper in his year, no small achievement. Alok Verma headed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) twice, and was removed twice by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A petition to the Supreme Court by former BJP ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha (plus eminent jurist Prashant Bhushan) soon after Verma was dramatically removed in a midnight coup on October 23, stated that Verma's removal was to prevent an inquiry into the Rafale jet fighter deal, on which Congress president Rahul Gandhi has alleged favouritism to the tune of approximately R30,000 crore by Modi.

The inference is that the PM is worried about a probe and found it necessary to remove Verma on charges made by Verma's subordinate (an officer from Modi's home state who has previously probed the train burning in Godhra that led to the 2002 Gujarat riots), which a retired Supreme Court judge (appointed by the current Court to oversee the probe) found unsubstantiated. When Modi, as part of the panel to choose the CBI chief, considered Verma's case again last week, he did not consider the retired judge's report. Verma, himself an officer of high probity, stated that he was pressurised to work things out with the subordinate. He has written to the government asking to be relieved from service. The other resignation was of Shah Faesal of J&K.

Faesal himself is a Kashmiri, a former doctor who was a boy when his father was killed by militants. The IAS officer believed in the idea of India, and his topping the IAS was heralded by many as a model for fellow Kashmiris to follow. While resigning, he let it be known on social media that he was dismayed by the downward spiral of violence in Kashmir since 2014, and the threats to J&K's constitutional status in the Supreme Court on petitions by BJP sympathisers. On Facebook, he explained: "I [am resigning to protest] the marginalisation and invisibilisation of 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces, reducing them to second-class citizens... growing culture of hate and intolerance in mainland India in the name of hypernationalism."

Faesal was reflecting the unhappiness of ordinary Kashmiris. Since 2014, Modi's government has been following a "muscular" policy of repression in which there is no scope of discussions with dissenters or separatists. This was evident in the summer of 2016, when Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed in a shoot-out with security forces; there were, as has become usual, street protests over the killing of a young and popular man, and the forces used pellet guns against increasing crowds, which led to around 100 deaths and thousands of severe injuries, in many cases blindness. Yet Modi persisted with this policy; and when former minister Yashwant Sinha visited Kashmir later in 2016 and tried to give Modi an assessment of the ground situation, Modi did not meet him. (The national security advisor did meet Mr Sinha and reportedly lectured him on the
"doctrine of state".)

In this regard, Modi is a far cry from the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, the only other PM from the BJP. Kashmiris considered Vajpayee the best PM and had hoped during the 2014 Lok Sabha election that Modi would follow in Vajpayee's footsteps. But whereas Vajpayee had spoken within the paradigm of insaniyat, Modi has acted within a paradigm that is the total opposite. And to no one's surprise, Modi's Kashmir policy has been a failure.

By itself, it is unusual that two top bureaucrats quit the civil service; what makes Verma and Faesal's departure a bigger deal is that they reflect the failure of Modi's governance. While BJP supporters (and Modi himself, at his countless rallies) tom-tom Modi's diligence and industry, there is no evidence other than his own testimony that he works hard. The Rafale jet fighter deal shows how Modi tried to, unhampered and rapidly, execute a policy decision, and is now facing questions about its legitimacy, if not its criminality. The Kashmir policy shows that ideology is no substitute for policy, and that governance requires creative out-of-the-box solutions rather than be a hostage to an ossified perception of history.

Modi's supporters think he is better off independent than being at the mercy of a coalition government, because he would lose the freedom to take decisions. They want him re-elected with a free hand to continue cleaning up the country. But if "freedom" and "cleaning up" are going to involve nutty decisions like the November 2016 demonetisation, for instance, then this time I'd like some khichdi instead, please.

Aditya Sinha is a writer and columnist. His latest book 'India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy', with Yashwant Sinha, is out now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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