Saturday, August 1, 2009

Weber’s monster and me

Musings on Why I am a Civil Servant ?
I first heard of Max Weber’s views of Bureaucracy as a student of Public Administration in my University days. The good thing about Weber’s analysis is that while recognizing the importance of bureaucracy as collective organizational structure, procedures, protocols and set of regulations in place to manage activity in large organizations and government, he also indicated dysfuntionalities that it may tend to get over a period of time. As we all know now the dysfuntionalities of bureaucracy are so apparent that the word itself has taken a negative connotation and represents delays, shirking of responsibilities and red tape for a common man. Few years after my first introduction to Weber’s analysis, I become a part of bureaucracy. Soon afterwards, a friend gifted me a book titled” Why I am Not a Civil Servant ?” . The book written by an ex-civil servant (IAS-MP Cadre) who had resigned from service as he considered the entire system so unbearable for himself, made me very angry. Not that his analysis was incorrect…but in my view , his decision was. I told very arrogantly to my friend that these are all the more reasons why good and gutsy people should join the civil services. After all if a system is malfunctioning, it need some rectification- and in this case it can only be from inside . I also remember telling him that the title of the book is very right as it is narrating the very things for which I am not here , there are higher things to aspire for . “ One taste of glory …one mouthful of sky!!” Nine years from those early days of being a bureaucrat- I am writing this blog , though still adamant on my views, but somewhat excepting the power of this giant mechanism operated by pygmies.. The particular incident is not important, neither are the players, for me the important factor in the entire experience was the way a wrong was done and how everyone involved found a right reason to do the wrong. A very senior colleague in some other context has remarked jokingly that if you are good you will be entrusted with more work, but if you are Really good, you’d find a way to come out of the responsibility. As it turned out, I was just good and not –Really good. So stuck with this particular work, I did it with full honesty and delivered what I was asked to do. Then the work was sent for a series of approvals by well, some of those who probably have forgotten how much effort such a product takes from the nameless, faceless subordinates, who are at the cutting edge of our system. Unaware of details and unwilling to take responsibility , an easy decision of diluting the entire exercise was taken. I may be accused of not understanding the constraints at that level or may be of my inability to see the so called macro picture but the example set was typical bureaucratic. What you cannot understand-ignore.

We fought and argued but to no avail. They, with years of experience , after all, have long perfected the art of seeing only what they wanted to see, which is an essential accomplishment if you want to be world’s master and not it’s victim( a la Salman Rushdie ) . It was painful when it was going through but on the hindsight one learns to accept that if sometimes you are the pigeon on others you must be the statue too.

But all are not alike. So sympathizing with my anguish at the whole affair , my former boss commented that though with time one start to accept things that cannot be changed overnight things do change ultimately. Labour and struggle do turn stones even though in the short run they may seem futile. They leave an lasting impression if nothing else and if right, this only grows stronger and stronger, and in doing so ultimately gathers enough force to effect a change in our mindset. I have realised that we only need to change our mindset to effect any change anywhere. Opinions will differ, especially in a diverse society like ours and the difference is healthy and natural. In fact when opinions start converging, we should start getting concerned.

Though soothing , these words left me thinking, if after few years I will also turn into an apathetic, cynical babu much like the ones I talk about so negatively now. Whether the Weber’s monster is finally going to kill the purpose for which it was made . . I hope and pray – that I will not. I am very sure at the moment that given another chance , I will again do the way I did …including my reactions and open admission of disappointment of decision taken by high and mighty. I do take solace in the words of Alexander Pope “ ….act well your part and there all the honour lies!” but it was indeed a bitter pill to digest .

Discouraging though it was, the whole affair was also hilarious in its own way. It was amusing how the guiding principle of bureaucracy in general remain as follows:

1. When in charge, ponder.

2. When in trouble, delegate.

3. When in doubt, mumble.

Once again, It confirmed my assertion that the system need people to raise questions and act like decision makers they once thought they will be. It is however, equally important to come out a winner in each such tussle with the indecisive self perpetuating pygmies. If not a winner , I at least hope that on every such occasion I come out what in Mahabharat Bhishma called “ Hridayen Aparajit”- undefeated in heart .

PS: I am sorry to bore my readers with this gloomy post as I usually talk about beauty and good things about life. But I need to come out of this bad mood by thinking philosophically on the issue and sometimes I have to to write in order to think .

1 comment:

गुस्ताख़ said...

आपकी इस पोस्ट से ईमानदारी झलकती है..एक नौकरशाह के साइड इफैक्ट हम भी झेल रहे है, सरकारी दफ्तर में काम करके। वैसे काग़ज़ बहुत खर्च करते हैं नोटिंग वगैरह में... अडंगेबाजी़ भी कम नहीं। ये क्यों..वो क्यों नही टाइप अडंगेबाजी..।