Hats off to Durga Shakti Nagpal!

Till recently, nobody knew who she was. Like hundreds of other administrative officers in this country, she was also discharging her duties as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (Sadar) in Noida, until her suspension for allegedly razing a wall of an under-construction mosque triggered a political storm in the country.

With the spotlight shifting on Durga Shakti Nagpal, the 28-year-old young IAS officer soon found herself caught in a bitter political war between the Centre and the state government. The suspension of Nagpal by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in just 41 minutes, as boasted by one of the Samajwadi Party leaders, has reignited an old debate over the harassment of honest civil servants by their political masters.

Nagpal`s case proves the point that bureaucrats in India often survive on the mercy of their political rulers. There are hundreds of bureaucrats, police officers and civil servants across the country who perform and perish at the whims and wrath of their political masters.

Those who fail to grease the palms of these politicians and listen to the voice of the inner-conscience are often punished and insulted by their political rulers by the way of suspension, demotion, transfers and termination of their services.

Interestingly, the malice does not stop at the top level only. Even the middle and the low level officers like Inspectors, Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDMs) and Magistrates are often shunted from one post to another, within days, if they dare to oppose their masters.

In the Durga Nagpal`s case what is even more shocking is the stand taken by the UP government on the issue and the CM`s lame justification for suspending the IAS officer that "If an official makes a mistake, he will be punished.”

Shouldn`t the young CM have waited for some more time and sought a detailed report before ordering the suspension of Nagpal? Clearly, the treatment given to Nagpal by the UP government characterizes as an arbitrary political action against an honest civil servant.

CM Akhilesh Yadav, his father Mulayam Singh, who had sometime back advised his son to fix the loop-holes in the state administration and ensure transparent governance, and some powerful ministers branded Nagpal as communal and said that her action would have led to disturbances in the area.

The haste with which Nagpal was suspended only shows Samajwadi Party`s concern to keep its Muslim vote bank intact. Why has the UP government not shown any eagerness in initiating action against several chargesheeted corrupt officials of the state?

Concerned over the plight of the young IAS officer, the administrative services officers of the country have united and demanded a CBI probe into the matter. The intensity of the matter could be understood from the fact that Durga`s suspension issue has been on the top of political parties` agenda in Parliament to corner the Samajwadi Party government over its alleged misrule in UP. Even the PM was forced to make a statement that the rule book will be followed in the case.

Timing of the row is also important since it has come at a time when the Parliament is in Monsoon Session and the Samajwadi Party`s support is crucial for the Centre for the smooth passage of the Food Security Bill. Irked at the Centre`s intervention in the case, the SP leadership threatened not to support the UPA government`s ambitious Food Security Bill, making Nagpal just a tool to bargain its support for the anti-poverty legislation.

Nagpal`s case has surely come as a major embarrassment for Akhilesh Yadav, who was considered as the chief architect of his party`s landslide victory in UP last year and was also seen as someone having the capability and willingness to change the political landscape of the state.

Ironically, some poor decisions of the UP government have showed that Akhilesh is no better than his predecessor Mayawati. What would further embarrass the soft and suave CM is the report from the local intelligence and the Waqf Board, which claims that Nagpal had no role in demolishing the mosque wall. Here the timely intervention of Waqf Board, which has demanded that Nagpal be reinstated, is commendable at this juncture.

The developments prove that Nagpal was targeted for allegedly taking on the illegal mining mafias having close links with the ruling party in UP. It is now beyond doubt that the controversy surrounding the mosque wall was cooked up as an excuse to oust Nagpal for clamping down on state’s thriving trade in illegal sand mining.

Whatever one says, the case raises several questions: - Shouldn`t politicians unite for an honest officer like Durga? Doesn`t the `41 minute suspension` rhetoric of a SP leader expose UP govt`s claim of freeing the state from mafias and musclemen? Regardless of political compulsions, shouldn`t Prime Minister intervene to ensure justice to the IAS officer? Can the whole nation simply watch as an honest officer is victimised by the powerful politicians?

It is an irony of this country and, possibly, the biggest flaws of the democracy that uneducated goons, mafias and criminals often become our political rulers and the nation`s best brains are forced to rally behind them like peons.

Only one in 100 bureaucrats is able to muster enough courage to take on the criminals and the crooked politicians, despite knowing the consequences of their action. Hence, Durga Shakti Nagpal`s cause must be supported by all who want India to be a value-driven society.

Nagpal`s case is a pointer to the fact that bureaucrats are at the mercy of the political class and a `mindset` that stands in the way of good governance. Having said that, one must accept that there is a flip side to the coin. There are also those bureaucrats in the country who are hand in glove with the political class and are corrupt to the core. It is these bureaucrats who give a bad name to civil servants and make the common masses cynical. However, the `Durgas` of this country restore our faith in the system and tell us that all is not lost.

It is high time that our empowered political rulers assess the fact whether there are adequate safeguards in place to protect executive functionaries working beyond the average call of duty to uphold the law.

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