The above slide depicts the difference between a specialist and the generalists. India currently is administered by Generalists where now the need is for both Generalists but in many places that of specialists.
This news item from a newspaper must have sent shock waves through a particular section of the administration in India. Prelude to this was the appointment as External Affairs Minister, of Mr Jaishankar, recently retired career diplomat who had handled his work with aplomb during his career. Instead of appointing a politician, Jaishankar, the domain expert was appointed.
The British ruled us for 150 years. They created an administrative infrastructure to suit their needs and not the needs of India. At the top of the pyramid were the elite IAS service and other such allied services. Their job was to ensure that the British rule and its arm functioned smoothly. Their main targets were to ensure that the taxes were collected on time, to break the agitations against the British government and nip them in the bud. (Remember Jalianwala Baug?) An example of different priority was the cultivation of opium in Bengal and Bihar. British made sure that all the produce was sold to the government and at one stage British sold Opium worth Seven Million British Pounds in a year to China from India; for opium growing areas officers were expected to give top priority to opium fields over all other functions. Anti-mutiny work and Opium farming were a couple of services which indicated that the system was designed to run in ironclad fashion with no allowance for deviation. It was a sound system, and it served the purpose of the Britishers. We inherited and continued with the same system even after the Independence was achieved, which helped us initially. It served its purpose till the last colony, the one in Goa by Portuguese, was driven away in 1960.
As usual, everybody was happy with the status quo. Why repair something which ain’t broken? Out of all central services, the IAS was considered top echelon even above the Police. As administrators, they advised the government on every subject under the Sun. The system continued to remain ironclad with all the keys safely with the IAS team. They decided rules, regulations, salary rules, transfer rules everything. It ensured that Civil Services always had the best deal. They continued to have a group of staff to support them at home with many other facilities. As per the rules, they were generally transferred every three years or less to make sure that special interests were not created. So from district administration to finance, finance to technology, technology to Land reforms and the law was the typical journey. They were considered experts in whichever department they were handling.
I started thinking about persons who appear for a competitive examination at the age of 25. Based on this examination and interviews, they are selected to become an officer to run a district, the state and the nation. The system was probably alright till the ’70 s of the last century. But slowly, with the advent of computers and India getting linked to the global economy over a period, their “expertise” was found wanting though was never challenged. Most of the selected persons have been smart people with reasonable intelligence. But the situation has changed so much in the last 25 years or so that everybody realised that we must have domain experts to run the government departments too!
All domains have become multidisciplinary where even technologists can find going tough. For example, GST involves knowledge of taxation, law, commerce, computers and project management. Aadhar card needed software knowledge, database expertise, data science; fortunately, we had Nandan Nilekani to handle this.
Rajeev Gandhi recognised the lateral entry need in government when he was the PM. He invited Sam Pitroda to suggest the ways and means for India’s entry into the modern telecom & electronics era. That was a masterstroke, and India did start moving in the right direction under Pitroda’s guidance. But such entries were infrequent. Pitroda had direct access to Rajeev Gandhi so he could put aside objections from the administrative framework. The massive behemoth of administration prefers the status quo to anything else. The people were Subedars in their domain. They would try and not take decisions or move the files backwards and forwards. The administrative infrastructure was like Khan Market gang, privileged, with everybody knowing each other. India moved at a snail‘s pace if and when, in spite of the group. Twenty–five years back, the Indian growth story started, so did the need for the specialists.
Who could break the shackles of generalists? Dilliwalas? No way. In came a confident Narendra Modi, a rank outsider from Gujarat with a background of a tea-seller. A common man but a man with zeal to take India forward. In his first term, he broke shackles and started with improving efficiencies. All the subedars had to swipe their cards in the office at nine am. Time frames were decided for specific actions and achieved.
Now in the second term, the government has realised that only the advisors and consultants are not going to make the government more efficient and successful. Executives also must be specialists where needed, and this is what the government has started. Now if you reread the above article, you will realise the importance of specialists. I am very much aware that every system needs both specialists and generalists. For understanding social issues (and many such issues) and tackle them, generalists will continue, and they may be essential also. But the government is trying to fill 1/3 of the positions with specialists.
Two critical points to be remembered are that the empire is going to strike back looking for rules, loopholes and ways of preventing lateral entry from happening. After all, the entry of specialists is directly affecting their career prospects and importance. Reservations is another issue that needs to be handled. In allowing the lateral entry, reservations need to be kept in mind. When the first nine such positions were filled, the HR department decided to advertise each post as an independent post and not as a pool of secretaries. Single post declaration allowed HR to overcome reservations requirement. The change will cover a large population in India. Though the number of entries being discussed currently is only 400, unrest can start leading to agitations.
Friends, the modern world, say in the last 30 years has changed so much that the specialists and subspecialists will be needed everywhere. How can the administrator decide which fighter plane India should buy? Should we have Shinkansen or Maglev or TGV trains for India? How to improve and ensure that modern electronics goods are manufactured in a big way in India? Even specialists are going to find it tough to understand such things. But this change is going to create a big Tsunami for the administrators whether they like it or not!