On June 1, 2020, newspapers in Kerala carried two contrasting photographs. One photograph showed Tom Jose, Kerala Chief Secretary, along with his wife, receiving a memento from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a warm send-off given to him by the state government on the eve of his retirement from service.
The other photograph showed a disheveled bed sheet and a pillow on the floor of the office room of Chairman & Managing Director of Shoranur Metal Industries Ltd where the incumbent CMD Jacob Thomas, one of the seniormost IPS officers in the state, slept on the last day of his 35-year long service.
These two photographs reflect the ground reality in India – the civil servants who are loyal to powerful politicians have a flourishing career, while those who stand up to authority and act without fear or favour ruin their career and life. Jacob Thomas, a recipient of President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service, was initially a blue-eyed boy of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who appointed him as the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB). But when Jacob Thomas acted against the then Industries Minister E P Jayarajan and went after fellow bureaucrats, he was shunted out of VACB. Thereafter he faced suspension and disciplinary action on several charges which included publication of his autobiography Sravukalkkoppam Neenthumbol (Swimming with the Sharks).
The IPS officer, who was transferred over 30 times in his career, finally landed up in the inconsequential post of CMD of Shoranur Metal Industries. He left the office wielding an axe, which he himself had designed for industrial-scale production, saying: “Everybody needs an axe for the re-creation of Kerala.”
Jacob Thomas now joins the league of a long line of upright officers who faced, or are still facing, harassment at the hands of the powers that be like Alphons Kannanthanam, T P Senkumar and Raju Narayana Swamy.
Kannanthanam, who later joined BJP and became the Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, was the first high-profile IAS officer in recent times to be penalised by the state government for treading on the toes of politicians in power.
As District Collector of Kottayam, Kannamthanam made Kottayam the first 100% literate town in India, as Commissioner of Delhi Development Authority he demolished 14,310 illegal buildings and reclaimed land worth Rs. 10,000 crores, as Commissioner for Entrance Examinations, Kerala, he declared results on the seventh day.
When he refused to tamper with the entrance results to favour the relative of a Minister, Kannamthanam was shunted by the then Oommen Chandy government to the insignificant post of Commissioner of Kerala Land Use Board, which Kannamthanam loved to call a “useless Board.” Kannamthanam quit IAS when he was only 53.
T P Senkumar, another recipient of President’s Medal for Distinguished Service, was appointed State Police Chief by the erstwhile Oommen Chandy government. The succeeding Pinarayi government, within two days of assuming office, stripped Senkumar of his top cop post and appointed Lokanath Behera, an officer junior to him, as the new police chief. After a historic legal battle with the government over his removal as state DGP, the Supreme Court finally ordered his immediate reinstatement and he was appointed as police chief again by the Pinarayi government when he had barely two months to retire from service.
Raju Narayana Swamy, known as an anti-corruption crusader, faced 20 transfers in the past 22 years. Swami, in the rank of Additional Chief Secretary, is now without a post since being suspended from the post of Chairman of Coconut Development Board, where he claimed to have detected multiple corruption cases and suspended two officials with high political connections. A high-level committee of state and central officials has reportedly taken a decision to terminate his service on grounds of official misconduct when he has 10 more years to go for superannuation.
The ill-treatment suffered by Senkumar and Jacob Thomas at the hands of the LDF government has made them bitter critics of the CPI (M) leadership and sympathisers of Sangh Parivar. It’s no wonder if they formally join the BJP tomorrow and take up a role in the Central Government. If that happens, the credit must go solely to Pinarayi Vijayan.
There are shining examples of politician-bureaucrat partnership in India. The partnership between Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister, and V P Menon, a civil servant who was Secretary to Government of India under Patel, was of a rare kind. The deadly combination of Patel’s political astuteness and Menon’s administrative acumen was responsible for the smooth integration of Independent India.
K Karunakaran had the rare ability to handpick the right official for the right job. He reposed complete faith in efficient, honest and trustworthy officials and extended to them his unreserved support and protection for accomplishing the tasks assigned to them. That’s how Karunakaran got V J Kurien IAS to establish Kochi International Airport, Thomas Mathew IAS to construct Goshree bridges in Kochi and late Joseph Thomas IPS to build Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi with no time or cost overrun.
Kerala has not witnessed such a partnership model after Karunakaran.