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Fellowship of the files
For those who struggle to get by outside the charmed circle of batch mates and fellow cadre officers, the IAS is one of the most powerful networks in the country when it comes to special privileges. Influential and strictly offlimits to outsiders, even counterparts from other services, it functions on strict codes of loyalty that its political masters have tried but failed to break. There are less than 6, 000 of them in the country, but the IAS network punches way above its weight.
Check out any commission, regulator, PSU board, tribunal or committee, most are headed and manned by IAS officers, serving or retired. And of course, they control the levers of power in government, both at the Centre and in the states, running circles around their political bosses, the way Sir Humphrey Appleby did in the famous BBC TV serial Yes, Minister.
While the IAS is a tightly closed group, it has its cliques, built around different poles. There is the batch bond, the cadre empathy and the parochial interest. Sometimes they work at cross purposes, sometimes they overlap. Remember the era when the "Mallu brigade" dominated in Delhi? That was the time when two powerful officers from Kerala, M K Narayanan as national security advisor and T K A Nair as principal secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, pulled strings sitting in South Block. The hallmark of their tenure was that every important post in government went to a fellow Keralite. At one point, the foreign secretary, the chief vigilance commissioner, the secretary to the President of India and several secretaries to the Government of India were all Malyalis. Or they belonged to the Kerala cadre, like Vinod Rai, who as CAG has ironically proved to be a thorn in the flesh for the government.
The rise of the Mallu brigade was particularly resented by the UP clique that has historically dominated the IAS because of sheer intake numbers. Even today, UP tops the recruitment list with 15 per cent of officers hailing from the state, followed by Bihar at 9. 4 per cent. UP is back in the driver's seat today. Both the cabinet secretary, Ajit Kumar Seth, and the PM's new principal secretary, Pulok Chatterjee, belong to the UP cadre.
The special bonds that IAS officers share are believed to be an asset in governance. A phone call to a batch mate or cadre mate can resolve a knotty problem. But they also create vested interests with the IAS using its powerful network to corner goodies for itself. Some of the best housing colonies across the country, built on land parcelled out at concessional rates, belong to the IAS. And in the Capital, one of the most elite schools, located in the heart of the exclusive diplomatic enclave, was started by the IAS for its children.
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