The ongoing tussle between Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government and its bureaucrats has taken an interesting turn with some subordinate officials coming out in support of the government.

A day after Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash was allegedly assaulted by two Aam Aadmi Party MLAs during a meeting at Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s house on February 19, the state’s bureaucrats formed a “joint forum” along with the associations of subordinate officials – those outside the bureaucratic cadres of the Indian Administrative Service and the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli Civil Service, or DANICS – to protest against the incident. It was at the instance of this forum that all bureaucrats stopped attending meetings with ministers and resorted to communicating only through “written channels”.

Since then, however, a section of subordinate officials has broken ranks with the joint forum, which is led by the association of IAS officers in Delhi, and is demanding that Kejriwal apologise for the incident. On March 7, DN Singh, president of the Joint Council of All Employees Organisation, an umbrella group representing Delhi’s subordinate officials, joined around 800 employees outside Kejriwal’s Flagstaff Road residence to “show solidarity” with the government. Some of them later met the chief minister and urged him to form a committee comprising ministers and bureaucrats to resolve the differences through dialogue, Singh said.

“An apology from the chief minister is an impractical demand when a police case against the concerned MLAs has been registered,” said Singh, a key member of the joint forum until as recently as last week. He had initially supported the forum’s demand for an apology from the chief minister.

Why, then, the change of heart? “We stood in support of the forum because we believe in dignity and personal safety of all public servants,” Singh said. “But it is important that these should extend to all officials, from top to bottom. This is something that was amiss in the forum’s agenda.”

Put simply, subordinate officials were feeling shortchanged by the IAS officers.

Politically motivated

Singh alleged the IAS Officers’ Association’s protest was “politically motivated”. “Where was their solidarity when a senior IAS officer like Ashok Khemka was harassed by the government in Haryana?” he asked, referring to a bureaucrat who has been transferred 51 times in his 27-year career. The association denied the allegation as “baseless”.

Singh said another factor that led him to withdraw support from the joint forum was that the IAS officers showed no interest in addressing the “core issues” of subordinate officials such as the payment of arrears due them.

On its part, when asked about Singh’s group breaking ranks, the joint forum too alleged that “political agendas” were at work. “We cannot control people and their political agendas,” said Manisha Saxena, the forum’s spokesperson. “What he has formed is apparently a splinter group, which was trying to push its own agenda through the joint forum formed solely for ensuring dignity and personal safety of public servants.”

Potential impact

Although the joint forum is led by the bureaucrats’ lobby, it is the subordinate officials’ associations that provide the strength with their numbers. Delhi has only about 250 bureaucrats but over 7,000 subordinate officials.

Most officials of the Delhi Administrative Subordinate Services cadre and the stenographer cadre are members of either or both the Joint Council of All Employees’ Organisation and the Government of National Capital Territory Employees’ Welfare Association. Until March 7, Singh was president of both associations. But after his meeting with Kejriwal, he was suspended from the latter. In a show cause notice issued to him soon after, the Government of National Capital Territory Employees’ Welfare Association accused him of “breach of trust”, and sought his response by March 23.

“Singh’s current position is unclear,” said Deepak Bhardwaj, general secretary of the association. “The association, however, still stands in support of the joint forum.”

Since Singh now seemingly represents only a section of subordinate staff, the potential impact of his rebellion is difficult to asses, said government officials who did not wish to be identified. They pointed out that there is no clarity yet even about how many members of the various groups of subordinate officials have actually sided with him.