The Indian bureaucracy, it seems, is not without a sense of humour. Really perverse humour, but humour nevertheless.

Lalgarh, like Nandigram and Naxalbari, has become another addition, courtesy West Bengal, to our socio-political lexicon. Here’s an article where one of the Maoists has said that their movement’s raison d’être is the Government – or more accurately, the lack of it. So whether it is healthcare, roads or irrigation, the People have taken matters into their own hands and seem to have a done a surprising amount of work. And it’s not just Lalgarh – it is estimated that in around a third of India’s total districts, the state really doesn’t exist – which is why, from time to time, it tries to prove its existence by swatting a couple of hapless citizens to keep the rest of us in line.

So it was with some surprise that I read this piece about the performance appraisal of civil servants. Given this country’s experience with the performance appraisal system for politicians – also known as elections – you will forgive my scepticism about this whole business. Performance and Government really don’t belong together in the same sentence. Not in India, at least.

Even if one discounts surveys like the one quoted here, which ranks Indian bureaucrats – and by implication, the Indian state – as the least efficient among the 12 Asian nations surveyed, very many Indians would agree that the state, where it exists, rarely rises above its torpor and lethargy, and where it doesn’t exist, well, it just doesn’t exist. So how on earth, with the state absent from about a third of the country, and in self-aggrandising mode in the rest, can people in the various branches that make up the civil services actually give themselves and their colleagues 10/10? But that’s exactly what our fine Babus have done.

Like I said, these people have a devilish sense of humour.

Unfortunately, as always, the joke’s on us.

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