Indian Information Service- The Existential Dilemma

Rajesh Jha*

A Note from the Editor – In this age of information, there often is a debate on how governments should give out information on its activities, how much publicity is ethically correct for governments, and whether governments should keep an eye on the content. Many would not know that in India, there is an organised civil service, the Indian Information Service (IIS), to deal with information dissemination, PR, advertising and other aspects of information management. It came to focus recently when its officers were drafted by the central government for monitoring the social media and fake news. However, the IIS is faced with an identity crisis in various respects. This article delves into the dilemmas that are built into this service.

Life has no meaning a priori… It is up to you to give it a meaning, and

value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.’ Jean Paul Sartre

A person who chooses to be in the Indian Information Service is perpetually in an angst-ridden state. Those in the closed circle of the civil servants belonging to the IIS, specially, those selected through the Civil Services Examination (CSE), are perpetually wondering about their role within the wider fraternity of civilservants, their relationship with those who become part of IIS through promotion and other issues.

Are IIS officers ‘managers’ or are they professionals tasked with the media and communication work for the government? Should IIS be part of the CSE or be delinked from it? How can people coming to the IIS through the channel of promotion and not recruited through the Civil Services Examination (CSE) write ‘IIS’ on their visiting cards or introduce themselves as IIS officers? These are some of the questions which keep coming up for heated discussion among IIS Group A officers.

I too have grappled with these questions. However, my understanding goes against the popular view in my fraternity. Nevertheless, having spent more than quarter of a century as part of the IIS, I thought it important to deliberate upon my understanding of this service as it exists today. My views are purely my personal reflections based on my experience in the service and my own world-view. They should be seen in this light alone.

There is no denying the fact that most of us spend our careers in the IIS in a ‘Trishanku’ like situation. We enter the service, often with quite high ranks, hoping to be the part of civil services (which technically we are) in terms of power and authority, recognition and acceptance among our peers from other branches of civil services. But this service does not offer anything that we associate with the tag of ‘civil servants’. Of course, there is no dearth of meaningful and fulfilling work to do, but that is not what an entrant to the civil services is looking for. You can make a well-rounded News bulletin, bring out a well produced journal with high quality write ups, put up an excellent exhibition with your team — in short, you can excel in YOUR work. But alas, you have no power or authority, in the sense it is commonly understood in the context of the civil services.

The anxiety lasts a long time, unless you start enjoying your work and don’t hanker for power and authority. The ‘manager’ vs ‘professional’ debate arises in this context where the managerial aspect is seen as the real work an IIS officer is supposed to do, as opposed to professional work.

I completely disagree with the view that it is better, more valuable and important to be a manager than a worker which is captured in the Desi phrase of मजदूर या ठेकेदार? Why should it be less fulfilling, less valuable to do a well rounded news item or press release or book production or conducting a press conference than being a manager of a team of 10-20 persons doing these things for us? There is nothing inherently valuable in the role of a manager compared to that of a worker.

The entire focus on being ‘officer’ often distorts not only our approach towards work but also warps our relations with our co-workers, colleagues and people supposedly below in the hierarchy due to an accident of birth (as reflected in the year of selection for the civil services). I don’t mean to say that respect for your seniors or the chain of command in work is useless, but these should be taken for what they are — functional arrangements for smooth execution of work and nothing more.

I sometimes wonder if we should explore the ways to inculcate ‘Worker Like Qualities’ in ourselves rather than being obsessed with ‘Officer Like Qualities’. I associate attributes like commitment to work, believing in the dignity of labour and dedication to achieve the goal we set out for ourselves as essential elements of ‘Worker Like Qualities’.

Closely linked to the above point is our relation to the IIS Group B officers who are promoted to become Group A officers after spending a substantial period in junior positions. It is a (sad) spectacle to see the passion with which many IIS Gr. A officers oppose any equivalence drawn between the direct recruits and the promoted officers, even when they have been promoted to the same rank or above. Rather than present a combined front against the systemic issues that harm the career prospects of both, we derive a pleasure in setting up an imaginary enemy before us.

Is it because we lack the courage and unity to fight the real underlying causes? I wonder why we consider Group B as threat to us. I don’t know of any Group B officer who has become a DG or a Principal DG as yet. Even the number of Group B officers retiring as ADG is minuscule. And even if they did, I find nothing wrong in it. A Group B officer deserves promotion and career enhancement as much as a Gr A IIS officer does. In fact, to deny or resent such opportunities to Group B officers reflects poorly on us.

Till a few years back, the designation of IIS officers was a major cause of dissatisfaction among the IIS officers who were posted as ‘Information Officers’, ‘Inspector of Exhibitions’, ‘Campaign Officers’, ‘Copy writers’ etc reflecting their functional position. Subsequently, these have been standardised in line with other wings of civil services. But I find the infatuation with designation ridiculous. The real problem lies somewhere else. Let me take an example. What could be less glamorous than being called a ‘Collector’? But imagine the ring of authority it carries. It is not the nomenclature but the content of work that invests the post with a halo, an aura. The IIS has to find content for the work, as it progresses up in the hierarchy.

Unfortunately, we continue to do almost the same work throughout our careers. There is hardly any substantial difference between our work with which we start our careers and 25 years thereafter. Except perhaps for the top position in the media wings, others down the hierarchy continue to do the same things throughout their career.

There is hardly any delegation of power from top to down, so much so that even a Casual Leave application goes to the top boss. Forget about financial delegation for those below the top in the hierarchy. People posted in the regions do enjoy some degree of delegated power but that is because they are heading those units in the region. If the seniors of the service occupying top positions don’t think of empowering their junior colleagues, the scenario cannot improve.

So, should IIS be part of the civil services? I feel it should not. It is known that our contribution in the policymaking is minimal. We remain posted in our respective media units running the daily affairs of the organisation routinely and doing the firefighting when a crisis erupts. The job profile of the IIS officers remains predominantly that of a professional, an expert in the media, sometimes doing the management work at a functional level alone. The IIS is, in fact, quite different from other wings of the civil services. It is intrinsically more professional than administrative and bureaucratic.

It is a fact that those who write civil services examination come with a certain expectation about the jobs they will do in their careers which will bestow upon them power, authority, privileges and acceptance among their peer group. All of these are absent, largely, for a person coming to the IIS. I would call IIS a ‘meta-civil service’ (don’t like to use the ‘Pseudo Civil Service for its negative connotation) because by conferring a formal designation and position, it allows its entrants to move into deputations and other areas of administrative work which are much closer to the typical work associated with the civil services. It is sad to see some of the most promising and brilliant minds suffer the anxiety and dilemma caused by the gap between expectations raised by being in a Group A Civil Service and the reality. The future generation needs to be spared this situation.

My contrarian views on the IIS may give the impression that I regret being in the service. On the contrary, I feel a sense of pride in being part of the service. It has given me a great opportunity to work in a meaningful and satisfying way and pursue my own, even though limited, creative goals. It gives me immense pleasure to see my friends from the IIS displaying individual excellence. Perhaps in no other service have officers produced so many valuable books.

There is no dearth of people who have excelled as civil servants when they go out on deputation to various ministries and departments of the government where they work at par with other members of the civil services fraternity. Within the media units of the Ministry of I&B, several of our colleagues have done a remarkable job, comparable to the best in the professional field. Many bright, young officers who took a chance and left the IIS midway are doing exceptional work.

The overall atmosphere of the IIS is quite non-hierarchical and friendly, unlike most of the other branches of the civil services. If you take pride in working over managing, if you value friendship over hierarchy.

Let me end with another quote from Jean Paul Sartre, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.  It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”
So, reboot and enjoy!

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*Rajesh Jha is from the Indian Information Service with over two decades of experience in various media units of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. He has served as Chief Editor Yojana and Prasar Bharti Special Correspondent in Dhaka.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author and do not reflect the views of raagdelhi.com, which does not assume any responsibility for the same.

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