Indian premier takes a swing at staff who play too much golf

New workaholic prime minister Modi wants civil servants to work longer hours

A man carries a portrait of India’s former prime minister Manmohan Singh outside the parliament house building in New Delhi. New prime minister Narendra Modi has ordered civil servants to tidy up slovenly government offices in Delhi, requiring them to not only be uncluttered and litter free, but also sparkling. Photograph: Reuters

A man carries a portrait of India’s former prime minister Manmohan Singh outside the parliament house building in New Delhi. New prime minister Narendra Modi has ordered civil servants to tidy up slovenly government offices in Delhi, requiring them to not only be uncluttered and litter free, but also sparkling. Photograph: Reuters

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:00

India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi has coerced indolent civil servants in the capital New Delhi into working longer hours and spending less time playing golf.

Government circles in New Delhi are panicked by reports that the workaholic and no-frills politician, who assumed office last month, is covertly compiling a list of bureaucrats who frequent the fairways of the city’s exclusive golf clubs more than their offices.

These avid golfers fear being unfavourably targeted by Mr Modi, who has promised greater autonomy to civil servants in decision-making compared to the lackadaisical attitude that was their hallmark under the outgoing Congress Party-led federal coalition, but he demands a stricter work ethic.

Consequently, the 900-odd civil servants who frequent Delhi’s many golf clubs are not only distancing themselves from the game, but also vociferously running down the elitist sport, hoping their ersatz assertions will reach Mr Modi’s ears.

Several golf clubs in the city and suburbs have reported a drop in the number of bureaucrat members teeing off since Mr Modi took charge on May 16th. They attribute this to a fear of the austere, low-caste prime minister who is the son of a tea vendor.

“Those [civil servants] who continue playing golf are completing their rounds much earlier than before so they can reach their offices by 8am,” said Indervir Singh Juneja, president of the elitist Delhi Golf Club.

Mr Modi’s coming has drastically transformed their golfing schedules, he added, smiling.

These altered timings – forcing many bureaucrats to tee off at 4.30am – are prompted by the strict punctuality Mr Modi has imposed on all government employees, accustomed for years to observing a casual timetable that adversely affected their output, efficiency and availability.

Gruelling schedule

Taking their cue from their bachelor, workaholic prime minister – who gets to the office by 8am and follows a gruelling 12-14 hour schedule – all senior civil servants and their support staff now adhere to their new boss’s timings.

And with Mr Modi having promised tangible results in the economy and overall administration within his first 100 days in office, his army of civil servants is clocking longer hours to meet these goals, even foregoing weekends.

India’s civil servants, especially the top rung, are broadly similar in attitude and arrogance to their British colonial predecessors from who they are descended. The only difference is that they are no longer rulers from the “Heaven-born” Indian Civil Service, the legendary ICS.

Largely inaccessible and protected, like the ICS before them, by a multi-layered barrage of subordinates, these officials from the select Indian Administrative Service (IAS) are far removed from India’s reality.

Residing in Delhi’s vast colonial bungalows and operating from equally grand offices – which are impossible for most outsiders to enter – they remain a power unto themselves.

Unchanged by successive administrations, the IAS officers have successfully perpetuated their insouciant careers by making themselves indispensable to politicians.

But in Mr Modi, an accomplished manager of similarly attuned civil servants in his western home state of Gujarat of which was chief minister until becoming prime minister, they have a new taskmaster; he brooks neither ineptitude nor justifications for delays in implementing his policies and his inflexible refrain is diligence and hard work.

“Modi gives his bureaucrats a long rope but demands effectiveness and productivity in return,” a senior civil servant said, declining to be named. Anyone not performing will not be tolerated and removed, he added.

A stickler for cleanliness and order, Mr Modi has also issued a fiat to tidy up government offices in Delhi, requiring them to not only be uncluttered, but also sparkling.

The awe-inspiring corridors of India’s federal power, in buildings which face each other in the heart of the capital, are littered with abandoned office furniture, discarded files and ugly, rusting water coolers.

Their grand walls are splattered with maroon spittle expelled over decades by tobacco chewers while the unbearable stink from their toilets, often without water, permeates large parts of the buildings.

“Modi’s administration is determined not only to clean up these offices, but to ensure that they function effectively too,” the senior official said. Even if it means officials giving up their beloved golf, he added.

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