Popularity pandemic

Published December 18, 2022
The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

SOCIAL media has changed life so much. Indian actor Shahrukh Khan once claimed he is the last of the superstars. He might be correct, because now everyone is a star unto himself. No matter how you earn your bread and butter, social media has allowed everyone to become a little celebrity with a fan following. This is great when it encourages people to go the extra mile in their profession, and might be acceptable if they are doing their job and expecting popularity as a side hustle. But it becomes highly problematic when social media starts to dictate your activities and thought processes.

This has been observed by the Indian election commission, as well as the Supreme Court of Pakistan recently. Ahead of the Gujarat election in December, the commission removed Abhishek Singh, an Indian Administrative Service officer, for displaying his posting and the ‘privileges’ that came with it on Instagram. He had been made general observer for two constituencies in Ahmedabad and showed off pictures of an official vehicle and security personnel on his social media accounts. The election commission promptly removed him from the assignment.

The officer was ordered to report to his parent cadre. Media reported that “all government facilities provided to him in Gujarat were also taken away, including the car featured in his posts”. This might seem excessive to social media-savvy civil servants, but there is a certain level of maturity required to oversee the election process as an observer. An officer who is preoccupied with flaunting his official car and gunmen provided for security is unlikely to lie low and observe in letter and spirit the election process being followed.

Here in Pakistan, Justice Qazi Faez Isa has made similar observations in a recent judgement of the Supreme Court, stating that, “If someone names a public/government place or property after themselves or affixes their own name or image on a public/government document, it is self-glorification, and if this is done by others, it would constitute obedience, flattery, nepotism and/or corruption. It is also not permissible to manoeuvre self-projection through one’s subordinates, political associates or in a manner that may call for the bestowal of reciprocal favours. Paid servants of the state, constitutional office-holders and politicians in government must not use their positions for personal, partisan or pecuniary gain.”

Many civil servants use social media for self-projection.

The court also ordered the copies of the judgement to be delivered to the cabinet secretary, the chief secretaries of the provinces and the ICT chief commissioner, reminding civil servants to recognise the fact that they are not there to flatter a political boss or ‘play’ for him.

Sadly, our civil servants might not have the material evidence, the training, the maturity, and most importantly, the guts to recognise that while their success might lie in the happiness of the political lords, their true value lies in upholding the spirit of their oath and the Constitution. In this modern era, battles for truth will not be fought in the battlefields, but in air-conditioned offices and with a stroke of a pen. This judgement provides enough reason to public servants to think beyond their own personal projection and focus on professionalism.

The laptops doled out in CM or PM laptop schemes have imagery glorifying the givers as the ultimate generous beings, when in reality all the money comes from the public exchequer. Similarly, the Sehat Insaaf card bears the colours of the flag of a political party, which amounts to free advertising at the cost of public money.

A cursory gl­­a­­nce at so­­ci­­al media spa­ces like Twit­t­­er or Facebook reveals that many civil servants use their accounts for self-projection, where a photographer is deputed to cover how, for example, the AC Sahib has gone about his day conducting official activities. Apart from other ills, this penchant for some extra likes on social media often results in civil servants poking their nose in matters that are not even remotely in their domain. Such behaviour also begets sycophancy, because once the public servant shows he loves being projected as some sort of messiah, vested interests take this route to get in the good books of the public official and manipulate his decision-making. The training of modern civil servants needs to inculcate guidelines on the use of social media as a tool of communication and projection of the institution rather than your own self.

Lastly, Margaret Thatcher once said: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” I guess the same is the case with good public servants: if you have to tell people that you are, you aren’t.

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Twitter: @SyedSaadat55

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2022

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