The impromptu bureaucracy reshuffle in Punjab comes on the heels of a highly determined caretaker set-up gunning for airtight ‘impartiality’ this election season. While the administrative overhaul is being largely criticised for ceding trained human resources and derailing the routine functioning of the administrative structure, it also casts doubt over whether such egregious measures can truly act to neutralize the government setup without paralyzing it.

While this move throws a wrench in the smooth functioning of the government right before a tenuous election season, it also broaches many uneasy questions. To what extent does this requisite for sterilising the bureaucracy go before it transgresses into discrimination? When does the restructuring ultimately turn into a complete overhaul of the composition of the bureaucratic nexus? Is that, in effect, weeding out the discrepancies or paralysing the flailing bureaucracy with further ineptitude?

There is also a real and potent risk that many a neutral officer will be convicted as ‘partial’ by dint of mere association with the preceding government. We don’t have to look far to find the most recent casualty of this impetus for construed alignment; Asma Hamid, the first female advocate general of Punjab (AGP), was removed from her post after remaining in charge for less than a month. Her ouster can be attributed to opposition from political parties over her bearing family connections with the PML-N leadership and ensuing reservations that she could influence the elections. While Ms Hamid has stellar qualification to her credit, and a wealth of experience that can add value and credence to the vocation, her calibre was was sacrificed on the altar of ‘perceived partiality’.

While the politics of patronage, largely claimed to be politically aligned with the PML-N, is a very real yet intangible organism with deep roots in the all-powerful Punjab bureaucracy, the argument for perceived political alignments shading the election process needs due diligence to account for the heavy loss of seasoned and proficient officers in an already under-performing bureaucratic structure. The ever-shifting loyalties of politicians and lawmakers themselves on the eve of the elections speaks volumes of the fluid nature of political patronage. While the entrenched loyalty system can be delineated under the benefaction of every political party in their sphere of influence, it does not belie the fact that officers who have risen in the weighted bureaucratic system have also amassed capability and expertise of the convoluted functioning of the government matrix which has to be retained. Such intricacies need to be navigated and accounted for in the crusade for impartiality.