On Thursday, several newspaper headlines said that bureaucrats will now be allowed to participate 'freely' on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. 'Freely' being the keyword here.
Well, we know 'free' is a much misused word. All too often that bartender, wearing a t-shirt that says 'FREE BEER', has fooled us. It's very easy to miss the words right underneath, in tiny fonts. That say, 'tomorrow'. Geddit? 'Free Beer tomorrow'. In other words, never.
The government's new rules for its babus are exactly that.
They allow babus to be active on social media, but clearly state that they are barred from saying anything critical of the government, and its policies and actions.
The draft rules released by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) state that bureaucrats cannot criticize the government on television, social media or any other communication application by any means including a "caricature".
The existing rules made no mention of social media.
"Previous sanction of the government shall not be required when the member of the service, in the bonafide discharge of his duties or otherwise, publishes a book or article or contributes to or participates in any public media including social media websites," say the new rules.
These rules are part of the proposed changes in All India Service (Conduct) Rules, 1968, which are applicable to the three all India services -- Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFoS).
The move probably is not unrelated to certain recent events.
Recently, Ajay Gangwar, an IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh had 'liked' a Facebook post that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and praised India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The IAS officer had also written, "Let me know the mistakes that Nehru should not have committed...Is it his mistake that he prevented all of us from becoming Hindu Talibani Rashtra in 1947?"
According to a government official, Gangwar's FB post had not gone down well with top officials as it was in "violation" of the service rules, following which an initial probe was conducted.
Gangwar was subsequently transferred to the Bhopal secretariat without being given any reason.
In March, Balrampur district collector, Alex Paul Menon, was issued a notice for putting up a post on his Facebook page in June, claiming that 94 percent of those hanged in the country were either Dalits or Muslims.
Menon, who was held captive by Maoists for 12 days in May 2012, had earlier shared posts supporting Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula.
However, he was reportedly forced to delete those Facebook posts after objections from bureaucrats and BJP party members.
"Being a government servant, Menon cannot extend support to those charged with sedition (Kanhaiya). When the matter was raised by bureaucrats and party officials, he was asked to delete the posts," a BJP leader had told the Times Of India.
A month before that, social media posts of another senior government official in Chhattisgarh had created a furore.
Bastar's District Collector, Amit Kataria, wrote a Facebook post alleging that the attack on tribal rights activist Soni Sori was staged. The post drew criticism, after which he was forced to remove it.
The new rules just codify the unwritten rule that was already being enforced, that criticising the government is not permitted. Apparently, if you are a government servant, you have to agree with what the government says or does. You are out of line if you don't.
Basically, the new rules are meant to ensure that bureaucrats always put up a happy face and pretend to be in a happy 'relationship' with the government.
The government might have allowed babus to join social media, but definitely not freely post what they wish to.
In other words, the government just told its bureaucrats: "You can run, you can hide but you can't escape my love."