Revisiting Generalist-Specialist Argument

Pranab Kumar Panday

28 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Revisiting Generalist-Specialist Argument

Pranab Kumar Panday

I was taken aback by a video of heated arguments between two responsible government officials on a street in Dhaka on April 16. We all know that the whole world, including Bangladesh, is passing through a difficult time. Our government has announced a stringent lockdown since April 14 to contain the second wave of the coronavirus. Responsible behaviour of citizens and people of all professions is highly desirable during the most challenging time of the century. The viral video shows a discrepancy between a policy officer and a doctor. I am not the one whose responsibility is to find out who was accountable for this incident? But being an ordinary citizen, I intend to offer some insights into such undesirable incidents.

We all know that doctors have been serving the people as frontline warriors since the beginning of the epidemic. The nation will remember their contributions with gratitude. The lives of millions of people depend on physicians. This is why the government has allowed free movement of doctors during the lockdown. Various media aired the news that the doctor expressed her revulsion when she was asked to show the identity card by the on-duty police officer. In the video, we see her insulting police officers in a manner that is never desirable from a conscientious physician. Of course, it is not trivial to say because we have not seen the initial part of the incident. After all, the viral video offered no such clue.

The incident reminded me of an old-age important concept of public administration— the generalist-specialist conflict. The core of this idea is that specialists (doctors or engineers or agricultural officers) believe that though they were deemed the brightest cohort of students during their time, they do not receive proper respect from the generalist officials in the government. On the other hand, the generalists consider themselves as the most influential player in the government, as they make decisions in the administration in most cases. It assumes that such conflict was strongly manifested in the administration in the past and has diminished over time. However, as evidenced by the incident, it is not over yet when we saw the doctor repeatedly reminding the police officer that being a doctor is the most challenging task and that the best students are doctors.

We should keep in mind that everyone is having a bad time during this lockdown. Like the doctors who continue to provide services, police and administrative officials are also risking their lives to discharge their respective responsibilities. Therefore, everyone requires behaving responsibly during the pandemic. The government must develop some specific guidelines to prevent such incidents. During the early days of the lockdown that started on April 14, some doctors admitted that some policemen harassed them on the street even after showing the identity card. In some cases, doctors were fined. We also witnessed that their fines were later waived through a notification from the police headquarters. We ought to bear in mind that the major issues in implementing decisions are the lack of a clear understanding by the implementing agencies. Such incidents will occur until the highest level of government provides a specific directive in this regard.

We all agree that our pride is our freedom fighters. Due to their extreme sacrifice, we gained independence in 1971. I was stunned witnessing that they even used their father's identity as freedom fighters to show their supremacy. The lady physician repeatedly tried to establish that she is the daughter of a renowned freedom fighter. Why did she require referring to her father as she is a qualified citizen of the country? In contrast, the police officer in charge also claimed to be the son of a freedom fighter. Being a son or daughter of a freedom fighter is a matter of pride for both of them. However, a pertinent question is: was it necessary to use the identity of their freedom fighter father in that incident?

Another issue that drew my attention is the act of irresponsible journalism. These journalists always try to make any incident viral by using incomplete video footage. The irresponsible etiquette of journalists is to blame for the disrespect the people involved in the incident has been facing and the creating wrong perception about the particular profession. Such behaviour must be avoided. I am concerned about this fact as the story was incomplete. We failed to understand the event as the initial and concluding parts of the incident were missing. It seems that it was intentionally made viral to send a different message about the people of both professions.

During this crisis moment, the most important thing is to show tolerance by all people working in different professions. If police officers want to check a person's identification card on the street, it is not their fault as they are obliged to do so as per the government rules. On the other hand, it is someone's responsibility to show his/her identity card if he/she is asked for it. We need to keep in mind that many people can use fake identities to violate the law during this lockdown. In case of the incident, the doctor claimed to show the sticker off her institution pasted on the car and a letter issued by the hospital authorities, as she forgot to carry her identity card on that day. If it is true, the situation could have been dealt with maturity. Taking a lesson from the incident, we should come on the streets with a spirit of cooperation without prioritising our ego.

All of us need to work collectively during the pandemic. There have been many pandemics in the world before. We managed to overcome those pandemics by working together. Therefore, it is not the time to get involved in a confrontation with each other. Instead, it is the time to show compassion and work together from a sense of responsibility. It will be challenging to get out of this pandemic if we fail to perform our collective responsibility. If our ego leads us during working in a responsible profession, it would be very difficult for us to discharge our duties properly. As an ordinary citizen, I expect that everyone will exercise tolerance and show professionalism during this epidemic.


The writer is a professor of Public

Administration at the University of