TWO engagements occupied my time last week. My friend Anil Swarup asked me to write a foreword to his latest book, My Encounters with Politicians, and another friend, Prakash Singh, patron of the Indian Police Foundation (IPF), was kind enough to honour me with a citation acknowledging my contribution to people-friendly policing during my career in the Indian Police Service.
Reading Anil’s book, I had the happy feeling that his philosophy of government service was uncannily the same as mine. Anil and Vijay Shankar Pandey of the IAS’s UP cadre keep in touch with me because they share my attitude to service. Prakash Singh, my ex-colleague in the police service, was also from the UP cadre. He is of a similar view. Sundar Burra belonged to the Maharashtra cadre of the IAS. Along with more than 100 former IAS, IFS and IPS officers, Sundar helped to form the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) to point out deficiencies in governance to those in power, a job that was in the domain of the media, but which a large chunk of the media has abandoned. The vacuum has been partly filled by former civil service officers, who have always worked with the end users in view.
Anil has encountered many politicians in his 38-year career in the civil service. His book classifies a hundred of them, some of whom he has worked with closely. He was always polite and attentive to their wishes, but clearly laid down a red line beyond which he was not willing to venture. Very early in his career, they learnt to respect his commitment to himself and to the people he served.
In Lakhimpur Kheri (UP), where he was the District Magistrate, he had refused permission for a procession that would have triggered a riot. The district president of the ruling party in the state refused to adhere to the ban. Anil had him and others detained. The matter was reported to the Chief Minister, who questioned Anil on the phone. Anil explained the rationale for his decision and offered to release the party leader’s henchmen in the district if he took back the call to his followers to disregard lawful orders. Anil did not retract his order, but at the same time told the CM that he was prepared to adjust as long as his ban on the procession was obeyed.
In all such disputes at the ground level, it is imperative that no quarter be given to those refusing to see reason. Simultaneously, the civil servant concerned must be flexible enough to give in when the core issue is decided on the lines suggested by him. A civil servant cannot ride the high horse and insist on his authority, except on issues that require that his authority prevails.
It is common for officers to blame politicians for all things that have gone wrong in governance. If the officers have gained financially or otherwise because of a wrongdoing, their pleas and excuses lose all meaning. If, on the other hand, they decline to carry out patently wrong orders, they will not need to spend sleepless nights. At times, the dispute with the political master may end in a transfer. That is to be expected in government service. It is an occupational hazard that needs to be factored in and accepted. Anil mentions a few he faced.
When things go seriously wrong, it is officers like Anil who are in demand. No politician at the helm can allow the administration to go to seed without fearing for his own chair. At such times, he studies the roster and hits upon the name of the officer who is on his personal blacklist but is deeply respected by the public for his qualities of mind and heart. It was Anil who was selected to auction coal blocks, push the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana throughout the country so that the medical expenses of the poorest of the poor were covered. He was selected to head the Projects Monitoring Group in the PMO when it was set up. His personal integrity and his proven abilities ensured success.
I had just finished writing the foreword to Anil’s book when Prakash Singh phoned to announce that the IPS brotherhood wanted to acknowledge my contribution to policing in the country. My first reaction was to tell Prakash that at the age of 94, with one foot in the grave, recognitions of this sort did not interest me anymore. But I quickly changed my mind when I realised that this was an endorsement by my own peers of my philosophy of service.
It is not usual for your own colleagues to single you out for public attention. There is always a modicum of jealousy involved in the conferment of awards by the government every year on Independence Day or Republic Day. But the idea of ex-colleagues honouring me appealed to me, so I said yes. In my acceptance speech, I suggested that the IPF continue this gesture as an annual practice. It may motivate young entrants to government service to concentrate on serving and adopt the leitmotif of humility while doing so.
The IPF is an ex-departmental think tank conceived by a former Assam DGP, N Ramachandran, to suggest ways of reforming and modernising the police in India. Since its members are former IPS officers, a wealth of experience is readily available. Many members have a scholarly bent of mind. With time available after retirement for research, and the energy needed to put pen to paper, the foundation can produce a plethora of valid suggestions which serving officers can put to practical use.
Prakash Singh was attracted to the foundation from its inception. He had been the DGP of Assam, Uttar Pradesh (his home state) and finally, the DG of the BSF. As an IG in the BSF, he was in Punjab when I was sent there to combat terrorism. I have known Prakash for the past 40 years or so. He was succeeded as chairman of the foundation by another dear friend, Gurbachan Jagat, who ended his career as Chairman of the UPSC and later served as Governor of the now-troubled state of Manipur. Recently, Gurbachan relinquished the foundation’s chairmanship. Whoever succeeds him should consider my suggestion of honouring a former colleague every year to motivate serving IPS officers to ‘serve’, like Anil served the people during his career.
The purpose of writing this article is to suggest to groupings like the CCG and the IPF to join forces to impress upon the new entrants to the civil service that integrity and honesty do matter even in this century — and, indeed, at all times.
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