The Inward Eye

Travails of a staff officer

An ideal person for the post, it is said, should be intelligent and hardworking. A lazy but intelligent officer would be fit for higher command. I served as a staff officer of sorts and commanded two large forces. Did that make me sufficiently lazy, intelligent or hardworking?

Travails of a staff officer

Gurbachan Jagat

A CLASSIFICATION attr-ibuted to the British army sources runs as follows: lazy but intelligent officer — fit for higher command; intelligent and hardworking — an ideal staff officer; stupid and hardworking — a danger to the organisation, get rid of him. Like any other classification, it is not always true and officers keep on developing or regressing.

I spent a short time in the police secretariat in 1977-78 and had a longer stint between 1982-97 (in between, I was also posted as the first managing director of the Punjab Police Housing Corporation). During my longer stint, I was posted on different assignments in the CID and administrative wings, but somehow ended up working for both the head of police and the head of CID, which resulted in some difficult situations. There was a change of government in 1977 and we had a new IGP and a new DIG/CID (there were no DGPs and Additional DGPs at the time). The DIG/CID was basically a field officer who disliked desk jobs and as far as I know, had not served with the CID in any capacity during his career. He was very unhappy about his posting and made it clear to one and all, but the IGP and Chief Minister were adamant and so he had to join. I suspect the IG did not want a DIG/CID who could be a parallel power centre. The DIG/CID could become one and many had done so in the past because Chief Ministers always wanted first-hand Intelligence.

I was then working virtually as a staff officer to the DIG/CID, but with another designation. I had not served with this officer and it is essential to know the personality traits and working habits of your boss if you have to develop a successful partnership. My previous boss was a ‘one of a kind’ officer and working with him was a daily learning experience. Anyhow, he had told me to bring the files requiring his immediate attention in the morning and leave the routine ones, which he would dispose of later. I started the same routine with my new boss. He looked at me and asked me to leave the files on the table. After a couple of more failed attempts to get the files cleared personally, I gave up and started sending the files to him — but these did not come back. I then talked to an older officer who had worked with him, and he asked me as to what was the DIG doing when I went to his room. “Nothing,” I said. He advised me that since the DIG was not a morning person, I should take all the files in the afternoon and they would be cleared in no time — his advice worked. After this success, I became slightly bolder and reminded him that he had not called on the Chief Minister and that in fact he was supposed to meet him every day. He dismissed the suggestion and told me that I could go and meet the CM, but I refused politely. He then called the DSP/CID posted at the Chandigarh unit and told him to go and brief the CM. This also happened and the CM accepted the situation!

Now, the finale — the DIG and IG were barely on talking terms and I was normally the conduit. In the CID, we used to put up an assessment of the crime situation in the state before the government. Each district Superintendent of Police compiled a monthly crime diary for which there was a prescribed format. The diary was analysed and put up before the DIG/CID. When the first diary reached the DIG, he asked me as to why I had sent it to him — I informed him that his remarks were needed before it goes to the IG and then to the government. He directed me to take it back and put up a note on a separate sheet for approval. He further directed me not to put any polish on the crime situation and be critical. I wracked my brain and tried to be as diplomatic as possible and sent it to him; he recorded the note on the file.

I breathed a sigh of relief, but the reprieve was short-lived. After a couple of hours, I was summoned by the IGP. Even before the door was fully closed, he had got up and thrust the crime file in my face and asked me as to what nonsense was being cooked up in the CID. I was all innocence and ignorance and he finally asked me to sit down and read what my DIG had written. The IGP also had a short fuse and I kept quiet. He then asked me to take the file and prepare a note on his behalf, rebutting the DIG’s note point by point. I made a hasty exit and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Of course, I wrote as best as I could to satisfy the IG. It passed muster and the IG recorded it on the file and it went onwards to the government. Fortunately, there was no follow-up but I was later on careful as to what I wrote in the first note.

The DIG was a very kind man at heart and we got along famously after that. However, he was an unhappy man — a tiger caged in the secretariat and glued to a chair and files. Then one morning he called me to his office and happiness was writ large on his face; he had been transferred to Patiala as DIG/Range and Patiala happened to be his first love. He left and the CID routine prevailed once more.

I began by quoting that the intelligent and hardworking were meant to be staff officers, whatever the politics. I virtually worked as one for a long time but then providence gave me the chance to command two large forces — J&K Police and BSF, though I am not sure whether I was sufficiently lazy, intelligent or hardworking? Maybe the two senior officers could have answered that better.

— The writer is ex-chairman of UPSC, former Manipur Governor and served as J&K DGP

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