Almost every other civil servant officer aspires to write a book, a column in a newspaper or contribute to other publications. Their vast and varied experiences, right from being rookie bureaucrats to drivers of national policy give them rich material to draw from. What also comes in handy is their skills of drafting. After retirement, many civil servants have penned their experiences, using these skills, never mind if the final product lacks mass appeal and appeals mainly to those who are in Government service.
A seasoned bureaucrat, K. V. Natarajan belongs to this genre. His stint in the bureaucracy spanned more than four decades, starting from his training in Metcalfe House, the old Delhi centre for training IAS/IFS probationers till the end of his career as Vigilance Commissioner in 1998. What makes this work stand out is the excellent chronicling. Mr. Natarajan maintained personal dairies throughout his career besides scrap books that ran into 17 volumes!
To start at the very beginning, Mr. Natarajan recalls his interview in the UPSC after passing the written examination. “An acquired accent and an ability to bluff your way through difficult queries were the privileges of persons with convent education and a sophisticated family background”, he observes about his viva voce test.
An entire chapter devoted to his stint as Collector and District Magistrate provides insights into the complexities of the duties. A Collector in Andhra Pradesh heads nearly 150 committees, leaving him hard pressed for time if he indeed presided over all these meetings. His exasperation is evident from the observation that the Collector emerges unceasingly as the “waste paper basket for all light thoughts, practicable or otherwise”.
Pulls and pressures
Mr. Natarajan recalls how as Collector of Nizamabad he collected money for the National Defence Fund after India’s Himalayan debacle in its war against China in 1962. “... both men and women donated gold chains, necklaces and rings. I used to carry them in a kerchief or in my pant pocket to bring them back to Nizamabad for being deposited in the State Bank of Hyderabad”.
Touching upon the pulls and pressures faced by a civil servant at the higher level, the author says: “he is no doubt continuously pressed by groups demanding privileged treatment or claiming immunity from administrative action. It could be a contractors’ lobby badgering the Minister for acceptance of tenders for public works … The inflexible public servant sticking to his objectives and morals has to undergo the risk of alienation from the Minister ...”
The author notes that some Ministers have the tendency to leak cabinet decisions. This may be the reason why Indira Gandhi did not inform her Cabinet about the nuclear test at Pokhran. It was only four hours after the test explosion that Ministers were asked to attend an emergency cabinet meeting.
A highlight of Mr. Natarajan’s career was the signing of the inter-State agreement between Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra for supply of drinking water from the Krishna to Madras in 1983 when he was the Irrigation Secretary of Andhra Pradesh. He chronicles how the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. G. Ramachandran and his counterpart N. T. Rama Rao showed statesmanship for fruition of the agreement which was signed in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ‘s presence. NTR not only got Tamil Nadu to commit itself to paying Andhra Pradesh a sum of Rs. 30 crore a year till 1985-86 for the project but also named the Left Branch of the Srisailam Right Bank Canal, which supplied water to Madras, grandiosely as Telugu Ganga.
After a stint in the Planning Commission, which provided him rich experience and an opportunity to see the legendary C. Subramaniam, Deputy Chairman, at work, he took up an assignment to finalise the five year plans of Sikkim and Bhutan. This ultimately led to his becoming the Development Adviser at Gangtok in May 1973 after a virtual revolt broke out against the Chogyal of Sikkim.
Mr. Natarajan and his wife were invited for an exclusive lunch by the Chogyal and his American wife, Gyalmo. Within a few days, Gyalmo left for the U.S., ostensibly on a visit to her family never to return again.
There were unconfirmed rumours that she had been planted by the CIA to keep a tab on the intentions of China in this sensitive region. One of Mr. Natarajan’s tasks was to clean the Augean stables of the administration in Sikkim which was dogged by inexperience and nepotism.
From then on, Natarajan furnishes a gripping narrative of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and the protests on the streets of Gangtok that culminated in the Chogyal signing the new Constitution and Government of Sikkim Bill on July 3, 1974 and, a year later, the ouster of the Chogyal.
Mr. Natarajan returned to his home State, Andhra Pradesh, where he worked under NTR and later became the Chief Secretary. At the end of his long career in the civil services, Natarajan visited the National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie. Among the nuggets of advice he gave to the new IAS recruits is to be humble and exhibit moderation in the exercise of authority.
This advice could not be more appropriate than the present civil servants and Ministers have mastered the art of passing the buck for decisions that go bad.
(S. Nagesh Kumar is resident editor of The Hindu, Hyderabad)