The Indian Administrative Service is much more than what the words collectively mean. The officers work with the vast State machinery, and they take orders from the political bosses. But the crucial aspect of decision-making in ralation to delivery of a service or an emergency measure remains with an officer of the IAS.
In Kerala, in the 1990s, the transfer of an officer created resentment among the people because he had delivered on every count. A senior politician, who had organised a public send-off, was booed off stage, while the officer was given a rousing reception by a huge crowd. There are similar stories from across the country. Unfortunately, a large majority of these heart-warming and feel-good real-life stories hardly transform into books. Partly because of the overarching and draconian Officials Secrets Act, and partly because book agents depend on time-tested ‘formulas,’ most of the stories die with the officers’ retirement.
Yes, there are case studies and academic compilations that emerge out of many such success stories — examples include the success of the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the Women’s Self Help Group Movement in some parts of the country, cooperative farming, rapid industrialisation in some States including Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, and the hinder-free path laid to the Information Technology revolution in the southern States.
This book deals with some of the issues that officers of the IAS handled in Rajasthan, which has its own set of unique challenges. But sometimes it reads more like a primer for IAS aspirants, trainees, and young officers, and does not aspire for much else.
Among other things, the book has an interesting chapter on VVIP visits (an extract from another book, which the editors acknowledge). In this, Mohan Mukerji recalls the visit of Bangla singer Runa Laila, and says that he redefined the term VVIP to include ‘any outstanding personality who draws crowds which require some form of control.’ VVIP visits take up too much time and effort and everything from toiletries to aircraft/helicopter parking can be issues. But, of course, these can’t form part of a book that talks about a lot of positives of the service.
One of the many positive points of the book is that it has dedicated a part of remembering senior IAS officers who have left a significant imprint on Rajasthan. The officers who services have been recalled include S. L. Khurana, Mohan Mukerji, G. K. Bhanot and Yatindra Singh. The editors I.C. Srivastava and B.D.Joshi have each written separate chapters on Khurana and Bhanot — which, to say the least, is perplexing.
A part of the book is also dedicated to former Chief Ministers of Rajasthan. But again, it is plagued by the problem of writing about similar people. In fact, only two Chief Ministers, who of course have made an immense impact on Rajasthan, come in for mention in the chapters in this part — M.L.Sukhadia and B.S.Shekhawat.
Since the book deals with only individual stories, and not with the larger narrative of building Rajasthan, there is no clear indication how the issues discussed and surmounted have contributed to the larger picture. Progress is about making the small things work, yes. But the small things should also contribute to a bigger process, and should fit into a vision. Also, the writing is a little tedious, suggesting perhaps that there was not much editing. Despite its faults, the editors need to be commended for venturing to bring out a book of this nature. Hope this will inspire many more of their retired and serving colleagues to write about their life-defining lessons. If they do, many serving officers will be spared the agony of re-inventing the wheel.