Opinion » Comment

Updated: April 2, 2012 00:31 IST

He recognised the value of dissent

Harsh Mander
Comment (24)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
P.S. Appu. Photo: Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration
P.S. Appu. Photo: Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration

The most important lesson that P.S. Appu taught civil service probationers was that no one can force an officer to do what she or he believes to be wrong.

The year was 1980. I joined a band of nervous new recruits to the Indian Administrative Service to train in the L.B.S. National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie. Our first day we were privileged to encounter a man who would in many ways define for us, not so much by his words but his actions, the highest standards of public service. His name was P.S. Appu.

Erudite and brilliant, Appu was extraordinarily understated. He spoke to us with steely conviction, but little embellishment. He was fiercely intolerant of what he found dishonest or mediocre, but was remarkably friendly and accessible. I recall days when I stormed into his open office, to brashly protest a lecture which I felt glorified police firing against democratic protest, or a senior officer who instructed us on ways to hide and deny starvation deaths, or the Academy requirements that we wear suits for formal dinners. He would smile delightedly at my youthful, immature protests, clearly enjoying and welcoming dissent. He was non-hierarchical, and had an unshakeable moral core — qualities I was to learn in later years were extremely rare in the senior civil services.

Appu introduced us to land reforms and rural development. He spoke of the paramount values of political neutrality and independence of civil servants, and the duty to offer fearless and honest advice, even if it angers one's political leaders. We had heard many legends about his administrative career in Bihar. When appointed as Chief Secretary, he wrote to the Chief Minister the many reasons why the CM should reconsider his decision. When the CM still insisted, he laid down several conditions, including that he should have a free hand in restructuring administration, making appointments, with no interference in delegated spheres. Ruthless action should be taken against corrupt and incompetent officials. He explained that “I did not lay down the above conditions because of my arrogance or any feeling that I was indispensable. I did so because I felt that the situation in Bihar was so bad that there was no hope of effecting the necessary improvement unless those conditions were fulfilled.” Seven months later, when he felt that the CM had failed to stand by his commitments, he refused to continue as Chief Secretary.

The turning point

The most important lesson that Appu taught us was one that I would repeat, to myself and my younger colleagues many times in the two decades that I spent in the civil service. It was that no one can force an officer to do what she or he believes to be wrong. If any officer tells you that you can be forced in government to act according to the dictates of your conscience, that person is lying. Of course there will be costs; but if there were no costs, everyone would do the right thing.

We did not realise how quickly Appu would teach us the truth of this counsel, once again with actions and not just words. We were deeply dismayed to return after a year's district training to find that he no longer headed the Academy. But his absence taught us more than his words ever could.

In the batch which followed ours, during the mandatory trek in the Himalayas, one male officer whipped out a loaded revolver and threatened two women trainees by pointing the weapon at their heads. He also threatened some men trainees by brandishing the same revolver. This young man had been asked earlier to leave the National Defence Academy for indiscipline. Appu was convinced that such a person would be dangerous to retain in public office, and recommended his discharge from service. But allegedly because of his closeness to the then Home Minister, he was let off lightly, with only a reprimand. Appu put in his papers in protest. He explained his decision in a letter to Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister at the time: “The only conclusion the probationers will draw is that with influence in the right quarters one can commit even heinous crimes with impunity.” The matter rocked Parliament, and his decision was ultimately upheld. But the country lost one of its most upright civil servants.

In his years of quiet retirement with his son in Bangalore, he remained a moral compass, right up to when he lost his last battle with cancer. When Gujarat burned in 2002, he wrote to the President of India. “Today I hang my head in shame as an Indian, a Hindu and a former member of the Indian Administrative Service. In the short span of eight weeks the evil men who rule Gujarat, shielded by their patrons in Delhi, have succeeded in besmirching beyond repair India's reputation as the classic land of tolerance and moderation .... To the eternal shame of the permanent services, the majority of IAS and IPS officers collaborated with their political masters.” He recommended President's rule, advice which was once again ignored.

Thirteen years after I first met Appu, I returned to the Academy in Mussoorie, this time to join its faculty. My first lecture to every batch of young trainees would be titled: “The right and duty of a civil servant to dissent.” It was my own small tribute to my great teacher and mentor.

(Harsh Mander is a social worker and writer. A former officer of the Indian Administrative Service, he is currently a member of the National Advisory Council.)

More In: Comment | Opinion

We have to ensure that such people are there by default, not by
exception... It is possible to do it through formal education by
including value education as an essential subject in schools, colleges,
training institutions,...

It is happening in IIIT Hyderabad, UP Tech Universities, Punjab Tech
Universities, IIT Delhi, and process is on for other universities in

from:  Sushil Jain
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 20:45 IST

It is great to know such things happening at IAS academy....Such
faculty being present there. However, core issue is not addressed this
Just being honest is not enough...
One needs to be empowered with the wisdom of life, principles of life,
understanding of self, relationships with others, with existence,
understanding existence... It can be called value education...
Unless one has the larger perception, guided by self, he is unable to
deal with situations faced during IAS.... Such training of mind must
happen at all levels i.e. schools, colleges, training institutions...

Good news is that it has started happening... It started with
IITDelhi, IIIT Hyderabad, since 2009 it has been introduces as an
essential course in UP Tech Universities, Punjab Technical
Universities, the process is on in Haryana, Himachal, Madhya
Pradesh... The results are amazing...
If we all want people to live at the highest levels of consciousness,
value education must be part of formal education..

from:  Sushil Jain
Posted on: Apr 10, 2012 at 20:34 IST

Early years of Indian independence drew India's best into the civil
service. Either because there were so few options or because the best
felt obliged to serve their country, we saw a class of exceptional
officers. Appu, N. Lakshman Rau, Satish Chandran are among a few
people who readily come to mind. The post - emergency period saw a
major change in ethics in public life. The present crop of officers
seem to reflect all other sections of Indian society. The best young
men seem to prefer life out of the country or atleast in the private
sector and public service seem to attract the drop outs. The challenge
before the administration is really to inspire the best among Indian
youth to come back to public service. Only then we can hope to read
and experience more Appus in future

from:  Narendra KV
Posted on: Apr 5, 2012 at 19:19 IST

Very nice and inspiring article.Can any one throw light on the period of emergency-in 1975-and role of the then senior civil servants?Would like to know the bright example which must have been
laid down by Late Sri Appu,as a very senior civil servant,at that critical time in our history?-

from:  S.C.Bardhan
Posted on: Apr 5, 2012 at 17:24 IST

It would have helped had Mr. Mander given instances of his own dissent - the issues on which he dissented and the outcome. It is very easy to preach but does one actually follow it up with practice?

from:  Sanjiv Jindal
Posted on: Apr 5, 2012 at 13:32 IST

Where have all the Appus gone? India needs them more today than ever. We have enormous problems they cannot be solved without sond governance at the administartive, judicial and legislative levels. Look at country's with half decent governance like South Korea, Singapore, even China what they have achieved in the last three decades while our middle class is still to have clean water and toilets.
I used think that the whole colonial administation apparatus needs to be dismantled and "Babuism" done away with for India to get anywhere but people like Appu are essntial to any kind of system. Thanks to Harsha Mander for reminding us of exceptions and that the whole seed has not gone bad yet and there is still hope.

from:  virendra gupta
Posted on: Apr 4, 2012 at 02:23 IST

Nice write-up by Harsh Mander about his Senior Sri.P.S. Appu.

"The most important lesson that P.S. Appu taught civil service probationers was that no one can force an officer to do what she or he believes to be wrong." This is quite touching.
It gives relief and peace to me that few people like [The Great] P.S.Appu are/were living with us.
Hope more and more officers follow what P.S. Appu has taught.

from:  Malathi
Posted on: Apr 3, 2012 at 17:08 IST

Good to see so many inspiring comments. This reflects there are people (I mean readers here) who at least value our morals and still hopeful that we can have such officers in society who can transform India.

from:  Abhinav Asati
Posted on: Apr 3, 2012 at 17:00 IST

A very nice article. This has to be translated to Telugu and pasted all
across AP as posters.In the recent scams in AP-obulapuram mines and
EMAR-, CBI had arrested IAS officers.These officers committed big
offences in collusion with YSR .Now they are saying that they acted at
the behest of the concerned ministers and CM and they have nothing to do
with the illegal activities.If they had used the training given by Appu
or his successors they would have saved huge wealth to the nation.

from:  Seshu
Posted on: Apr 3, 2012 at 14:21 IST

Lesson taught- to quote from the article "The most important lesson that P.S. Appu taught civil service probationers was that no one can force an officer to do what she or he believes to be wrong."
The lesson learnt The most important lesson that is learnt from this article is that if you defy authority you are ignored or punished or humiliated. The corrupt 'system' continues to thrive. The system needs to be overhauled starting from electoral reforms.

from:  M.R.Sampath
Posted on: Apr 3, 2012 at 11:47 IST

A very inspiring and insightful article. It reiterates that the state
of affairs has not changed irrespective of Appus and his likes. There
is a cost for being honest in public service is an understatement,
when the enormity of the cost is not specified; Appu had to withdraw
from his Chief Secretary post ignominiously much to the amusement of
the cranky CM. The other instance of highly connected cantankerous IAS probationer being favored by the higher ups against his reporting, again substantiates that honesty and uprightness have no place in public life. Advising young administrative officers to dissent and pay a price to be honest has not been any effective as substantiated in the article in the case of Gujarat Cadre during the Godhra episode. The values may be taught; but an average person is more interested to fend off trouble to self. The scourge is in the electoral system that is toothless in preventing political class emerging from criminal backgrounds or funded by criminals.

from:  M.R.Sampath
Posted on: Apr 3, 2012 at 11:35 IST

Here lies one //
Whom we killed first // And canonized after.

He took it upon himself // To accomplish the impossible task// Of righting all wrongs, avenging all evils,// Of reducing the distance// Between what is and what ought to be //And unable to adjust to its ways // In righteous indignation// Abjured the world itself.// He took his bearings in life// With a sextant set by a distant star// Always looming above narrow horizons,// But the submerged rocky outcrops of the shore// Kept him away from the harbour.// Steering clear of some inevitable collisions// Ultimately he foundered.

He was unlike us, the successful lot,// Successfully navigating following no rules// Excepting those for momentary survival// Diving or swimming along the prevailing tides// And sailing with the current winds// Swerving our course to our convenience// Without caring where we ultimately reached –// The hell or the port of call.// To have a captain like him is sheer madness// It’s much better to drift// Than to row against the tide// Revolting to the galley slaves.
We would rather join the pirates// To plunder the high seas// With a banner unfurled on our foremast// Carrying his clean image// To convince the credulous shippers// We are honest merchantmen.
We would kill him to canonize// Rather than have him amongst us. // May his soul rest in peace// Leaving us to peacefully plunder.// Hang him on your drawing room wall// As a good piece of decoration: // If his ghost frowns from there
Do not care// For we are many, he is alone. // Like one of those clumsy dinosaurs// He is destined to die// It’s we who shall prosper and multiply
And inherit this pigmy world.// To ensure he doesn’t resurrect By the infallible rule of majority// We shall elbow him out.

from:  kumud biswas
Posted on: Apr 3, 2012 at 05:08 IST

Well truly said officer has right to dissent and explain reasons etc;
BUT in practice, most of them tend to fall prey to dictates of power mad politicians who instruct them forcibly to act as per whims. PITY
I know IAS officer of early 1950s (Asst Collector at HQs of district) who told the Home Minister on tour, that his orders violated rules in vogue and needs written order for compliance etc; NEXT day he was transferred to unknown distant community project as punishment !! Politicians play dangerous games, and IAS folks must have guts to tackle them in public interest and common good;HOW many can or do stand upto the task, make your own guess!

from:  Radhik Hairam
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 15:50 IST

It is a pleasure to read your articles sir. The message you want to give
is clear cut.Hopefully, people will see officers of higher integrity,
morale and conviction in future.

from:  Sumit
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 15:23 IST

Nice article. I am now also going through PS Appu's blogs. Our society is full of upright, intelligent and efficient officers, the challenge is that how these folks rise up to the top in meaningful positions. The more I get a feeling that it is upto the vigilant society to ensure that morality and high standards are upheld - in our own selfish interest. And social media now makes it possible for silent majority to make itself heard.

from:  Apte
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 15:05 IST

Such articles on upright persons, such as late Shri Appu Saab, provide
with an opportunity to those believing in moral values to lift their
heads high in pride for a while, unlike on all other times where they
have to keep them hanged in shame due to the government sponsored
degeneration that has taken place in the system today.

from:  Murtuza
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 13:05 IST

I have always enjoyed reading Harsh Mander's columns in various publications. An incident comes to mind after perusing what he has written. My late father began his career during the British days as an officer in the (undivided) Assam Civil Service and was among the initial lot who were promoted to IAS after Independence. As Deputy Commissioner of a district near the border with then East Pakistan, he took a very tough stand against illegal smuggling, infiltration, and other trans border criminal activities and refused to change his ways after being 'warned'. His unremitting stand went against him and he got sidelined for promotion and future prospects. He ultimately retired. Later it transpired that there was a nexus headed by a senior minister that was conducting these illegal activities. Guess what - this minister eventually became India's President!

from:  JK Dutt
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 12:39 IST

Today when corruption and other issues are ruining our country there is a need of honest and hard working Civil servants who dare to challenge the partisan and parochial decisions of political masters. And I believe there are many who can take the bull by horn and stand upright. Jaihind, Jai Bharat.

from:  Raveesh Mrigendra
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 11:59 IST

If all educated civil servants work with high integrity keeping national interest in mind, can our present democractic political system work? At least we must make it succeed till we get rid of poverty & illiteracy.

from:  Vyas K Susarla
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 11:37 IST

Wonderful sir, We need more Appus in Inida. We, in the last 20 years, have lost the vestige of morality that we inherited from the freedom struggle. I am of the opinion that unless we have tall leaders with impeccable reputation who can inspire and instill the right values. Unfortunately we have none of these qualities nowadays in our leaders expect for a select few.

from:  Aswin
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 10:30 IST

Beautiful tribute, well said.

from:  Mahesh Bhave
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 09:18 IST

Harsh Mandar's article about P.S. Appu is very inspiring. It is true that if civil servants act without prejudice and honestly, they can transform the society. But most of them are influenced by greed or political pressure and do not perform honestly. The steel frame of India as Civil Services is known must be strengthened by officers who lure after fame for their good work.

from:  Rakesh Tiwari
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 06:59 IST

Inspiring to know what is happening at IAS. So all is not lost with these people who rule India! Let there be more such righteous people like late Mr Appu and Mr. Harsh. Keep up the good work, atleat the second generation from present will live in a developed country. What good is done now will benefit future genrations, like mangoes we eat today are from trees planted by some else years ago. News papers should project more such courageous people to inspire who are ambivalent. Again Indira Gandhi the mother of corruption in India is again a villain in this story.

from:  Ayyappa
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 06:38 IST

Awesome article! If we as adults cannot uphold probity in our lives
there is no point in expecting the same from our children! I believe
teachers like these are very few in the current educational and
administrative setup!

from:  prasanna
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 05:45 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Comment

H.E. Chinese Ambassador to India Le Yucheng

‘Building ties for the 21st century’

Interview with Le Yucheng, Chinese Ambassador to India, who emphasises a new type of relationship with New Delhi that is based on win-win cooperation »