Retired bureaucrats penning memoirs is rare in Rajasthan, and the ones who have ventured into such an area so far have avoided making comments on their one-time political masters. However, a recent book by a retired senior bureaucrat is an exception as, though briefly, in the concluding chapter he has assessed four Chief Ministers of the State.
“Commitment and Creativity Reminiscences of an IAS Officer” by P.N. Bhandari, a 1965 batch officer, talks of four Chief Ministers, all dead, starting with Mohan Lal Sukhadia and stopping at Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. There is only a passing reference to the present incumbent Ashok Gehlot.
There is no mention of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. This perhaps because Mr. Bhandari retired prior to her taking over in 2003.
Mr. Bhandari, who had a 36-year-long career during which he held various distinguished positions, including the chairmanship of the now unbundled Rajasthan State Electricity Board, positively and fondly recalls his working with them.
The author, who served as Collector of Udaipur and then Vice-Chancellor of Udaipur University, remembers Mr. Sukhadia as “a man of the masses, totally accessible to the people at large”.
“He was ever smiling. He was truly a great statesman and had a very good rapport even with the leaders in the Opposition,” says the author. The reference to Mr. Sukhadia's rapport with the Opposition would sound familiar for watchers of politics in Rajasthan, as Mr. Shekhawat not only fought and befriended the former in the initial years of his career but also picked up many tricks of the trade from him.
“He [Mr. Shekhawat] too was a man of the masses and had picked up many qualities from Mr. Sukhadia. I found that Mr. Shekhawat had excellent relationship even with the Leader of the Opposition. Notwithstanding the fiery debates in the Vidhan Sabha, there was no trace of any hostility or bitterness in their personal interaction,” Mr. Bhandari writes, and this aspect is in absolute contrast to the present situation in Rajasthan. The former bureaucrat has more eulogies for Mr. Shekhawat, who was later elected the country's Vice-President. “Mr. Shekhawat was a democrat to the core and never displayed any authoritarian touch in his working as Chief Minister,” he notes.
The book takes on two Congress Chief Ministers, Hari Deo Joshi and Shiv Charan Mathur, who were in power in the late 1970s and 1980s. The book depicts Mr. Joshi as a grim person though a sagacious administrator. “He rarely smiled. He was a man of few words. He was very decisive and his time-management was remarkable. He never wavered and decided matters in minutes…He would convey his views in the briefest possible way. Very often after returning from a meeting with him we would ponder over the signals behind his telegraphic directions.”
Mr. Mathur, two times Chief Minister and also former Assam Governor, is remembered as an articulate person who trusted his officials. “He was fond of recording lengthy notes on the files. He was very articulate both in Hindi and English,” notes Mr. Bhandari. “In spite of his personal views on certain matters he was flexible enough and was equally receptive to the contrary views also.”
For reasons known only to him, Mr. Bhandari skipped making an observation on Mr. Gehlot. In fact, this made Union Minister for Road Transport C.P. Joshi, who was present at the book launch, to comment that the author had “cleverly avoided” the subject.
Only a passing reference in the book says that soon after taking over as Chief Minister (in the first tenure) Mr. Gehlot called for Mr. Bhandari and made the observation that in public perception his (Mr. Bhandari's) reputation was of an “adamant officer”.