“I am a single man. The book is going to be my legatee,” says Robin Gupta as we settle down to talk about his memoirs, And What Remains In The End , the Rupa publication that was released Wednesday evening at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. For a man coming from a life of dry notes and files, Gupta has an excellent flair for words as he brings his extensive experience in the Civil Services between the covers. Writing in an autobiographical mode, the third generation former civil servant, who retired as the Financial Commissioner, Government of Punjab, takes us on an enriching ride through the cobwebs of bureaucracy, bringing out the good, the bad and the ugly, leaving the judgement to the reader. From his riveting interactions with Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Chaudhary Devi Lal, you could make out how the Indian Administrative Service is holding together a country as diverse as India. Both wanted control. One with procedure; the other simply didn’t care!
“Bhaskar Ghosh once divided the civil servants into three types: nuns, loyal wives and prostitutes, and I agree with him. Nuns are those who keep on doing what is right irrespective of who is in power; loyal wives are ones who pick one party and keep serving it and are ready to suffer for it as well. The prostitutes have no qualms about changing sides,” says Gupta, putting himself in the first category, whose number he says is diminishing. “Nuns have to suffer as well, but they also command respect and have a peaceful life at the end of the day.”
He agrees with what Ashok Khemka is doing but finds him a little publicity hungry. “Sometimes he reminds me of Kiran Bedi. If you can’t work in the system, leave it.” He says when he got his share of ‘punishment postings’, he devoted his time to his interests in writing and classical arts. “It is one service which gives you a full salary and perks even when your seniors expect you to do nothing!” he quips. A man who believes in meritocracy, Gupta says the reservation process is perverting the whole idea of emancipation of the underprivileged.
“Once when I was in the Health Department in Haryana, I de-reserved a post because the area needed more doctors and we had no candidate in the reserved category. I was almost impeached for my action.” As the General Manager of the Punjab Financial Corporation, he recalls, when he tried to weed out corruption by introducing computerisation, the babus and peons in the department cut off the lines. “Similarly, when I mooted a proposal to bring in private participation in the running of government hospitals in Haryana, a very senior leader asked, isse humein kya milega ?” Gupta says a bureaucrat needs to understand the compulsions of the politician as well. “All through my career I tried my best to engage both with the politician and the public in a constructive way.”
The greatest threat, he says, is the emerging nexus between the bureaucracy and the corporate houses. These days, Gupta notes, you can see all the stakeholders in a scam case working in cahoots and sharing a drink at the end of the day. “They don’t realise that all of it is not going to remain. This is what the title of the book is about. In Urdu, we have a beautiful word for it: fanaa .”
He says when the Lokpal Bill comes into effect, the civil servants will be more “careful” while clearing the files. As for the possibility of deliberate blocking for fear of retrospective effect, Gupta adds, “Probably, in some cases, it might happen.” He sees corruption as a societal problem. “People don’t clamour when they have a corrupt officer in the family. When they realise that a wrong is a wrong, only then things will really change.” He cites what he had often noticed while entering North Block from Gate No.4. “Liberty will not descend to a people. A people must raise themselves to liberty. It is a blessing that must be earned.”