Civil servants meet 25 yrs after joining service
I write this column from the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, popularly known as the IAS academy A large number of us, from the batch of 1993, have returned to our alma mater to celebrate our silver jubilee
I write this column from the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, popularly known as the IAS academy. A large number of us, from the batch of 1993, have returned to our alma mater to celebrate our silver jubilee. At a personal level, there is a sweet sense of nostalgia, as we go back in time and look at the majestic building built more than 100 years ago for the Queen who was visiting India for her coronation in 1910 and couldn’t have stayed for long in hot and difficult Delhi. Her temporary guest house was then taken over by the Department of Personnel and Training and converted into one of the finest training institutions the world has seen.
It was with a sense of excitement that I remember having reached LBSNAA, on a cold and wet day, twenty-five years ago after a long train journey from Hyderabad to Delhi and an adventurous bus ride from Delhi to Dehradun and then another drive in a rickety minibus to the academy in Mussoorie. The atmosphere from day one was magical. Snow covered mountain peaks visible from the terrace in the dining room on one side and a daunting trek across a hill to the valley where we gathered for our morning physical training. It was tough getting up at 5 in the morning, in freezing temperatures. I had a most wonderful helper Ramlal, who would get me a bucket of hot water that I used to wash up quickly before it got cold.
Now there is fancy geyser in the bathroom with hot water running all day. We also have wifi connectivity, and therefore there is no need any more to run up the hill to post a letter at the post office. With cell phones available to all, there is also no queue at the STD booth at the reception where some of us gathered to call our parents and some to talk to their fiancé back home, preferably late at night to avail of the discounted tariff. Nothing else has changed; the lush green valleys, the playground, those fine horses, the shooting range and the not so well-equipped classrooms are exactly where they were. Though, I must admit that now they have fancy laptops and projectors with Microsoft PowerPoint, no longer relying on slow desktops and Harvard Graphics that we used to make our slides then.
However, what I am absolutely fascinated with is what I see among my batchmates. Most of them are now Principal Secretaries in various State Governments. The others are Joint Secretaries at the Centre. Those in the Police force are all Additional Director Generals or Senior Inspector Generals. Almost all in the Foreign Service are Ambassadors of various small countries; they will all go to more powerful positions in the next five years. Among those who quit, and that is about five of us, are top notch academics and consultants to the UN and the World Bank. All of them are now top decision makers, influencing policy, making large grants and disbursing thousands of crores of rupees.
Of course, everyone has matured and mellowed down from the youthful and exuberant gang I remember so well. The arguments are no longer as acerbic; the decibel levels are much lower. The idealism then has been replaced with a great deal of realism, and facts have displaced ideological stands among most. While there are a few who have been tainted by corruption charges and have been punished or acquitted, the majority have had blemish less careers. One batchmate is Chief Minister in Delhi and for obvious reasons could not join our alumni meet. Some of us are unhappy with his style of functioning but all of us extremely proud of his achievements.
We still end up talking of the same issues though. How do we fight rampant poverty? It was a burning issue then, it remains a serious challenge today. Environmental degradation, urban chaos, rural livelihoods, forest rights, gender discrimination…. all these issues concern us just as much today as they did then. The year we joined, the headlines were consumed by the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots. Strangely enough, after 25 years, we are still grappling with the same Ayodhya issue. A few officers then had justified the destruction of the mosque, now there is no one who does, though almost all are clueless about possible solutions.
Back then, the raging debate would be on whether India should be opening up its economy. The Manmohan Singh lead reform process had just started. Would this mean an end to the public sector? Will the role of the bureaucracy reduce? Will government intervention in the business and economy recede? Back then, there was divided opinion among us. Some felt India should not open up, should not allow foreign investment and should continue to favour domestic production. Now, there is near unanimity of the reform process. The Make in India slogan of the PM and his demonetisation drive seems to have very few admirers, but no one wants to discuss these topics.
There is also silence on the social disorder. Everyone is totally against lynching, mob violence and the atmosphere of hate, but is unwilling to place the blame where it belongs. These same men and women will go back to their offices now and over the next five to ten years steer the future of the country. I continue to have great faith in them, but I could be biased because of personal fondness for most of them.
They know they shoulder great responsibility as the country is transforming rapidly. Will they be able to perform their Constitutional duties and steer the nation through this turbulence, or will they be witness to the idea of India change at a fundamental level? While my faith in my group of batchmates remains intact, there is a nervous sense of optimism and dread. I look forward to writing about a similar meeting five years hence, when we celebrate our 30-year anniversary.
Amir Ullah Khan is a Development Economist and Mentor to the Challenger Civil Service Academy