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Friday, August 20, 2021

HOLLYWOOD DOES IT BETTER



Hollywood script writers have done way better than American policy planners and generals put together. The movies accomplish impossible missions , while the American administration not only leave their tasks unfinished , they create a huge lot of mess , leave behind their allies in the lurch ,and the believers in American superpower status in deep shit. But when it comes to cost, neither the Hollywood nor the USA worries about it , whether in terms of dollars or in terms of misery of the people whose human rights etc , etc , etc had beckoned American intervention in the first place .The US of A enters with a bang and exits with a whimper . It is by now accepted as the style statement of the super power. But their naivety is beyond imagination. Apologists say they have stitched a face saving exit by the treaty with Taliban; actually it was something much more precious they got away with, considering the predilection of the Taliban. Americans have been sleeping with Pakistan for ages and still they have not figured out whether it is their trusted “keep” or a two timing ally , their spy or a double agent.

To provide a historical context , Independence Day- a film made in 90s , is chillingly smug and self-assured in its basic assumption of the idea of a unipolar world of which America is the unquestioned leader .The experience that I was able to bring back from the viewing was an overwhelming sense of gratitude , that Americans were members of the human race and a reinforced belief that under the global leadership of America, we shall overcome even the more advanced extra-terrestrial monsters.

A satellite engineer detects a 3000 mile-wide mothership approaching the earth with none to friendly intention. Before an appropriate response could be mounted it has caused significant devastation and now America is threatened. Let that sink in- "America is threatened." It is decided that the lives of "more innocent American civilians' should not be risked". The President-a former fighter pilot dons his G-suit, helmet and gloves teams up with scientists and others who have reverse engineered the technology of the aliens to combat their design. After that it is all over. The Africans emerge then some seeming Arabs, a timely reminder that it is Americas burden to save these hapless creatures as well. Which war is unwinnable which difficulty insuperable if America is in forefront of the enterprise? Which cause, which treaty, which world order can be questioned if the Americans sponsor these? The President of America appropriately declares July 4-The American Independence Day as a day of commemoration for the entire planet which is just as well perhaps because America takes a decision and expects the world to ratify it.

Cut back to reality. James Reston, one of the most influential political commentator of his time in an interview with Paul Niven Of the National Educational Television described the American foray into Vietnam thus "(I was) worried whether we could really exercise our power all across the' Pacific Ocean...the big easy walking American kids...! saw the same kids walking in the elephant grass. They had gone to a strategy of searching the enemy and destroying him on his terms, in his country." This same millenary mission took them to the Desert Storm "we went…we didn't ask why-our country called and we felt proud".

It is the privilege of the homo Americanus to feel proud in whatever they do. Whether they rain napalm bombs on innocent civilian population or spread chemical defoliants in Vietnam or sow land mines like some malevolent tubers . To these immemorial events , we must now add some of its more recent humanitarian acts in the interest of saving democracy from non-existent WMDs . During the Iraq War, a squad of Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 civilians at Nisour Square, a traffic intersection in Bagdad. But it pales into insignificance before the much more heinous and culpable Haditha carnage. In 2005, a squad of U.S. Marines shot down 24 unarmed civilians ranging from age 3 to 76 , one of them was in a wheelchair, some still in their pyjamas in their bedrooms reviving brutalities memories of the My Lai massacre. No one, however , came to grief and even the squad leader, Staff Sergeant Frank D. Wuterich, was acquitted in a court martial. It needed telling in some detail because America keeps a very detailed account of all transgressions against Human rights all over the world.

But think what they might even the American might is worsted sometimes and they were forced to retreat from Vietnam , with as much good grace as they could, in a sticky situation. (They have overhauled this record in Afghanistan. In Vietnam there was a decent interval in the change of regime , Taliban did not even show them this courtesy).

To Hollywood now falls the task of redeeming their self-esteem which was denied them in history. Regular sorties are made in films like Lost In Action to rescue American soldiers who were taken prisoners of war by the mean and "yellow Asians." The likes of Sylvester Stallone finish the task of "destroying the enemy on his own terms in his own country", piecemeal. Unmindful of the historicity or the morality of the issues involved in Iraq , Afghanistan etc, the simplistic movies use conflict simply as a backdrop , as in Iron Man , or merely as a pretext for display of individual heroism in Lone Survivor . As an American film critic observed movies are becoming a way to create public memory.

In reality Americal also manipulates public memory. Taliban was once poison? It was the epicentre of global terrorism. Americans travelled 12,000 kms and hunted them for decades to make their homeland - and the world -safe from terrorism. In the end they departed in a spirit of bonhomie and making the gift of a fully fitted out modern military state. What happened in these twenty years? Those who know should have known, because America changes its views about worst offenders without notice.

Look at mainland China. It was not recognised by it, till 1979.As an entity it stood in the same category of political evil as Russia. Thanks to its ally Pakistan , America saw great possibilities in China. Its appalling record in human rights, organ harvesting, political executions, detention of the dissidents, and other unedifying activities suddenly ceased to matter. A well-crafted narrative made engagement not only acceptable but the Chinese isolation for so long look like a bit of a 'mistake. Mr Clinton who had squarely denounced George Bush for "coddling" to the Chinese leadership in the end decided “ Let us go and make our visit.”
The Chinese charmed the world by unrolling its Oriental pageantry at its best, something even Hollywood could be proud of , to make this event truly historic.This was a different kind of footage shot "live", but it exploited to the full the possibilities of what Umberto Eco calls "event as mise en scene and life a scene setting.' Mr. Clinton and Xiang clashed over human rights, as scripted , at Tieneman Square- the symbolism need not be lost - for the benefit of the audience back home. Clinton was fielded all the right questions at the Beijing University, and the host spared no effort to make "the democracy in Chinese village", that President Clinton saw appear credible to the rest of the world. This time round, in the interest of democracy global peace etc , America stooped to conquer the enemy, to capitulate to the enemy "in his own country on his own terms". China became wholly good.( The the process of revising the memory has been undertaken timidly. )

So are there any lessons to be learnt from Afghanistan, other than what Kissinger’s, which was not taken seriously. It is dangerous to be America’s enemy but to be its friend is fatal. To me there appear to be two: one , beware of the American bearing the gift of democracy. Two the moral capital of America is its dollar and if expenses in dollars mount , then saving dollars becomes a moral imperative greater than ushering in democracy. General Smedley Brown once said , “ The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.” The reverse is also true .If costs in dollars of a noble mission start mounting the American flag folds up ,retreats and the American soldiers follow their flag .

Sunday, August 1, 2021

AS ABOVE SO BELOW :HOW POLITICAL CONTROL OF POLICE IS THREATENING THE FEDERAL CHARACTER AND EVEN THE INTEGRITY OF THE NATION


There is nothing new to be said about our police forces , what was said fifty years ago or seventy years ago will hold good even today .Writing for The Indian Express two decades back I had said that “The growing ineffectiveness of state police forces in the face of powerful offenders creates a demand for CBI investigation, even in cases which are well within the professional and logistic competence of the state police. The CBI itself becomes eminently vulnerable to charges of bias once the affairs of the Central Government become the subject matter of enquiry. The state police forces are well on way to being reduced to a level where they will be good for nothing but ceremonial parades and watch and ward duties and a day may come when the CBI too may face an erosion of credibility. Who shall we turn to then? The Interpol, the FBI, or Scotland Yard?”
The moment of reckoning for the CBI seemed to have arrived . The family members of SSR sought the intervention of the Supreme Court to bring in the CBI . Then we are told members of SSR family seem to be distressed at the way CBI is investigating the case. What shall be done now?
The reiteration of the trite fact will help illuminate the dilemma of both police and the public. “The popular mind has a very straightforward and simple expectation from the police. It is that police should make itself useful to them in all sorts of circumstances. It is a demanding task. You cannot be useful to the victim and the offender, to the complainant as well as the accused, to the party in power and the ones in perpetual quest of wresting it, to the underprivileged and the powerful, all at the same time.” The only way in which police can navigate this situation is by remaining strictly neutral and following the dictates of law. Therein lies the rub. Police never was, nor is, the agent of law , it is the handmaiden of those who control it. The word has gotten around that those who bring to bear the most pressure on police win the day.
The organizational culture of police puts too much premium on their blind obedience of orders . Stanley Milgram, a management expert conducted a series of obedience experiments in Connecticut in 1961 and advanced a hypothesis that human beings have a natural tendency to obey men in authority and they will even stoop to needless brutality and inhumane treatment of their fellow beings should they feel so commanded by an authority. In the light of above findings we can better understand the conduct of the police force in which obedience is drilled in day in and day out. The senior police leadership of the day, and in days to come, need to be put through a crash course in disobedience to refuse to make the organization available to the dictates of political expediency. But who will do it?
One must also now admit the sad but inescapable fact that increasingly it is the criminality of various echelons of governments that often require to be investigated . The fate of political leaders holding responsible positions in governments sometimes depends on the outcome of the investigation of a criminal case. The manifest centrality of impartial investigation for the functioning of democracy can no longer be ignored . The political control of police is leading to unheard of situations. Police officers acting as flag bearers of their respective governments find themselves pitted against each other. In West Bengal it was the CBI vs local police , in the instant case an IPS officer from Bihar was incarcerated by BMC. But the worst instance of police the mistaken direction that police has taken is the exchange of fire and tragic death of police men.
“As above, so below” was one of the central tenets of the ancient hermetic philosophies – the world in which humans lived was a reflection of the glories of Heaven, but at the same time, the heavens were affected by what happened on the mortal Earth. The eternal truth, “as above so below”, holds good .

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Life In The Shadow of Covid


The decline of Covid cases to double digits ,in both Delhi and Bihar, signaled for me the opportunity to head for home.I booked my and my wife's tickets for Patna;a planned visit to Delhi for 18 days became a near permanent residency. I was under the absolute maternal care of my daughter and son in law ,and my two grandchildren but thoughts of how things might be at home never left me .
I arrived home to an uncertain welcome. The torrential rains thwarted the many attempts of the pilot to land at Patna ILS,notwithstanding.We got diverted to Varanasi and could land only after the weather at Patna had cleared .
The Covid figures have again started going up , from a low of 25 thousand sometime back to 43 thousand yesterday .Kerala accounted for more than 22 thousand of those 43 thourand , a state with less than 3 percent of the population toted up 50 % of the total number of new cases. Kerala, we are told is the most literate and progressive state. Its monitoring system was publicised as worthy of emulation. Maharashtra another standard bearer of modernity and prosperity has been consistently adding disproportionately large number of new cases .It is not in good taste to question these states. Only when poorer ,laggard states fumble , it becomes a matter of national concern . Meanwhile the two states keep the hope of an early third wave alive . Or has it already , as one report on twitter says?
Covid 19 has proved to be the greatest disruptor known to mankind in recent times. We, in India, looked for redemption in the heat of the scorching Indian summer; it was a virus of the colder climes, we told ourselves. But summer came , the way it always did, spent its fury in vain and made way for an uneventful rainy season. Covid 19, contrary to our hopes ,stood taller and firmer, if anything ,notching up new heights every day. The fabled Indian immunity, acquired by our long association with filth , dirt, lack of civic amenities , its familiarity with tuberculosis and measles did not seem to be giving us a free pass either. It was another one of those chimera which we had been pursuing!
Days passed by , seasons changed but we still had no idea how long would this ordeal continue. There seemed to be no end , no event , no hope in sight , only a paralysing sense of fear and foreboding : it could last a life time or go away in a year. Living and partly living, we pinned our hopes on 2021, in the upcoming Vaccine . Vaccine was the new redeemer!
But come 2021 and Covid 19 numbers petered off. And up surged the self-esteem of our leaders, like ink to the nib. Some needless frontier bravado and avoidable chest thumping at having defeated the disease percolated down to the grass root levels. A wave of mass delusion swept the country and people let down their guard. In The Plague in the city of Oran had similar delusions, “Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences”
The virus bounced back with vigour and redoubled ferocity, as if to mock the vanity of human agents. While we are getting the logistic right ,we had overtaken as world leaders, notching up a figure of more than 4 lacs per day and rising . The surreality of dead bodies being cremated on pavements foregrounded our fears of an apocalypse. Those who tried to wish it away realised that , “A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions” . Not even to a super man’s measure , one may add. The redeemer vaccine was way off in the future and has now started trickling down. The redemption had been postponed We are still bobbing up and down the second wave, but at our backs we already hear the winged chariot of the third wave hurrying near. If we are able to vaccinate a large number of people soon enough, we may open a window for some fresh air to get into our lives. We are clinging to that hope, desperately . We hope to live a little between the second and the third wave because Covid like “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”
I guess, “That is how life will have to be: with happiness and moments of delight when all goes well, but with the threat hanging there—life set between parentheses.” as Simone de Beauvoir says in Adieu. Like the proverbial mice , we will play a while, till a fresh Covid wave sends us scurrying behind masks and for cover in our homes

Sunday, July 25, 2021

A few lines of Brecht in Hindi Translation

I guess receptivity to a particular poem, or even some lines, also depends on the mood of the moment . The most sublime poetry may sometime pass you by but something by its sheer topicality may arrest your attention. Here are a few lines of a long poem by Brecht “To those who have been brought into line," which I have read several times, appealed to me disproportionate to its poetic worth. I translated it in Hindi for a larger audience.
“They describe
The fearful misdeed as something as unremarkable as the rain
Also as unpreventable as the rain.
So, by way of their silence, they lend support to
The criminals, but soon
They will notice that in order not to lose their bread
They must not only remain silent about the truth, but also
Tell the lie. Not ungraciously
The exploiters embrace those who are prepared
“Not to lose their bread.
They do not go along like men corrupted
For they have not been given anything, rather
Nothing has yet been taken from them.
When the eulogist
Rising from the table of the powerful, opens wide his mouth
And you can see between his teeth
The remains of the meal, then you listen
To his speech with scepticism.
The exploiters embrace those who are prepared
But the eulogy of him
Who but yesterday reviled the powerful and was not invited to the victory banquet
Weighs heavier.
प्रस्तुत है इसका अनुवाद , कैसा लगा बताइयेगा .
कितनी सहजता से वे बयां करते हैं
उन भयानक कृत्यों को मानो बरसात का बरसना हो
मानो आम सी कोई घटना हो , वैसी ही अनिरोध्य ।
पर जल्द ही महसूस होने लगता है उन्हें कि अपराधियों का चुप्पा
सहयोग नाकाफी है अपनी रोज़ी रोटी बचाने के लिए ।
सिर्फ चुप्पी से काम नहीं चलेगा झूठ बोलना लाज़िमी है. ।
बहुत शालीनता से शोषक अपना लेते हैं उन्हें
जो तैयार है रोटी की कीमत चुकाने को।
चलते भी हैं वो सर उठाकर पाक साफ़ की तरह
उनके दामन पर भ्रष्टाचार का दाग नहीं ,
न उन्हें कुछ पाया , न ही उन्होंने कुछ गवायाँ
लेकिन जब चारण स्तुति गान करता है
तो उसके दांतों में फँसे हुए भोजन के अवशिष्ठ खोल देते है भेद
समर्थ लोगों के टेबल पर दावत में सहभागिता का ।
उसके वक्तव्य खो देते है विश्वसनीयता , अनायास।
लेकिन कलतक जो कोसते थे ,
विजय भोज का न्योता न पाकर .
उनकी स्तुति कुछ ज्यादा ही वजनदार होती है.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

POLICE REFORM IN A NUTSHELL

A couple of days ago I heard a retired IPS officer delivering a lecture , well researched , all the facts and figures on his fingertips, he looked east and west, gathered the best practices from USA and Japan , as models to emulate , suggested ways to harness science and technology to the service of better policing. In every such lecture the words of generations of police men and scholars are modified, revised, updated by those who come after them. It is generally believed that the police reform is an idealist problem of knowledge . Only if we knew then we would. In my younger days I also used to write for many newspapers. Like everyone else I believed that Police would be reformed . It is not so .Close to forty years in the IPS disabused me of this notion altogether. It will need considerable elaboration but I am not going to do that today.
People often ask me, as indeed they should, why are the police the way they are, hostile to people, lawless and uncaring? Depending on my mood of the moment, I tell them that police is not for those who pose such a silly question. Police is for those to whom this question never occurs. This gnomic answer either befuddles them and they clam shut or seek further clarification. Again, subject to my whims or vagaries of weather, I put a counter question: have you ever found his majesty the President of India, the PM of India, the CM of states, holders of capital, merchant bankers, complaining about police? You hear only good things about the police from any government, every government, even after its police have indulged in killing, looting, unabashed atrocities on the weaker sections. It is – has been -ideal for their purpose, for every government that has been or yet to come. Why should they reform it?
After forty years in the Indian police service if I were to give my opinion about police reform, I would keep simple : Indian police needs an Indian pill. It is no longer a matter of the much talked about nexus of crime and politics, criminality of many governments themselves is a sad, but inescapable, fact of our lives. Police officers have to internalize the fact that they are the agents of law and they - especially the IPS officers - must incorporate the habit of firmly saying “no”to illegal orders, not as a one-time act of heroism and valour but as a reflex response. Police officers seem to have forgotten this all important lesson that saves the rule of law from degenerating into rule of men.
When I find Singhams-the new breed of police officers- sprouting like mushrooms on the Facebook , their brave deeds recounted by some similar breed of journalist , I begin to wonder whether there is a nexus between deteriorating law and order and the rise of Singhams. I am reminded of the interesting observation, which many claim is based on scientific facts , “the louder the monkey, the smaller the balls.”

Sunday, July 11, 2021

No i'll not take half of anything

This is certainly not the best of Yevtushenko’s  poems but for some inexplicable reason  reading it last night, I was swept off my feet . I read it several times and then translated it in Hindi to  see if it tastes different. You may tell me , without being unduly insulting , how much of the flavour has been lost in translation. Mind you it is a translation of a translation  

No I’ll not take half of anything..

No, I'll not take the half of anything!

Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!

Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches-

All these are mine! I'll accept no less!

No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.

Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!

I don't want happiness by halves,

Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

Yet there's a pillow I would share,

Where gently pressed against a cheek,

Like a helpless star, a falling star,

A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Translated by George Reavey

कल रात येवितेशेन्को  की  उपर्युक्त अंग्रज़ी में अनूदित  कविता मन  को  छू  गयी. सोचा  इसे हिंदी में बांचते है शायद कुछ और रस  आये। इसलिए इसका अनुवाद - अनुवाद का अनुवाद - कर डाला।   पेशे खिदमत है।  आप  बताएँगे कि कैसा बन पडा  है. 

फितरत नहीं  मेरी आधा अधूरा लेने   की ,कुछ भी 

देना है तो दे  दो  मुझे पूरा का पूरा आसमान ,पूरी धरती जहाँ तक है इसका  फैलाव 

सारे  समुद्र और  सभी  नदियां, पर्वत और उसके   हिमस्खलित अंश 

सब हुए   मेरे  ,इस से कम कुछ भी स्वीकार्य  नहीं है मुझे। 

सुन ऐ  ज़िन्दगी , अधूरी तुम मुझे लुभा नहीं सकती 

ज़िन्दगी हो तो भरपूर नहीं तो कोई  परवाह  नहीं 

मुझे न तो  अधूरी ख़ुशी चाहिए न ही अधूरा ग़म 

हाँ एक तकिया साझा कर सकता हूँ.  

हलके से गाल में गाल सटाकर,

अनायास, एक  असहाय टूटकर गिरते तारे की चमक 

तुम्हारी ऊँगली  की एक अंगूठी में जगमगाती है।


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

या दिल की सुनो दुनिया वालों , या मुझको अभी चुप रहने दो , मैं ग़म को ख़ुशी कैसे कह दूँ , जो कहते हैं उनको कहने दो।

Facebook removed a post of mine on the covid crisis sometime back because it had violated some community guidelines.( whatever that may mean but Facebook claims to know what is best for the community interest )The censored post was more in the nature of anguished musings, a rhapsody meditation, a Crie de Coeur on the moral deliquescence of our society. I rued my sense of utter helplessness- and erumpent anger at the gross mismanagement – as well as my inability to make one bit of difference to the lives of people in distress, who made desperate calls for help in this hour of national crisis. The post was removed within minutes and Facebook warned me that I had violated community guidelines . The tone of the admonishment was indulgent, it said people do commit mistakes, but should I persist! I was not surprised, I did not take umbrage . Facebook is the new opium, and I know how the west had turned oriental addiction to good account in the past . History records that East India Company had come to trade and took control of our lives. It seemed so natural, that I almost ridiculed myself for the first impulse to quit Facebook as a bit of theatrical excess.
The custodians of the representation of reality in a society view themselves in exclusively political terms and they are intolerant of any other reality that is inconsistent with the official account of things . That is why dispensations where only a single reality holds sway, writers are reduced to silence by expulsions, arrests, or by simply being cut-off from all realities for good. Capitalist and communist systems may appear to be hostile and mutually exclusive but they appear to be united in abusing their power in silencing dissent .
But why should ordinary people, people who haltingly and hesitantly string together a few words for the consumption of a few friends be a matter of concern to authorities? Do they seem to believe what Simon de Beauvoir says in her autobiography Adieu that “there are always words of this kind, thrown out absent-mindedly, which are like the absent-minded smoker’s match in some forest…and which set the whole lot ablaze.” In their anxiety they exaggerate the potential of idle musings of insignificant people. Don’t worry Facebook we are not only non combustible , we are inert matter.
The linguist Dan Jurafsky writes of a phenomenon called semantic bleaching, in which words, most often in the affective realm, lose their power with the passage of time, or as George Orwell says because of the lies that they are made to convey. The “awe” fades from “awesome” and the horror is drained out of “horrible” . A tragic spectacle loses its tragedy and remains merely a spectacle. I am reading and hearing a lot of things about my beloved state of Bihar, but unfortunately I am very bad at semantic bleaching . All that I can say is या दिल की सुनो दुनिया वालों , या मुझको अभी चुप रहने दो , मैं ग़म को ख़ुशी कैसे कह दूँ , जो कहते हैं उनको कहने दो।

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Courting Sleep

Putting me to sleep is a job much harder than many would imagine . Before the Gods condemned Sisyphus to his arduous task of rolling a stone uphill, they had suggested him the option of singing me to sleep . Obviously he found the other option easier. So I have to perform this arduous task myself , every day, day after day ,because a night comes after every day . If I were a king, half my kingdom would have been up for grabs for any one who could put me to sleep. But the entire kingdom to someone who could make it last seven hours, at a stretch . I think after having tasted this state of Nirvana I would not want a Kingdom. I would be a happy mendicant gambolling in grass skirts . Having read Raja Radhika Raman’ Daridranarayan I always thought sleeplessness is inevitably accompanied with the gift of a crown .‘Taaj ke tale neend kahan,’ or that English proverb ‘ uneasy lies the head that wears a crown .’ I think in years to come fables and fairy tales are going to be written about me- a man condemned to double jeopardy . No crown and no sleep either.
As I said, last night I had counted all the sheep that were available to be counted . I started with my own country but considering sleep was still miles away and the Covid diplomacy had bombed so badly , I thought it will be a good gesture to win some brownie points for India , my India , with some census diplomacy . I decided to keep the clumsy MEA buggers out of the loop. In the stealth of the night I , or my mind ,crept through international borders . All the sheep in China , Australia , Sudan , Mongolia , New Zealand were now accounted for .Heck , no , but the goal to which this fruitless labour was hitched was still nowhere in sight . My eyes were wider and seeing much further in the dark . So I thought why not make a global census , leave no sheep uncounted . I quietly chuckled to myself that I will set the gold standard for the WHO fellows- leave no one unvaccinated. The task was done no sooner than conceived . Clueless , I looked for advice to Billy Crossby, an American poet , and went for the wild beasts , camels , skylarks , then all the animals in the zoos and aquariums. The task finished I took a jaw shattering yawn but the problems and thoughts which nagged me throughout the day were still lurking . “Give me a break “, I beseeched my nagging suspicion that Covid 19 was an unintended product of the gain of function research that was being carried at the Wuhan research laboratory and there was something fishy about it . Now what? Go on a hitch hiking mission to the galaxy looking for Gryphons, Sphinx, Minotaur, Taurs , Draconope ,Echidnam Mermaids, Sirens. Or go hunting Snarks ,
Fortunately I had a sottisier of remarks which needed mature cogitation .I had top politicians, PMs, eminent historians , intellectuals . scientists lined up. A wise general had just said that, “ The IAF is a support arm , just like the artillery of engineers,” had also been agitating my mind .There were
other conundrums which had defied hours of contemplation during my waking hours. Why not try to crack them now? Randomly I alighted on a remark which has been attributed to a certain gentleman . “ India is a beehive . China is an elephant. A beehive is stronger than elephant . So India is a super power.” I am very poor at analytical reasoning , I have not made a formal study of logic , I am weak in rhetoric but I tried my best to limber up to this nimble mind jumping from a beehive to the back of an elephant and declaring form that vantage point that India is a super power. I put it aside gently for deliberation after I had equipped myself better .I failed to deconstruct the second one also, “Dalit community needs the escape velocity of Jupiter to achieve success.” This was far above me and got clubbed with the other unsolved riddle of mathematics propounded by another genius . “We are the 2ab of a+b2 +2ab” . This third one was little less opaque , I was getting the connection between milk and women but no further “ Gujrat ko agar kisine khada Kiya hai ,to woo Gujrat ki mahila hai. Gujrat ko agar kisine amul Diya hai, Dudh Diya hai to woo Gujrat ki mahila hai . “ But I never knew someone could describe my state of sleeplessness as well as this . “This morning, I woke up at night.” The last that I can report is that I got up at around 11 AM . My wife was violently shaking me : Get up .And what is this that you have been uttering ‘get me some dhotis , get me some dhotis. I hate politics.” On my laptop, the wise man’s last remark was still there. “There is politics in your shirt , politics in your pant.” I guess this had lulled me in a state of absolute stupefaction which my wife mistook for sleep.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

FREEDOM AT AFTERNOON

A REPRISE ITEM
Exactly nine years ago I retired from service. I wrote this post celebrating that event .
Freedom at Afternoon
The question that is being asked of me by many of my well wishers, friends and admirers is how do I feel, now that I have retired. Well, to be honest serving for close to four decades in one of the most coveted services of the country has many disadvantages. You tend to forget the use of your limbs. There is someone connecting and picking up the phone for you, you are driven around, your engagements, your tour, and your other quotidian worries- from filing tax return to paying your utility bills- are someone else’s concern. In higher echelons of the government someone even thinks your thought for you. You just have to be! After you retire all that elaborate support system, all those rites of pride and protocol disappear. It is like someone who does not how to swim , is thrown into the sea without a lifebelt. Or you are left to navigate in a totally unfamiliar city. Many of us tend to show unmistakable withdrawal symptoms. Jostling for paying electricity bills, or booking a railway ticket (if you are not into net transaction) doing things as others not so spoilt do, can make you maladjusted for a while. I was warned – not that I could not see it for myself –but I had some more worries.
To add to the standard quota of uncertainties of a retiring officer, I have been trying to renovate my house to make it livable. It was empty for quite some time. It is no point trying to explain the hazards and the frustration of such an activity to someone who has not undertaken such an expedition himself. There are so many liars, thugs and swindlers in this line of business that it can easily turn you into a misanthrope. All in all, my prospect in the near future looked like a perfectly scripted plot for a black, neurotic drama! Anticlimactically, it is my date of retirement that kept me buoyed up, gave me hope and sustenance. And when it actually came it was such a relief! All the uncertainties did stare me in the face as it does any one of us. The prospect of my house becoming livable had receded a few more weeks into the future. But hell is a relative habitation. The comfort zone that I seem to have left behind was no comfort for me given that so many knives were out for me and danger seemed to be lurking at every corner.
So much has happened in the dying years of my service, so many distressing things-vilification, show cause, disciplinary proceeding, supersession, a criminal case and much more- that they remind me of Lenin’s famous remark about politics, “There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." It was only God’s infinite grace that I survived several attempts to frame me up in order to harm me in my career and ruin my reputation. I have never considered the denial of opportunities, postings, medals, etc as acts of disfavour because the government giveth and the government taketh away. (For the record, I was overlooked for the post of DGP on four occasions and I have retired in a lower grade of pay than officers four years my junior. I never even made a grievance of it.) But my reputation is not a matter of an executive fiat, or a government notification; it has been hard earned and paid for in hard currency of an unwavering faith in the values of probity in public life. The worst thing is that on every occasion personal malice was dressed up as considered government decision. Since an officer cannot challenge every order in a court of law, the government can play havoc with his life and career. I felt like the French philosopher who spoke during disturbingly unsettled times in France, “If today I were to be accused of having stolen the Church of Notre Dame I would have no option but to run away from France.”
Now that I am past the hump , all these precious years of my life which vaguely leaked away in worries and anxieties seem but like a transient twitch. I am in a celebratory mood reveling in my migration from the ranks of Helots – Helots were a class of people halfway between slaves and citizens in ancient Sparta-to that of an independent citizen. This freedom is worth years of the lives of any number of tongue tied, terrorized and fear stricken civil servants. Like any liberated serf I am going to exploit to the utmost my freedom to speak my mind. Earlier on my conversations with the government were subject to conduct rules, elaborate courtesy, and the unbreakable code of never mentioning facts that could bring disrepute to the government however disreputable its conduct. Never to speak truth to power except in such a term that the unpalatable truth became an error of your own judgment. (I violated that rule on several occasions and paid the price for it. So we are quits!) In fact, when I was addressing the Home guards who had lined up for inspection on the eve of my farewell parade on the 30th of June at Bihta I kept concentrating hard so that I did not shout from the podium itself : azadi , azadi azadi. Decades of conditioning, however, was a surer guarantee and my uniformed self behaved exactly as it was supposed to.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

MODEST PRPOSALS 8


Shoring up the national economy
On being constantly egged by Facebook "What is on your mind, " sometime back I made a capital suggestion- Beheading the Heads-about improving the quality of our political leaders. Upfront I must admit, I am deeply moved by such solicitations, especially if it comes from owners of capital like Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, who make their pile out of our collective mind dumps, but I do not remember having ever paid the traffic signal beggar a single rupee. Curse me, if you will, but I am not going to explain to you today why I do what I do because there are more urgent things on my mind. National interest!!!!
There was a time when I regularly wrote Proposals in a news paper – they are on my blog - to help the nation chart a path to prosperity etc. Modest as I am , I could not but call them Modest Proposals. I never knew my unmindful act , or sloth or laziness in ceasing to write this column would lead nation to the precipice of disaster. I woke up to this fact, thanks to the blog of a friend , who has diligently quoted data signaling economic distress. Facebook is for me what his bathtub was for Archimedes, so I sit fully clothed. Ideas in their breathtaking originality and atrociousness present themselves to me, all that I must do is catch them as they float past my mind. And once I am in the throes of this kind of thinking in national interest, I have dreams, hallucinations, reveries. In my Edward Kekule moment – Edward Kekule discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake swallowing its own tail -I found the solution to boost the sagging economy. Before you question my locus standi, let me tell you straight away, there are only two other economists in this country who share my unimpeachable credentials. Their talents have been recognised : one of them has become the finance minister of the country , the other one is now the governor of Reserve Bank of India. The performance of the economy has established it as an undeniable fact that those who have never studied economics are best suited to handle finance . I know my time will come to help pull the economy by its bootstraps because I know no economics . But in the meanwhile as a patriot I offer my proposal without expectation of rewards .
My heart leaps up to behold everything, just about everything available for a price in accordance with the dharmic rule of supply and demand . From mercenaries to fight your wars to media men to sing in your praise , from spies to siphon off enemy secrets to saints to offer you regular benediction, influencers , idiots, intellectuals , imbeciles politicians , pimps are sold and bought on a daily basis. The utopia of the globalised market has arrived ! If a poor man buys bread for subsistence he is taxed, if someone travels for pleasure or in pain to get better medical treatment he is taxed, if he buys something as essential as house he is taxed but when a politician is bought or sold-it is called horse trading – when a media man goes under the hammer, even idiots,imbeciles , and other bird brained creatures are paid to tweet why are these transaction kept outside the tax net. When politicians are sold like goods , traded in like commodities, if mergers and acquisitions of political parties – six MPs, a whole party was recently acquired -take place to maximise electoral advantage , why should this transaction take place outside the net of GST ? Soldiering thought Balzac is chiefly a financial undertaking. You need gold to do battle, and you need to do battle to get gold. For coming to power instead of soldiering now you do politics: you need gold to do politics and you need to do politics to get gold. What could be a more convincing definition of politics as a commercial activity?
The government is ever ready to augment its revenue but has not even looked at this huge opportunity . So here is my proposal : politicians ( I am restricting myself to politics as pilot project)who want to change their allegiance must register their intention with the Election Commission . The lack of secrecy around his intent give the owner the chance to arrive at a deal with those who intend to sell themselves. He can put himself under the hammer and the highest auctioneer will claim him . The buyer, the seller , and the party which acquires shall be liable to pay a standard tax of 33.33 percent . Thus the government will get a tax equal to the actual sale / purchase price. There should be a time limit – say , if the thing sold wants to be sold again within a stipulated period , say the very next day , a week or fortnight – I would favour fortnight in the interest of political stability - the parties to the transaction will have to pay double the amount of tax. Thus those who want to cause political instability by too frequent transfers will have to indemnify the people by means of the punitive tax.
My radical proposal to allow capitalists to bid for governments wholesale instead of the cumbersome business of their cronies and proxies being hammered, er going down under the hammer so frequently .But I think Indians prefer gradualism rather than revolutionary solutions , so I will watch with interest the outcome of this bit of reform.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

दारुण दुविधा में एक देश

दारुण दुविधा में एक देश
'आओ बच्चों आज मैं तुम्हे दूर देश की एक कहानी सुनाता हूँ." "बहुत दूर की ? " "हाँ बहुत दूर की , लेकिन लगेगी तुम्हे बड़ी जानी पहचानी सी. " "आपने भी तो किसी से सुनी होगी , अंकल - ज़बानी ? या शायद किताबों में रही होगी यह कहानी. " बिलकुल यही कहानी तो नहीं लेकिन हाँ इस का प्रेरणा स्रोत है कोई इतालवी। जानोगे नाम उसका - इटालो कल्वीनो। पर छोड़ो इन बातों को , ये बातें हैं बिलकुल बेमानी. ध्यान से सुनो और मन ही मन इन प्रश्नों का मनन करो - क्या एक अकेला चना भाँड़ फोड़ सकता है ?" क्या एक सड़ा सेव पूरी टोकरी के सेवों को सड़ा सकता है ? क्या दोनों प्रश्नों के उत्तर हाँ हो सकते हैं ? आराम से बैठो , कोई कोना पकड़ लो , अगर कुर्सी पर हो तब तो कुर्सी मत छोड़ो। पर कोई भी जगह मिले तो कोशिश करके पसर जाओ.
" एक देश था। उस देश में सभी चोर थे। सब कुछ बड़े सुचारु रूप से चलता था। गाड़ियां चलती थी , नाव चलते थे , बड़े बड़े जहाज चलते थे। कभी कभार लात जूते भी चल जाते थे लेकिन अमूमन लोग अपने धंधे में लिप्त मिलजुलकर बड़े सुख और संतोष से रहते थे। रात होते ही सभी हाँथ में टॉर्च और बड़ा सा झोला लेकर निकल पड़ते थे अपने काम पर- चोरी करने। हर चोर अपने पडोसी के घर चोरी करता और सबेरे घर आ जाता। अंतिम घर वाला पहले घर वाले के घर चोरी कर लेता था। सरकार जनता के घरों से चोरी कर लेती थी। जनता अपनी बुद्धि एवं हिकमत के अनुसार सरकार से भी चोरी कर लेती थी. मिथ्या आचरण या मूर्ख बनाकर ठग लेना भी व्यापार का अभिन्न अंग था। ठगी ,धोखाधड़ी जैसे शब्द उनके शब्दकोष में नहीं थे इसलिए ये सब साधारण व्यवहार ,भ्रष्टाचार और सदाचार में कोई फर्क नहीं था । सबकुछ ठीक ठाक चल रहा था। बहस का कोई मुद्दा नहीं था इसलिए लोगों में बैर भी नहीं था.
"एक दिन उस देश में कहीं से एक आदमी आया , आदमी इसलिए कि वह देखने में बिलकुल आदमी की तरह लगता था : दो हाँथ , दो पैर , दो आँखे। बिलकुल आदमी की तरह.पैर में पतलून , धड़े में कमीज जैसे आम आदमी पहनते हैं. " अब आगे भी बढ़ो न अंकल , क्या आदमी देख कर हम नहीं पहचान सकते। आदमी की परिभाषा बता रहे हो.?" " अरे जाहिलों मैं तुम्हारी कहानी नहीं कह रहा हूँ न , मैं उस दूर देश की कहानी कह रहा हूँ. लेकिन देश वासियों को जल्दी ही पता चलगया कि वह आदमी बड़ा अजीब है । सबेरे से शाम तक तो वह गायब रहता लेकिन शाम में घर आ जाता और खा पीकर किताबें पढ़ता , संगीत सुनता और जब नींद आ जाती तो सो जाता। अन्य लोगों की तरह वह रात में टॉर्च ओर झोला लेकर काम पर नहीं निकलता. लिहाज़ा अब इस श्रृंखला में उसके घर में रात में चोरी करने का जिसका अधिकार बनता था इस अवसर से वंचित हो गया. जिसने चोरी नहीं की वह समय से पहले घर लौट आता जिससे उसके घर चोरी नहीं हो सकती थी । इसका एक डोमिनो इफ़ेक्ट यह हुआ कि चोरी पर स्थापित व्यवस्था में देश के सारे कार्य कलाप ठप्प हो गये। लोगों ने सोचा नया आया है , सीख जाएगा। लेकिंन जब एक सप्ताह हो गया और बिना किसे के किसी के घर चोरी किये तो देश की अर्थ व्यवस्था डगमगाने लगी ।
देशवसियों का एक शिष्ट मंडल उस परदेसी के घर घर पहुंचा और उससे उसके इस विचित्र व्यवहार का कारण पूछा . 'भैय्ये , आप तो बिलकुल हम लोगों की तरह ही दीखते हो , सब कुछ तो वैसा ही है , फिर क्यों हमलोगों के ज़िन्दगी में ज़हर घोल रहे हो। न चोरी करते हो , न चोरी करने देते हो।" उस अजनबी को पहले तो कुछ समझ में नहीं आया क्योंकि विशुद्ध चोरी पर स्थापित इस साम्यवादी व्यवस्था को वह समझ नहीं पा रहा था। पर जब उसे यह बात समझ में आई तो उसने फ़ौरन अपनी रातें बाहर बिताने का वादा किया जिससे देश के लोगों के काम काज में दखल न पड़े । लेकिन उसने स्वयं चोरी करने से साफ़ मना कर दिया क्योंकि वह ईमानदार था . लोग आपस में फुसफुसाने लगे " मैं न कहता था कहीं कुछ गड़बड़ है. " उसने बहुत समझाने की कोशिश की कि ईमानदारी क्या होती है लेकिन जहाँ बेईमानी और धोखाधड़ी शब्द ही न हो वहां ईमानदारी का मतलब समझाना कठिन हो जाता है. बहरहाल देश की व्यवस्था बहाल करने की गरज से वह अब नियमित रूप से रात में बहार जाने लगा। वह किसी और के घर चोरी करके अपना घर नहीं भर रहा था उत्तरोत्तर उसकी आर्थिक स्थिति बिगड़ने लगी और उसपर आश्रित चोर एक दिन बिलकुल खाली हाँथ लौटा क्यों कि वह अब निपट निर्धन और विपन्न हो चुका था। परन्तु जिस के घर उसे चोरी करने जाना था उसके पास एक बड़ी पूँजी का मालिक बन बैठा . धीरे धीरे एक खुशहाल देश जिसकी अर्थव्यवस्था की मिसाल दी जाती थी , लड़खड़ाने लगी. लोगों में श्रम के प्रति जो सम्मान का भाव था वह समाप्त होने लगा , कोई गरीब , कोई अमीर होने लगा. रात में में पूरी निष्ठा और सौहार्द्र के साथ सब काम पर जाते थे और सबकी आय सुनिश्चित थी परन्तु अब अनिश्चितता का माहौल हो गया। राज्य में बेरोज़गारी,काहिलपन तथा घोर असंतोष का माहौल हो गया. सरकारी ख़ज़ाने की स्थिति भी नाज़ुक हो गयी।
सरकार ने फौरन जांच समिति बैठाई। समिति को इस कुव्यवस्था का मूल जाननें में बिलकुल समय नहीं लगा. आम राय बनी कि वही अजनबी इस सब के लिए जिम्मेवार है। समिति के सदस्य जब उसके घर पहुंचे तो वह अंतिम सांसे गिन रहा था। लगातार भूख और कुपोषण से उसके शरीर का ढांचा अस्थि पंजर बनकर रह गया था फिर भी उसने समिति के साथ यथा संभव सहयोग किया। समिति की जांच चल ही रही थी की यह अफ़वाह चल पड़ी कि देश की अर्थव्यस्था चौपट कर अराजकता फैलाकर राजा को अपदस्थ करने की साजिश का भंडाफोड़ हो गया है। लोग धीरे धीरे उसके घर में जुटने लगे। आरोपित का बयान चल रहा था। उस की काया तो सूखकर कांटा हो चुकी थी परन्तु उसकी आवाज़ में एक खनक थी जो इस देशवासियों को कुछ को विचित्र ढंग से उत्प्रेरित, और कुछ को भयाकुल करने लगी। उसकी बात में कुछ ऐसा वजन था कि लोग चोरी से इतर किसी व्यवस्था पर सोचने के लिए विवश होने लगे। बात हवा की तरह फैलने लगी. राजे के कारिंदे और कारकूनों ने उसे फ़ौरन आतंकवादी करार दिया। फायरिंग स्क्वाड ने उसे तत्काल गोली से उड़ा दिया। जनता को सही सन्देश देने की नीयत से जहाँ देश के अन्य महापुरुषों की मूर्ती लगी थी, वहीँ उसकी भी , चेहरा काला कर , एक मूर्ती लगा दी गयी। मीडिया ने देश की जनता को आसन्न खतरे के तहत और सावधानी बरतने की अपील क्योंकि ईमानदार आतंकवादी देखने में आम आदमी की तरह ही लगता था सिर्फ उसके इरादे देश काल के हित में नहीं थे।
पुरानी व्यवस्था फिर से बहाल हो गयी. खस्ताहाल जनता पुनः मालमाल हो गयी। सब कुछ पहले से भी ज्यादा सुचारू रूप से चलने लगे । फटे पुराने नोट, बंद पड़े बिजली के पंखे,सरकारी मिल,हृदयघात से मरीज़ों के लगभग निष्क्रिय हो चुके दिल सब अनायास चलने लगे। कुछ समय तक तो सबकुछ ठीक ठाक चलता रहा। देश में बड़ी बड़ी मूंछों वाले रोबीले महापुरुषों की मूर्तियों पर दक्षता दिवस के दिन माल्यार्पण का चलन था. एक कोने में काला मुँह वाला कृशकाय ईमानदार पुतला भी खड़ा था. कुछ अधिक उत्साही लोग उसे एक आध जूते भी लगा देते। धीरे धीरे एक नयी पीढ़ी परवान चढ़ी जिसे इस काले मुंह वाले पुतले के बारे में कुछ भी मालूम न था। महापुरुषों के जीवन चरित्र एवं उनकी चोरी चकारी के लोमहर्षक किस्से तो पाठ्यपुस्तकों का हिस्सा थे लेकिन यह काले मुंह वाले पुतला कौन था ? एक अत्यंत बूढ़े नागरिक ने उन्हें इस काले पुतले की कहानी सुनाई। अब सब नवयुवकों ने उसे घेर लिया। उनके इस प्रश्न का कि 'क्या चोरी पर आधारित व्ययवस्था का कोई विकल्प भी है ' उसके पास कोई उत्तर न था. तब तक कुछ अन्य शहरी भी आ गए और उन्होंने उस बूढ़े को तो कस कर डांट लगायी ही युवकों को भी सलाह दी कि फिज़ूल की बातों में पड़ कर अपना समय न बर्बाद करें।
लेकिन खुराफात तो हो चुकी थी. बहुतों को यह बात कुरेदने लगी थी - क्या सचमुच? जो बातें आपस में कहीं कोने , किनारे में होती थी , धीरे धीरे खुले आम चर्चा की जाने लगी। लोग बहस करने लगे। युवा तो युवा कुछ प्रौढ़ , अनुभवी लोग भी ईमानदार, ईमानदारी , सदाचार भ्रष्टाचार जैसे निषिद्ध , विस्मृत शब्द का प्रयोग करने लगे . ज़िन्दगी फिर से बहाल तो हो गयी लेकिन जो कॉम पहले शुद्ध अंतःकरण से निःशंक होकर करते थे उसे ही करने में अब एक अजीब खटका लगा रहता है।पूरा का पूरा पहाड़, सारा का सारा जंगल, कई पीढ़ियों का भविष्य चुरा लेने वालों दिग्गजों का भी छोटी मोटी चोरियां करने में आत्मविश्वास डगमगाने लगा। अपने आप से डरे हुए लोग काम पर जाते। बहुत लोगों को महसूस होने लगा कि उनके अंदर कोई बैठा हुआ है । इस बीच किसी ने यह अफवाह उड़ा दी कि महापुरुषों की समाधी स्थल से काले पुतले की अट्टहास की भी आवाज़ आती है। सरकार ने उस मूर्ती को विखंडित कर रातोरात समुद्र में विसर्जित करा दिया।लेकिन बात कुछ बनी नहीं.
आमलोग अब सरकार की शिकायत करने लगे - उस अजनबी को ज़रुरत क्या थी मारने की , चुचाप रात के अँधेरे में उसे देश से, अपनी ज़िन्दगी से ,अपनी भाषा से निर्वासित कर देते. वह तो अब हमारी भाषा में समा कर हमारे दिमागों में घुसपैठ कर रहा है। ओझा, गुनी बैद्य सब ने हार मान ली लेकिन कही गहरे बैठे हुए उस - वह जो भी था-को निकल नहीं पाए. लोग चोरियां तो अब भी करते थे , लेकिन बुझे बुझे दिल से , बेमन से, ज़ेहनी तौर से हारे हुए . बड़े बूढ़े उस अभागे के आने से पहले के दिनों के किस्से बड़े चाव से सुनाया करते थे। वो भी क्या दिन थे. ?

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Do We Need The IAS and other all India Services ?


The British colonial administration in India bequeathed to its successors, along with their independence , a fully fitted out colonial state with an administrative machinery, the ‘steel frame’, which had curbed India’s striving for independence with iron hands. In an inexplicable state of mind for which later generations found a name , ‘Stockholm syndrome’, the founding fathers fell in love with this apparatus of control, domination and subjugation and retained it lock ,stock and barrel. The new term of endearment for the fabled service , created in the very image of the mythical ICS, was IAS . It was expected to perform the feat that it’s precursors, the ICS, had been done for their colonial masters : hold the new country , with its wide diversity, together. They were supposed to advise their political masters at the centre and in the states, and help them steer the ship of the state. Sardar Patel believed that “You will not have a united India if you do not have a good All-India Service which has independence to speak out its mind”. To ensure that they were not lightly trifled with, Article 311, a politically self-denying provision was introduced to inure them from arbitrary punishments . The then government of India shared the belief of their colonial predecessors that deliverance could only be had at the hands of the District Magistrate and Collector. PM, CM and DM were the three forms of loco parentis in which the mai baap sarkar of our democratic polity manifested itself.
The fears of the founding fathers about the threat to federalism seems to be coming true, but their faith in the service as the defenders of the idea has come undone. The unseemly incident in which the CM of West Bengal walked away with her Chief Secretary in tow , from a meeting convened by the Prime Minister to assess disaster caused by cyclone, has created some sort of an impasse. It was a situation no civil servant would like to be in : an IAS officer is bound in obedience to both the CM and the PM , but for a situation in which he has to choose to obey one and show wilful disrespect to the other, there are no precedents . Anyone else would have agonised but the CS, WB found it easy, because there is a general belief that all India Service officers in West Bengal ,and many other states, are long used to behaving like party apparatchiks. What followed was even worse: the decision of the central government to recall an officer who had been granted an extension , a few days back, was churlishness of unthinkable proportions. As Stalin famously said , they are both worse. Instead of steering the ship of state away from choppy waters of state- centre confrontation together they have charted a collision course.
The Indian Administrative Service, consciously modelled itself after its more illustrious predecessors, the ICS, whom Philip Woodruff described as, “a ruling class, a class apart. They were hard working in a debilitating climate, incorruptible in a society riddled with bribery, celibate until middle age in a subcontinent which married at puberty. Above all they were intellectuals.” Being an intellectual brought in its wake the responsibility to speak "truth to power", in the famous phrase of Julian Benda. It is a clear case where the IAS on both sides of the fence failed to speak truth to powers they were serving ,the independence to speak out their minds notwithstanding. The threat to federal structure, as always, seems to have been subordinated to personal career interests.(On this point those interested can see my The Rusted Steel Frame)
Ironically, at this very juncture the other article of the faith of our founding fathers , deliverance at the hands of the District Magistrate , has also been tested and found to be totally misplaced. After the Bengal Deewani the East India Company began to fancy itself as a state. To make its unconscionable plundering look like a respectable vocation , Warren Hastings was tasked to produce a piece of machinery that English officials could operate and English opinion tolerate. Collector , the emblematic figure of British imperialism, the king pin in Hastings’ plan for the better administration of Bengal, was the answer . This instrumentality of collector was such a roaring success in fulfilling the objectives of the company, while satisfying easily satisfiable British opinion , it was consistent with British “ideas of justice and the proper discipline, forms of deference, and demeanour that should mark the relations between rulers and ruled, “that it was replicated in Southwest Pacific as well (Bernard Cohen.) Collector was the man on the spot who knew “the natives,” who was to represent the forces of “law and order.” “Law and order” became the magic mantra and the Superintendent of Police became the magic wand – that he could wield. After the creation of the ICS the office of the District Magistrate was manned by the members of the service.
The successors to the British administration , Congress men in a hurry, quietly supplanted themselves in the place of the rulers. The office of the collector, created solely for legitimizing exploitative profits of the Company Bahadur ,remained the king pin of the administration which was now supposedly centred around people. It was thought that what was sauce for the colonial goose would be sauce even for colonial gander .
The DM , heads the disaster management authority created by the National Disaster Management Act of India, 2005, at the district level, while the national and state level authorities are headed by the PM, CM and DM respectively. The DM as the head of the authority at local level enjoys unlimited financial powers , and huge immunity. Of course he cannot command the elements, he cannot ask the storm to stop raging or sea waves from lashing the shore, everything else he can. On pain of punishment he can mobilize every resource and seek almost everyone’s cooperation. NDMA, SDMA, also have retired IAS officers, some representation form retired military officers and a retired IPS officer as well.
The management of Covid 19 by the DMA’s , the unplanned migration of workers and the management of the second wave, especially the supply of oxygen and other lifesaving materials , has led to untold misery , an unmitigated disaster. It tested the premise of IAS officers acting in their capacity as DM to deliver, and they failed miserably. As a counter factual it may be noted that a doctor acting in his capacity as district magistrate in a remote district of Maharashtra managed the crisis so well that it became a national success story . There were some others too, I name Rahul Kumar DM of Purnea , in Bihar about whom I heard good things , who acquitted themselves well, which point to the doability of the task . But impersonality and indifference, the defining characteristics of bureaucracy have overshadowed every requirement and trait, in their handling of this crisis . A District Magistrate quipped in face of the shattering image of a child riding a suit case which his mother was dragging on her long haul back home, that he also similarly rode his father’s suit case. An audio tape that went viral has a doctor on 24/7 duty in a Covid ward pleading with the health secretary, for some arrangements to be made for his accommodation so that he is not forced to go home and endanger , his wife , his children and his parents. The health secretary asked him to resign and threatened to send him to jail for arguing with him . But the image of rampaging Agartala DM , who bet up the bridegroom , humiliated the guests under the garb of enforcing Covid curfew , will for a long tie represent the public perception of a DM . The production of moral indifference in its handling of Covid was an absolute visual
I have been a member of the UPSC interview board for civil services for a couple of years . Year after year, the procession of candidates would begin by spelling out their vision of how they would serve the people when they became the collector . No one saw himself as an officer of any other service, no one envisaged any other role for an IAS officer other than that of a collector . I loved to rile them by putting across that they would be lucky if they got into the IAS , lucky if they became Collectors for more than a term of a year or two , they would have certainly thought about the remaining thirty odd years of their service . They obviously had not. The civil service examination which has been identified with the IAS, and the IAS with the office of the collector fuels - and provides the outlet for -the private little feudalistic fantasies of every eligible candidate alike , even highly qualified professionals earning phenomenal sums of money. Hasting’s gift to the nation has the potential of turning ,has in fact turned - many administrations on the model of East India Company. They are run on the lines of profit making corporations for their political masters and many of these officers have enriched themselves to become “the King of nabobs”.
PS The nearest example that I could find to such a situation as evidenced in West Bengal is the one narrated by Krishan in his book Sardar Patel .” “In a democratic set-up, cabinet sanction was essential for Police Action(against Hyderabad.) Patel faced a formidable task in overcoming Nehru’s reluctance. At one of the meetings of the defence committee, of which Nehru was the chairman, “there was so much bitterness that Sardar Patel walked out. Seeing his seat vacant,” V. P. Menon told a Rotary meeting in Bombay, “I too walked out five minutes later.” This seemed to have shaken Nehru out of his complacent mood, and mellowed his opposition. Later, at a meeting attended by the governor-general (Rajagopalachari), the prime minister, the home minister (Patel), and secretary to the states ministry (Menon), “it was decided to order troops into Hyderabad”. B. Krishna. “Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel”.