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Friday, April 29, 2022

Mr. Ramachandra Khan , IPS , (1968 , RR , Bihar) died a week or so ago .He was an honest and upright officer, conscientious , courageous ,brave and bold .But he was not the garden variety cop with just the necessary policing skills and attributes suited to his trade; he had a keen mind and an unbounded intellectual curiosity. As SP Begusarai he distinguished himself for his anti-crime crusades against the infamous Kamdeo Singh . As Dy IG Bettia he left a mark but a career full of great promise in police was eclipsed by circumstances which were as bizarre as bizarre could be.
Mr Khan’s career was doomed by one fatal flaw in his personality . He was out spoken in his opinion and the truth of his opinion was rendered doubly lethal when delivered in a waspish tongue. He was by no means a votary of sagacious advice सत्यं ब्रूयात् प्रियं ब्रूयात् , न ब्रूयात् सत्यम् अप्रियम् , प्रियं च नानृतम् ब्रूयात् ( Speak the truth but speak it sweetly, refrain from speaking hurtful truth but don’t speak a lie calculated to please.) A cold fire seemed to be running under his skin and it seeped through in his animated discussions ,arguments and left many an interlocutor singed. It was a talent which was not calculated to please and dearly did he pay for it.!
The most significant fact of his life was that he was charged for some irregularities in the so called uniform scandal. There were credible stories that the case which destroyed the top leadership of Bihar IPS was built around a petty pique which arose out of a wordy duel that Mr Khan had. It was a matter which could be handled departmentally but perhaps as the first example of ‘extraordinary rendition’ , a term which gained currency after the infamous Guantanamo Bay, (extraordinary rendition is the transfer of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention and interrogation) the CBI was called in a trifling matter of poor inventory control and some irregularity in purchase of uniform items. The sum involved was paltry but the CBI cast its net far and wide.
Many IPS officers figured in the investigation and were banished to that moral -no- man’s- land , in that twilight zone between guilt and innocence. A few may indeed have acted malafide but most young IPS officer were negligent and put too much trust in their subordinates – sergeants and sergeants majors. At the end out of the day a dozen or more officers were put on trial ; except two or three , everyone was exonerated and they got all that was due to them during their service , as if there had been no case against them. A reprieve which was no reprieve at all because nothing remained to be salvaged . Mr. Khan happened to be the officer controlling the budget so he was held constructively liable for the act of every single officer in the field. But while others were resigned to their fate and vagaries of legal process he fought, as was his wont , undaunted and unintimidated by the situation putting it across to his tormentors and got acquitted in all the cases but one. But much the more credible judgement in the court of public opinion had already been passed; the verdict of not guilty was unanimous .
I will permit myself one brief reminiscence. I was SP Chapra but I was prematurely transferred just before the by-election. Public outcry however led to its cancellation. My Dy IG was at daggers drawn and refused to have anything to do with me . Gautam my predecessor at Chapra has already mentioned in his memoir the reason for the Dy IG’s displeasure- and how the Dy IG himself came to grief - with both of us. In a situation like this Mr. Khan was deputed to Chapra . Those were pre T N Seshan days and the Election Commission was but a distant rumour which parties in power did not believe in. Yet there were norms and rules and one could enforce them ,if one had the guts.
I received a message on my wireless , that a minister was moving around with a convoy of six or eight cars in gross violation of norms . On my orders the convoy was intercepted and taken to the police station . To boot many of the vehicles did not have proper papers. The minster stormed in the Rivilganj police station and was bullying the local police and zonal magistrates. I reached there in in no time .The minster was a marvel of miniature , less than five feet in his socks, but his rage was towering .VIPs in abbreviated or diminutive versions throwing their weight seem more like caricatures and my encounter with him was interesting but must await some other occasion .
The minster raised hell with Patna and Mr. Khan was despatched to the police station at the behest of government. He was believed to be close to the CM , so he was there in double trust- as the man from Patna and as the trouble shooter for the CM . To cut a long story short I explained to him the situation. The law he knew and I made it known to him that the writ of the election law will prevail. Like an elder brother handling an obstinate younger one he humoured and cajoled me . He was politely persuasive but in the end gave up . I witnessed none of his famous flashes of temper that I had heard about.
The minster stomped his foot , got up to go but tarried endlessly . I had shown my willingness to stand up and see him off but after I had made the appropriate gesture I sat down . The minster could take it no more and left . I followed at the tail of small procession that saw him off to his car. His cavalcade stayed behind till the voting was over. On his way to Patna we went to my house for a cup of tea . Mr Khan was so forthcoming, so self-denying and so warm in his approval of my actions that he earned my respect and gratitude for life . He said that he had expected me to behave exactly like this but he did not seem to be seen to be lacking in effort.
We often bumped into each other during the days when I fancied attending seminars, lectures etc but soon I got tired of what Koestler called the “intellectual call girl circuit.” The last I met him was in 2011, at a social gathering. I had severely burnt my fingers with the electricity board case and generally found myself lonely and shunned at such venues. He walked up to me and said in Hindi कितना लड़ोगे ? कब तक लड़ोगे? (How much will you fight ?how long will you fight ? ) On an impulse I said “जब तक है जान( so long as there is the last breath in me.)Actually it was a line from a very famous song . We had a hearty laugh and I lingered a while with him before making good my escape.
I visited his house day before yesterday , and the presence of the absence was unmistakable . Books , magazines , papers all bore testimony to the fact the active life of the mind of the man. Tuhin was organising the treasure that the man had left behind . I could not meet Usha jee , his illustrious wife, a Padma Shri recipient for her bilingual writing, because she was attending some Shraddhanjali – one of the many that were held in the honour of the departed soul. His children all distinguished in their own fields bear the impress of a highly literate and cultural upbringing .The man had become a memory and shall always be treasured in our thoughts .
Stride like a colossus , Mr Khan, wherever you are because no other mode of being would suit you .
This photograph of a trainee IAS officer inspecting a hospital ward was so appropriate to an article that I had written sometime back but which was published in The National Herald on the 19th April 2022 that I could not but help retweeting it. You can find the article here "Do we need the IAS? The myth of the DM or the colonial ‘Collector’While the country continues to be ruled by the trinity of PM-CM-DM, the colonial ‘Collector’ continues to be an instrument of oppression . "
Below is the text of my above article Do We Need the IAS ?
The British colonial administration in India bequeathed to its successors, the Indian National congress , along with their independence, a fully fitted out colonial state with an administrative machinery, the ‘steel frame’.
In an inexplicable state of mind for which later generations found a name, ‘Stockholm syndrome’, the founding fathers fell in love with this very apparatus of control, domination and subjugation that had thwarted its striving for independence with iron hands 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 willful 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 power 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, 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 DMAs, 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 only heard good things, who acquitted himself very 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 suitcase which his mother was dragging on her long haul back home, that he also similarly rode his father’s suitcase. 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 shame.
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 would they 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 the proposition 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”. But that is a different story to be told another time.
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सड़क पर श्री राम !
सब कुछ बदल रहा है। मेरी आँखों के सामने मेरा पटना बदल रहा है. मैंने पचासों वर्ष पटना में गुज़ारे हैं लेकिन प्रभु श्री राम को, गली गली मदोन्मत्त भीड़ के कंधे पर पर शर संधान की मुद्रा में गश्त करते हुए कभी नहीं देखा. प्रभु श्री राम ने जब भी शस्त्र उठाया, धर्म की रक्षा हेतु या किसी , दुर्दांत ,अपराजेय दुष्ट के वध के लिए। अन्य अपराधियों की खबर लेने के लिए तो अनुज और उनकी सेना ही काफी थी. अचानक कौन सा ऐसा संकट आ पड़ा है? क्या गली गली रावण, खर , दूषण , त्रिशरा और बाली उत्पन्न हो गए हैं कि स्वयं प्रभु श्री राम को पुलिस की भांति गलियों में सशस्त्र गश्त लगानी पड़ रही है. क्या यह भी स्मरण कराना होगा कि आज के दिन ही माता कौशल्या ने प्रभु श्री राम से विष्णु स्वरुप त्यागकर " कीजे शिशु लीला अति प्रियशीला यह सुख परमा अनूपा." की विनती की थी। आज का दिन तो श्री राम के उस नयनाभिराम नवजात शिशु रूप का दर्शन कर ह्रदय जुड़ाने के लिए है. क्या हम इतने क्लीव और नपुंसक हो गए है कि नवजात शिशु श्री राम को भी नहीं बक्शते। मेरे मन में - और अधिकाधिक हिन्दुओं के मन में - श्री राम का असीम करूणा का स्वरुप ही रचा बसा है. बिना जगज्जननी सीता का उनका ध्यान ही नहीं होता। सिया राम मैं सब जग जानी . करौं प्रणाम जोर जग पानी. आज श्री राम निपट निस्संग क्यों हो गए? श्री राम सीता जब भी सीता से विलग हुए हैं उसका एक लौकिक उद्देश्य रहा है । सीता हरण रावण की मृत्यु का कारण बना साथ ही रावण जैसा विद्वान, प्रतापी ,शिव भक्त सदा के लिए कलंकित हो गया। सीता का निर्वासन भी हुआ , समकालीन मर्यादा के निर्वाह के लिए. आज किस प्रयोजन की सिद्धि हेतु या किस उद्देश्य की पूर्ति के लिए किसने श्री राम से उनके जीवन संगिनी को सदा के लिए विलग कर दिया? किसने रचा ये विधान ? शास्त्रों,पुराणों , परम्पराओं का संपादन , संक्षिप्ति करण , रूपान्तरण कौन और किस प्रयोजन से कर रहा है? हर हिन्दू के लिए जानना आवश्यक है क्योंकि रामचरितमानस /रामकथाएं हमारी साझा विरासत है किसी फिल्म का स्क्रिप्ट नहीं जिसे व्यापारिक कारणों से कोई ट्विस्ट दिया जा सके.