Mahatma Gandhi'sdictum, ?I know no diplomacy save that of truth? prodded the bureaucrat writer, Dr G Sundaram to uphold probity of his profession.? The public has the right to know. They are not well conversant with the happenings, the methods and machinations in Government. They blame the politicians all the time?.At the same time, they may not know about the civil service politicians (second rung of politicians!) who are in fact more dangerous than the professional politicians?. This conscientitious urge goaded him to jot down his memoirs in ?plight of honesty?.
The author traces his life journey from a non-descript village in Tamil Nadu to becoming the former Secretary to the Government of India during his tenure in the Indian Administrative Services. The author laments, ?India has become a country of ?sifarish? or recommendation for each and everything. Even to get an appointment from an officer, who is a public servant, one needs recommendation ? a sorry state of affairs indeed.? The writer ridicules the jurisprudence of Indian system. A single person is often entrusted with several portfolios; C Rangarajan, Montek Singh, Rakesh Mohan to name a few. ?This is the bane of our system of not looking beyond one'snose?should cast the net wide all over the world and bring in new people. There is no dearth of them. Late Prof Samar Sen'sson Abhijit Sen is a member of the Planning Commission and his brother is an adviser. Our Government ? be it Congress, BJP or UF ? are not free from this in-breeding?. Such is the malaise that has percolated down our bureaucratic set up, rues the author.
The initial chapters solely cover his enunciation and the arduous steamrolling process that churned out the bureaucratic author. The beginning chapters hardly project any whistle blowing act of the author and barely speak of any ?plight of honesty? except strains of red tapism and shaggy working system. Many readers would find the account insipid enough to douse their curiosity. But Dr G Sunderam is emphatic that readers should pore over the entire book without being eclectic. Likewise many a readers might feel the author'srattling down of bureaucratic rigmaroles as rather humdrum and insignificant to the layman populace. But then the author projects it a veritable account lest it tantamount to drudgery upon his readers. The author mentions of several hilarious anecdotes during his tenure. ?Pan-chewing Pande was also an astrologer. Several officers in Udyog Bhavan used to consult him about their future. But I was the only one who had not consulted him and perhaps also annoyed him a bit.?
The author throws up flashbacks that later caused much upheavals. ?Another important area of controversial policy-making was in respect of the Free Trade Zones and the Export Processing Zones. There was a demand from the Government of West Bengal?..But the proposal was opposed by the Ministry of Finanace and the Planning Commission??.left-oriented economists(Dr Arjun Sengupta, D.P.Chattopadhyaya were opposed to the idea. The Ministry of Finance also opposed the idea for a different reason ? Pranab Mukherjee who was in the Finance Ministry did not want Prof. Chattopadhaya to get any credit for starting this zone in Calcutta. When this paper on FTZ and ETZ was under active consideration in the Ministry, Blitz of Bombay wrote an article stating that this was an attempt to get the multinationals by the backdoor. With this article, the Government developed cold feet and the entire concept died a natural death?.But years after, the concept took shape again and a number of zones was developed in different parts of the country. By then the economic policy and philosophy had totally changed?.
Candid confessions jiggle across the book. ?In 1990, I fell off my chair in the Ministry of Urban Development when N.K. Singh entered my room. It was like Mahomet going to the mountain. He wanted to retain his late mother'sbungalow till he was posted back in Delhi. I helped him.? ?It is not for nothing that India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world; it is not a country for the common man. The word ?Bofors? became a synonym for corruption?. While in the ministry of urban development, the author was rankled to witness – ?Not only some top-ranking officials and politicians but also some lower-level functionaries like clerks, drivers and teachers are involved in this huge racket of Delhi. Journalists are no exception. The press pool is an expanding one all the time because of press blackmail. Artists are no exception. One or two civil service wives have grabbed houses forever in the name of running dancing schools. The Estate Office very often did not have an account of who occupied which house. I was told that some people had not paid the rent at all for months or years together. Many of them had sublet their houses.? Many such guffaws that were goofed up have been held out in the book. The Padma Bhushan awards of 2005 were a farce except only one person who really deserved it. ?Bhopal gas tragedy was the worst tragedy of its kind in history?The victims did not get their due compensation for years on end, thanks to the inefficiency of the Government of Madhya Pradesh and the long-drawn procedures of the courts.?
?To be sure, corruption in India is not a new or recent phenomenon. Kautilya had catalogued, 25 centuries ago, 40 different ways in which the kings minions were likely to cheat him of the revenue.? When the author had joined the service in 1960, corruption was quaint. ?Officers were hesitant to accept even small gifts or dinner invitations. But things have changed totally today. Corruption starts at the very top coupled with casteism, nepotism and favouritism.? Dr Sundaram disdains upon the politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus debilitating the society. ?To get out of this vicious circle, I thought that I would form a political party myself and call it the Honest People'sParty? and he goes on to stipulate its agenda.
(Manas Publications, 4402/5A, Main Ansari Road (Opp. HDFC Bank), Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110 002.)