Déjà View | Tell newer stories
There are a countless number of topics in the history of modern, leave alone ancient, India that deserve to be covered much better in popular literature. Isn’t the brouhaha around every “political” biography or “insider” memoir a reflection of how little we really know, in concrete terms, about how our highest institutions and powerful leaders function?
Natwar Singh’s new book is the latest purveyor of intrigue and sensation. I am yet to read this book. But if the furore surrounding Sanjaya Baru’s very enjoyable The Accidental Prime Minister is any indication, the output will find it hard to match the outcry.
But forget gossip and exposé. There are so many other simpler aspects of modern Indian history that I’d love to see books on. For instance what really happened during India’s great economic liberalization? What was the chain of events? How do you really open up a massive country’s markets to the world? Flip a switch from Left to…slightly Left of Centre?
Or how did the Pulse Polio Immunization Program roll out so successfully? How did we go from some 30,000 cases of Polio in 1987 to becoming a polio-free country in 2014? How do you immunize a country of so many people with such remarkable success rates?
And who wouldn’t immediately devour quick, informative little histories of the Emergency, the Satyam scam, or the Green Revolution? I certainly would.
Or profiles of the intelligence agencies (spies!) or the civil services (gazetted officers!)?
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has been the in the news recently thanks to the controversy over its examination regulations. So I’ve been pottering around the archives of UPSC and other agencies trying to make sense of this language problem. My efforts, of course, were utterly fruitless. UPSC has something that is not so much a website as it is a comprehensive online retrospective to the life and works of the colour blue. I’ve seen car accidents with a greater commitment to design and layout.
But what I did come across are several interesting little historical tidbits about the history of the civil services.
For instance I’d never heard of the Industrial Management Pool (IMP), a short-lived “agency” created in the 1950s to draw Indian professionals from the private sector to the public. Candidates with experience running industries and factories would join IMP, and then be requisitioned by whichever public sector undertaking (PSU) felt that it needed experienced managers. IMP, it appears, lasted only a single intake batch. For various reasons, not least a lack of enthusiasm in PSUs themselves, IMP was disbanded.
And here we are, half a century later, once again wondering how we can get more talented people to work for the government. (Especially Web designers.)
This rummaging also led me to a much more basic question that seems to have vexed our founders very much—should newly independent India retain this inherited Indian Civil Service (ICS) at all?
Today we take the India Administrative Service for granted. But this was not exactly the case during the Constitutional Debates even as late as October 1949. Many Assembly members still harboured a certain animosity against ICS officers who had been used to suppress the freedom movement. This discomfort was made worse by the fact that ICS officers were paid eye-watering salaries at the time.
“They should remember that while the leaders of the Congress had given up their earning, had given up their vacation, had given up their position in life and had gone into jail, the Civil Servants had remained quietly at their own desk, earning their own bread and doing their ordinary work,” said member Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri during the session on 10 October 1949.
Other members evinced similar displeasure.
The scene was set, therefore, for Sardar Patel to deliver a tremendous rebuttal.
“What is the use of talking that the service people were serving while we were in jail? I myself was arrested. I have been arrested several times. But that has never made any difference in my feeling towards people in the services. I do not defend the black sheep; they may be there. But are there not many honest people amongst them? But what is the language that you are using? I wish to place it on record in this House that if, during the last two or three years, most of the members of the services had not behaved patriotically and with loyalty, the Union would have collapsed.”
And then he asked them to forgive.
“What did Gandhiji teach us? You are talking of Gandhian ideology and Gandhian philosophy and Gandhian way of administration. Very good. But you come out of the jail and then say, ‘These men put me in jail. Let me take revenge.’ That is not the Gandhian way.”
The civil service was going nowhere. It would get written right into the Constitution. (This would present its own challenges in the future.)
Who knows what other tremendous speeches, writings, short-lived agencies and events lay about waiting to be discovered? Forget all this outcry over the epics and ancient India. Modern India seems replete with untold stories. Start there.
What stories would you like to see books on? Send email or leave comments.
Every week, Déjà View scours historical research and archives to make sense of current news and affairs.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/dejaview
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