Dialogue October-December, 2011, Volume 13 No. 2
The Joys and Tears of an Administrator
Late K. Abraham
I have served as a member of the I.A.S. in Bihar from 1947 to 1975. Prior to that I had also served with the Bengal Government for over 2 years. It has been my privilege to have been associated closely with important developments in India and our bordering countries. There are times when I have felt that like the policemen in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “Pirates of Penzance”, an administrator’s lot is not a happy one. On the other hand, I can look back with pride and joy in having had an opportunity to help shape our country’s destiny before and after India had attained her independence.
Some of my happiest memories are of the remarkable progress that India achieved under the dynamic leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru. There is a tendency nowadays to show that Nehru was western-oriented and urbanized and that he had little in common with the poor and underprivileged of India. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nehru’s life and hopes were entirely tied up with the life of the common man. When communal riots broke out in Delhi and Punjab soon after the grant of independence, I saw for myself how this had made Nehru aged and haggard. Later when touring various parts of Bihar with Nehru, I could see the depth of his affection for the common man. He may have been an aristocrat in some ways, but when he mingled with the poorer people, he identified himself fully with them.
One of the great tragedies of India is that the Community Development Programme did not live up to our expectations. In the first few years, the programme had a tremendous impact, wherever it operated. People co-operated whole-heartedly and some made great sacrifices for the common good. The early participants, officials and non-official, were dedicated and sincere. However, as the years went by, that high standard could not be maintained. Even then, it was with this programme that rural development became a reality and a vital breakthrough was made in agriculture and animal husbandry.
I was the District Magistrate and Collector of Purnea, when the Rana regime in Nepal was overthrown in 1951. We were called upon to give assistance to the New Nepal Government. It was my privilege to work closely with M.P. Koirala and B.P. Koirala the first and second Prime Minsters of Nepal. Both of them had a very high regard for Jawaharlal Nehru and Jaya Prakash Narayan and tried to emulate them in every way.
As district magistrate and Collector of Gaya, I was closely associated with the restoration of the Bodh Gaya Temple and the improvement of the surrounding area. In my time, considerable restoration was done prior to the celebration of the 25th Centenary of Buddha in 1955. Great care was taken to see that the restoration work conformed closely to the original design of the temple.
As Vinoba Bhave had established his headquarters at Bodh Gaya, I had occasion to see at close quarters the work of Vinoba Bhave and his associates, particularly Jaya Prakash Narayan, who had also set up his Ashram at Sekhodeora in Gaya district.
It was also a great privilege to work with the older State leaders, who had worked in close association with Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel and had imbibed to some extent some of their great qualities. Bihar was privileged to have had Shri Krishna Sinha as its first Chief Minister from 1937 to 1939 and from 1946 to 1961. As Chief Minister, Shri Krishna Sinha expected and generally got a very high standard of work from his officers. Because of his affectionate nature and his innate sense of justice and fair play, he won the loyalty of all his subordinates. Even those, who were with him for a short time, came to have a very great regard for him. When I reached his bedside within a few minutes of his death in 1961, I found his nurse weeping bitterly. Nurses are accustomed to death, but this nurse wept as a daughter would. This was the kind of affection that he inspired in those around him.
Another great leader of Bihar was Anugrah Narayan Sinha. As District Magistrate of Gaya, his home district, I had sometimes to disregard recommendations made by him on applications submitted to him. He appreciated this and told me that as a politician he would make certain recommendations, but he expected me as the District Magistrate to act strictly according to rules. Anugrah Narayan Sinha was the President and I the Vice-President of the Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir, the premier classical dance institution of Bihar. On his death-bed, he asked me to complete the auditorium of the Kala Mandir. I am happy that inspite of many difficulties, the auditorium was built and is now one of the finest auditoriums in Bihar.
When our present Governor Mr. L.P. Singh was the Chief Secretary, the Bihar Government administration was adjudged to be one of the best in India by Paul Appleby, the great authority on public administration, Since then, however, there has been a steady deterioration in the administration. Both officials and non-officials are to blame. As the years went by, it became more and more difficult for officers to carry out their duties honestly and fearlessly. It was indeed a tragedy that many an honest officer was penalized for doing the right thing and that quite a few dishonest officers were shielded and indeed rewarded for pandering to the dictates of ministers and other influential non-officials. The extent of corruption among higher ranking officers was not as bad as alleged by many. However, corruption and misdeeds committed by some responsible and highly placed officers were not only a canker in the administration, but also greatly demoralising, particularly when such misconduct was not punished and sometimes even rewarded. I was shocked when a young I.A.S. officer told me shortly before I retired, that he and some of his colleagues had decided that it would be foolish on their part to refuse to do improper acts at the dictate of ministers.
Caste has played a very important part in Bihar politics and also in Government administration. While there were some outstanding cases of ministers and officers, who were not swayed by caste considerations, there were many for whom caste considerations were paramount. It was sad to note how otherwise good officers would be influenced by caste considerations. This has been the bane of the Bihar administration.
On the other hand, it was a great pleasure to work with the Bihar cultivator. I used to think at first that some of them were conservative and slow to adopt improved agricultural practices. Later I discovered that these cultivators distrusted Government demonstrations, unless the economic advantages of the new practices were clearly indicated. However when this was shown to them, they would hesitate no longer. Purnea district, which was under my charge as Collector in 1951 and as Commissioner in 1962, used to be ravaged by Kosi floods and consequent deposits of sand. After the Kosi barrage and canals were completed, this area became a granary with cultivators readily adopting improved agricultural practices and growing high yielding varieties.
Looking back, I feel that in spite of many frustrations and disappointments, it was a great privilege to have been an administrator at a critical time in the history of India.
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