The book contains bland memories of an IAS officer, Javed Chowdhury who comes from a privileged background (Doon School, St Stephen’s College) but believes in welfare socialism, the public sector, the subsidy system. He seems to have seen no evil, spoken no evil and heard no evil (except the ‘neo-liberal’ ideas of the 1990s)
India is a land of violence, injustice and extreme income disparity. Life for the common people is tough: courts don’t deliver justice; property rights get violated; the police are often party to crime; and money and power can fix the system, more often than not. Who could have tackled all these issues? Public servants, mainly members of the elite IAS—Indian Administrative Service—who run the country. From the police to securities regulations, from irrigation projects to banking regulations, from city corporations to transport systems—they are the omnipotent and omnipresent decision-makers.
Unfortunately, most IAS officers oversee a corrupt and inefficient system, through their entire career, without standing up and fighting for what is right. It is just a job for them, a career. They don’t go out of their gilded life of white cars, large bungalows and club memberships. A small number even do enormous damage. We believe that the principal reason for India’s poverty is not misguided policies. It is rampant loot by politicians with supporting and acquiescing bureaucrats.
And, when they retire, they enjoy generous State pension and perks. School teachers may or may not get their pension, but retired IAS officers never have to face such problems. Some manage to grab land to build large post-retirement flats and bungalows worth crores of rupees, as several Maharashtra bureaucrats have done.
One could argue that they are merely doing a job, like everyone else. If doctors don’t attend to patients and professors don’t teach, why should IAS officers be expected to live up to a much higher standard? Quite correct; except that if one has merely done a job all one’s life, and not made some significant change to public life that one can be proud of, why be presumptuous enough to write a memoir of such a ‘career’?
We do look forward to the memoirs of bureaucrats who have made real change like GV Ramakrishna. But a reading of this book (The Insider’s View; Penguin Books; Pages 310; Rs499) shows that Javid Chowdhury is not one of them. He was a secretary of food, revenue and family welfare. While this book does give some insights on his life as a civil servant, it hardly inspires the reader. Mr Chowdhury comes from a privileged background (Doon School, St Stephen’s College) but believes in welfare socialism, the public sector, the subsidy system—anything but accountability and reward for human ingenuity and enterprise as the main drivers for progress. He seems to have seen no evil, spoken no evil and heard no evil (except the ‘neo-liberal’ ideas of the 1990s). He professes that was he was innocent of caste, gender and religious bias right until 1989, 24 years into his career. What a waste!