RECENTLY a certain occasion warranted me to go to Ranchi to see my younger brother, Avinash Kumar, who is an IAS officer in Jharkhand. There, a large number of IAS and IPS officers came to meet him, with whom we had long interactions. All these officers were energetic and talented, but two officers made a very distinct mark on me. One was Kamal Nayan Chaube and the other K K Khandelwal.
Chaube is an IPS officer and in that capacity he is expected to be an expert in the field of policing. But when one meets this man, one finds someone who is as knowledgeable in the fields of governance, literature, history, world polity, economy and so on. He has a very clear world vision about so many things happening around the globe, about the changing world dynamics, about the global cultural clashes, and so on. He is equally adept at analysing why the Indian public sector performance is not up to the mark, what ails this sector and what can be done to really uplift it. He would be talking about the Arun Shourie interview in the book Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist by Mani Shankar Aiyar at the same time as he would be discussing in depth what Shourie himself statedin Worshipping False Gods along with their socio-cultural implications and rooting.
What I mean is that the width of his knowledge and understanding made me feel that I was standing before a real scholar, who as traditional thinking goes, could not have been a police officer, because a police officer is one who eats, drinks and knows only policing, or at least pretends to do so. Chaube also reminded me of Rai Umapati Roy, a retired IPS officer of the UP cadre, who had an understanding of fields as diverse as the history of Lucknow to the genesis of the Indian caste system to the origin and etymology of a particular Indian word. Roy’s width of knowledge, the understanding of facts and the intensity and clarity of analysis had always been impressive, which was so visible in Chaube.
The other officer I met was Khandelwal, of the IAS, who though he did not possess wide knowledge in so many diverse fields had an almost completely focused attention and knowledge in physics and mathematics. A top-ranking IIT graduate himself, he had recently taken two years’ leave when his son and nephew were preparing for the IIT-JEE. He devoted this entire period to first brushing up on physics and mathematics himself and then teaching this subject to the young boys. The result was fabulous. While his son got the 9th rank in the prestigious JEE exam, his nephew got the 52nd rank. What is more interesting is that Khandelwal himself is now completely immersed in the world of physics and maths. Though a senior IAS officer, he possibly knows more than any professional teacher, despite having remained away from these subjects for years.
What I wanted to present through these two individual examples is that any individual, from whatever field, always has the potential to develop himself continuously. He or she can even become an expert in fields quite distinct from their professional work, in addition to being experts in their own profession. At the same time, it needs to be understood that such expertise does not come on its own. Just as the saying goes, “there is never a free lunch”, similarly we human beings don’t get anything for free. If Chaube or Khandelwal acquired huge expertise in fields distinct and far away from their routine professional work, it did not come to them through some dream. They have worked hard for this. Chaube told me that he regularly reads the latest books by well-known experts in different fields and there is rarely an occasion when he is not reading late into the night. Khandelwal, on his part, said that he had to sit down like a student so as to study these subjects, which are not considered that interesting by a majority of the people today.
HERE, I would like to digress from these examples to focus on the other side of the spectrum where I have seen a very substantial proportion of IAS and IPS officers wasting their time and energy on such trivialities as run-of-the-mill political discussions, administrative happenings, juicy story-telling and immersing themselves in the uncouth gossip-vines. Whenever I meet such an officer whose favourite topic is who is going to become the next Prime Minister or the next Chief Minister and which of the officers are going to be the gainers and losers in each of these permutations and combinations, I feel really disheartened and depressed. The reason is simple. To me a person as secure in his career as an IAS or IPS officer wasting his time and energy in such non-productive discussions as described above and becoming jittery about the administrative implications of various political developments, is nothing short of criminal because while on the one hand, through his innate wisdom and intellect, he could have acquired special expertise in so many newer areas which could have contributed further to the cause of nation-building, here is a genius wasting himself on trivialities and trifles.
If Chaube or Khandelwal have acquired some distinct expertise, it was the result of their huge devotion and commitment. A natural corollary to this fact is that any other officer who devotes his time and energy with equal sincerity and seriousness would definitely be able to acquire expertise in areas where their heart lies but which is not exactly their area of professional activity. The result would definitely be satisfying to that person and beneficial to society.
My humble submission, through these examples, not only to the officers belonging to these services, but to everyone else who made it to the higher echelons of governance through sheer hard work and determination is that they still have time and ability to explore themselves and to further take their talents to more heights. They need to decide like Chaube or Khandelwal that they can do so and they must do so.
Yes, they can.
Amitabh Thakur, an IPS officer from UP, is also working for transparency in governance. The views expressed are