I was Deputy Commissioner Hissar when Haryana was formed in 1966, and thus was with Haryana from the very beginning. My colleagues who remained with Punjab made no secret of their sympathy for me, being cast off, as they saw it, to a neglected and relatively backward part of old Punjab State. Many, in fact, had doubts as to whether we would even survive as a State. As Haryana and Punjab officers sat on different floors of the shared Secretariat in Chandigarh, they had plenty of opportunity to joke at our expense, even offering to help out with loans in case I did not get my salary. I, however, regarded it as both an opportunity and a challenge, and in retrospect, it was the most fortuitous development in my career. Indeed, helping Haryana develop from a subject of jokes to a thriving and prosperous State that became an acknowledged trendsetter in many areas was an immensely satisfying experience.
Bhagwat Dayal, the first Chief Minister, made a promising beginning, but unfortunately he did not last long. He was toppled by Rao Birendra Singh, who could claim the dubious distinction of having initiated the era of Aya Rams and.Gaya Rams for which Haryana earned great notoriety. Fortunately, this period did not last long.
When an unknown politician named Bansi Lal came to power, with the full support of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the State took a new turn on the road to development and progress. Bansi Lal, a small town lawyer from Bhiwani, had no previous administrative experience, not having been even a Parliamentary Secretary. The veteran politicians and bureaucrats initially thought they could take him lightly, but were soon set straight, as they quickly learned that he was not a man of straw, but meant business.
From the start, Bansi Lal’s word was law. He had vision and clear priorities and he knew which way the State had to develop. His focus was on rural development and agriculture, irrigation and rural electrification were his major concerns. Targets were fixed, deadlines were set, the State machinery was well oiled and moved in full gear
From the start, Bansi Lal’s word was law. He had vision and clear priorities and he knew which way the State had to develop. His focus was on rural development and agriculture, irrigation and rural electrification were his major concerns. Targets were fixed, deadlines were set, the State machinery was well oiled and moved in full gear. One typical instance illustrates the point. He had invited Mrs Gandhi to lay the foundation of a bridge on the river Ghaggar, to open up some areas and accelerate development. At the ceremony, he asked Mrs Gandhi to come again on a specific date to inaugurate the completed project. She arrived on the appointed date and in her speech remarked that her first reaction had been that the Chief Minister was indulging in gimmicks.
ON irrigation, Bansi Lal was determined to divert excess flood waters from one region of the State to areas chronically suffering from drought. Engineers shook their heads and insisted that it was not possible as the drought-affected areas were at a higher level. Not one to take no for an answer, he suggested that they experiment with a new technique of moving water through a series of lifts, and assured them that he would take full responsibility. The experiment, to the amazement of everyone, was successful. Mrs Gandhi came to inaugurate the biggest lift irrigation scheme in Asia, and, as irony would have it, on the same day a letter was received from the Water Resources Ministry saying that the scheme was not feasible. Bansi Lal could not resist having a dig at the Government of India and very triumphantly flourished the letter before the Prime Minister, remarking “Bahenji, this is how your Government works.” Two Haryana engineers, Mr Pathak and Mr Bansal, were duly rewarded with Padma awards. Electrification was also essential for operating tubewells and a date was fixed for providing electricity to all the villages in the State. Result was positive and work was completed three months before schedule. Projects like linking roads to mandis and providing clean drinking water for villagers were also simultaneously taken up with similar results.
Bureaucracy is often at the receiving end, particularly with the media, who are fond of seeing “the Babus” as culprits who do not allow progress. This is a thoughtless and unfair criticism as much depends on how we are treated by the politicians we work with. In Haryana, under Bansi Lal, things moved at a breakneck speed. Promises were made and fulfilled. Projects were rapidly executed. The CM set the tone, and officers whom he thought could deliver were chosen carefully, then given a free hand. We were trusted and protected against unscrupulous politicians. There were no frequent transfers, we were given sufficient time to produce results, and the bureaucracy responded as never before. Working as his principal adviser, I was given carte blanche in crucial areas. An outstanding example was the development of the concept of Highway Tourism, which gave a new and positive image to the State and, in time, became a trend setter.
SIMILARLY, a proposal to provide the best education possible for deprived sections of the community soon became a reality. The Motilal Nehru School of Sports, with facilities matching the best public schools, was created to enable prestigious career possibilities to disadvantaged children who otherwise would never have such opportunity. The school has exceeded expectations, producing administrators, doctors, engineers, architects, and young cadets for the defense services, in addition to many successful members of the corporate world. Some other Chief Ministers visited the school with a view to setting up similar facilities in their own States, but in the absence of sustained commitment, these never bore fruition.
Haryana also set an example on demonstrating a model relationship between the Governor and Chief Minister. Governor BN Chakravarty of the ICS was a seasoned diplomat and administrator. Bansi Lal gave him full respect and looked upon him as his mentor, always sought his advice on important matters and kept him informed of policies and programmes. The Governor was in a real sense a friend, philosopher and guide. For instance, in the choice of a Vice Chancellor for Kurukshetra University, which was bedeviled with caste politics, Bansi Lal requested the Governor to identify a suitable person from a non-Hindi speaking State who would be above petty politics. The person chosen was from Assam, a retired Chief Justice of the Assam High Court and a former Principal of a law college. He proved to be a tough and visionary administrator who soon brought discipline to the University and encouraged innovations in the academic sphere.
Haryana owes much to Bansi Lal, to his vision, his drive, and his energy. He maintained constant contacts at all levels throughout the State, and thus had firsthand knowledge of problems, while at the same time observing and monitoring the progress of various projects. One of his strong points, and an essential for good governance, was that he knew his limitations, and in areas with which he was not familiar he left decisions to those who knew and he trusted. He was a vegetarian and a teetotaler, with his own lifestyle verging on spartan. In the beginning of his term he had, in fact, seriously flirted with the idea of declaring Haryana a meatless State. Fortunately better sense prevailed, and he was talked out of it. For such a person to then allow tourist resorts with restaurants and bars was remarkable, and demonstrated that he could be pragmatic where the interests of the State were concerned.
He had, of course, some weaknesses. In democracy a free press is an absolute necessity, and in this area, it must be admitted, Bansi Lal did not live up to expectations. Initially, he bent backwards to court the media, wrongly thinking that they would not write unfavorable things. His attitude became confrontational when he realised that all his rasgullas and gulabjamuns had been wasted. He entered a state of war with The Tribune and as expected invited the wrath of the Press Council. In deciding on prohibition in a later term and against advice, he made one of his biggest blunders. But these were minor flaws when compared to his overall record.
Bansi Lal’s successor, Chaudhary Devi Lal, had been his senior in politics and had played a significant role in getting Haryana statehood. Ironically, he was the one who gave Bansi Lal the first break in politics, suggesting his name for contesting to the State Assembly. He was under the mistaken belief that Bansi Lal, a blue-blooded Jat, belonged to the scheduled caste. Devi Lal was cast in a different mold. Not having any formal education, he was a man of the masses, enjoying their support and affection. Initially a prisoner in the hands of his family, after some time he broke the shackles and, like his predecessor, focused on rural development.
His successor, Bhajan Lal, a believer in “every man has his price” had different priorities, but as with Devi Lal, the momentum of the early years continued. I left the State while Bhajan Lal was still the Chief Minister. His successors unfortunately brought no credit to the State, and the slide began.
I served in the State until 1980, and then again post-retirement served for some time as tourism advisor. Today, as Chairman of the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD), I am involved with a major project in Rakhigarhi (Hansi), which gives me the rare privilege of recapturing some of the excitement I experienced during my years as a young officer in the field. On my first visit to the area in 2012, I was extremely touched when the young leaders of the community swarmed around me, with affectionate tales of the “golden days” under Bansi Lal, which most of them knew only through their fathers and grandfathers. Because of this, they have given ITRHD their full trust. This I consider a true demonstration of Bansi Lal’s legacy to the State.
Till the late 1970s and early 1980s Haryana was moving fast, and young IAS officers looked forward to being allotted to the State. In later years, unfortunately, things have slowed down. The foundation laid in the earlier decades, however, was solid and enduring. Presently there are good young officers in the State, and I earnestly hope that they are given the freedom to allow Haryana to regain its momentum.
(Writer is former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister)