IT was early in his career that Yogendra Narain, a 1965 UP-cadre IAS officer, learnt the value of winning the trust of his political masters and the people on the ground.
Barely a year after his first posting as District Magistrate (DM) in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, Narain (then in his early thirties) had been posted as Joint Secretary (Information) in Lucknow. Riots broke out in the western Uttar Pradesh city after his successor tried to take advantage of the national Emergency and bulldoze his way through a Muslim locality on the issue of family planning. Twenty-two persons were killed in firing after a protest by the minority community in the city spiralled out of control.
The then Chief Minister of the state, Narayan Dutt Tiwari, dispatched Narain again to Muzaffarnagar in July 1976 to quell the riots. Immediately after landing in the city, Narain went from house to house with his Muslim friends to hear people’s grievances in the affected mohalla. Their principal demand was that Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel camping in the city should be removed immediately. “We (Narain and KP Srivastva, then DIG of Meerut) ordered withdrawal of the PAC the next morning. People celebrated by lighting diyas in their houses the same evening. Peace was restored,” the septuagenarian reminisces.
Less than a year later, the UP government once again decided to use Narain’s expertise in handling communal tension. He had just been made Special Secretary (Home) when shia and sunni sects of the minority community got locked in a confrontation over taking out religious processions during Nauchandi (sighting of the moon) in Lucknow. In those days, shias would take out 980 processions during six days of Nauchandi (three days before and three days after). The sunnis, though, were not allowed a single procession. This caused tension between the two sects and the administration had to deploy a policeman in almost every sunni house around the Imambara to ensure peace.
In September 1977, after about a dozen people lost their lives due to tension over processions, the then Chief Minister of the Janata Party, Ram Naresh Yadav, asked Narain to swap his position with the then District Magistrate of Lucknow, RC Takru. Narain, in consultation with the then Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Lucknow, Shriram Arun, decided to invoke Section 144 and ban all processions till the issue got resolved between the two sects.
He invited leaders of the two sects for dialogue. But, neither of the sect leaders agreed to sit across the table, fearing backlash from their followers. Narain then decided to hold talks late at night. “I would keep both gates of my bungalow open after 11 pm. The shia and the sunni leaders would enter from separate gates,” he recollects. The covert dialogue went on for about a month-and-a-half and then a formula was devised. It was decided that shias would begin their procession from the Imambara and he, along with the SSP, would ensure dispersal of the crowd peacefully. This went on for three years. Every year, the shias would threaten to take out the procession and court arrest. Subsequently, the sunnis too were allowed to take out their procession, a practice which has continued till date.
In 1998, Narain rose to be the Chief Secretary after serving as founder Chairman of the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and in several other positions in the UP government. He had the trust of the then Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh. This came to the fore after a cloud-burst and earthquake hit Uttarkashi (now in Uttarakhand) in 1999.
Singh decided to visit Uttarkashi to take stock of the situation. The then Divisional Commissioner (DC) of Garhwal District, BM Vohra, had to collect relief material from Dehradun on the same morning that the CM was to visit Uttarkashi. Clearly, Vohra could not be at two places at the same time. He told Narain about this and also the then Home Secretary of the state. The duo advised him to carry on with the relief work. They offered to inform the CM about the DC’s absence in advance. But, the CM’s office failed to pass on the message to Singh. As a result, Singh was furious when he found the DC missing.
Singh ordered Vohra’s suspension and announced it in the Assembly. Narain says he signed the suspension order but did not send it to the officer. When the DC heard about his suspension on radio and television, he was aggrieved. Meanwhile, Narain and the Home Secretary met the CM with a joint note explaining the entire situation. “We demanded, either revoke the DC’s suspension or initiate action against us too. Singh exercised the first option,” Narain recalls.
Narain was Chief Secretary from April 1998 to October 2000. In October, Narain came on deputation to Delhi as Defence Secretary. He followed his minister, George Fernandes, in visiting Siachen to understand the tough conditions in which soldiers were working. “I spent a day in Siachen and learnt about frostbite, etc. From then onwards, we decided not to make any queries and sanction whatever the soldiers demanded,” he points out.
He retired as Defence Secretary on June 30, 2002, but within less than three months was appointed Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha under the then Vice-President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. That he had Shekhawat’s ear got reflected when Vijay Mallya, then a member of the Upper House, complained to Shekhawat against Narain and yet the latter took no action against him. “Mallya was slated to ask a question during one of the sessions. But we realised in the nick of time that same question had been answered earlier. We withdrew the question,” he explains.
Narain demitted the Secretary General’s office on September 15, 2007, after serving for more than five years. Six months later, he was made Member Secretary of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). Three years ago, he was instrumental in the formation of Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) on the pattern of the INTACH. Today, he is its Vice-President.
An author of three books—Clouds & Other Poems, ABC of Public Relations for Civil Servants and Saga of Civil Services—Narain wants creation of a separate civil service for rural areas. “Unless you create a separate cadre, you’ll not be able to do justice to rural areas. Posts relating to planning cannot meet demands and needs of rural people. There is no proper accounting,” says the former civil servant, who has the distinction of doing the first dissertation on Right to Information in the country and who is currently an independent director on the board of Reliance Power.
Son of an executive officer, Kripa Narain, in the Municipal Board (then called the Board) in Allahabad, Narain had academic excellence running in his veins. His father was an awarded English Honours graduate from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and also had an engineering degree from Roorkee Engineering Institute (IIT Roorkee today). Youngest of four siblings (two sisters and a brother, all postgraduates), Narain did his schooling from the Boys’ High School in Allahabad. He did his BSc from Ewing Christian College and topped Allahabad University in political science. Narain appeared for the civil services examination in 1964 and was among the top 10 candidates.
Since his father was among the top-ranked officers of the Municipal Board, and his mother, Shanti Narain, was a prominent social worker, he frequently saw Lal Bahadur Shastri and other Congress leaders at his residence. His son, Deepak Narain, is at present Accountant General (AG) of Assam while his two daughters are married and settled in America.