An Unknown Civil Servant on an Uneven Passage
An Unknown Civil Servant on an Uneven Passage by Dr. M. K. Purkait
About the Author
Dr. M. K. @ A. K. Purkait, joined Indian Administrative Service in 1967 while serving with the Government of India at New Delhi from 1966. He did his B.A (Hons) and M.A. in History and LL.B. from Calcutta University. He has served in various distinguished positions in Orissa, such as Principal Secretary, Rural Development; Secretary, Commerce & Transport; Labour & Employment; Tribal & Rural Welfare; Commissioner, Command Area Development, Land Reforms, Transport, Director, Land Records & Surveys; Addl. Registrar, Co-operative Societies; Presiding Officer of the State Co-operative Tribunal; Joint Secretary, Planning & Co-ordination; District Magistrate, Kalahandi; Public Sector positions like General Manager, DIOP, OMC Ltd., M.D., Tribal Development Co-operative Corporation Ltd. and Chairman, OMC Ltd. Having worked in such diverse fields, he has wide experience in the areas of Land Records, Surveys and Reforms, Cooperatives, Water and Land Management, Labour Laws and Welfare, Industrial Relations, Employment, Commerce, Transport, Planning, Mining, Tribal and Backward Classes Welfare and Rural Development including Rural Sanitation, Rural Drinking Water Supply and General Administration which is borne out by his discourse on these subjects in this book. He has expertise in formulating plans and strategies for development of Tribals and Backward Classes. He also possesses wide experience in Rural Development programmes and its implementation. He has published a number of Articles/Poems in Newspapers and journals. He has the experience of working as a Research Fellow on a research project on Cooperatives resulting in conferment of Ph.D. degree on him by a reputed university followed by publication of his first book titled “Glimpses of the History of Cooperative Movement in Orissa”. He has represented India in a few international conferences relating to International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD) and on minerals like chrome ore (ICA). In this connection he has visited foreign countries like Nepal, England and Italy.

“This book is veritably a complete, almost day-to-day chronological account of the over three decades of impeccable service put in by him in the IAS. I didn’t find any exaggeration anywhere, nor is there even any veiled attempt at self-glorification. Facts have been stated almost cruelly in their literal truths without any embellishments or apology for them and for those who were their cause. Therein lies the beauty of the book: there is no sermonising anywhere, no lessons taught even for those who need them now-yet plenty of actual instances and episodes that give plenty to learn for those in Service now who still desire to learn from one who had been there and who did bring glory to the Service without compromising on any principles and who upheld the highest of values that one was taught to uphold for life during that one year of training at the Academy. That the author does not rue his inability to have scaled still bigger and better heights in Service at the cost of those values and principles is ample testimony to his actual stature. The troubles and travails that he had to undergo along with his dear mother in his younger days, the courage and will-power with which be bore them and even overcame them brought tears into my eyes, but they speak volumes about this great personality and that in itself is a great lesson for those who want to learn how to face odds and even calamities and still emerge a winner. In spite of having been Purkait’s roommate, that I learn all about these only now from this book of his is another testimony to his simplicity, humility and honesty that are amply in evidence all through his narrations of events in this book. What more is required in making the book most readable and for recommending to all those seekers of truth in actual life?”- By Mr. P. M. Nair, Ex-secretary to the President of India and author of “The Kalam Effect”.

Excerpts from the Book

Years after when Ajit (AK) grew up and went to higher classes in School, College and the University, he had the privilege of learning more and more details about those communal riots which directly affected him in his childhood. The genesis of those terrible communal riots could be traced to the Government of India Act of 1935 providing for an all India federation as well as autonomy on the one hand and the rise of M.A. Jinnah as the undisputed leader of the Muslim League on the other. Jinnah who was otherwise not reckoned as a devout Muslim having married a Parsi woman outside his religion and being steeped in liberalized western education and culture, initially started his political career in the Indian National Congress (INC) and rose to the highest position in the party. But with the rise of M.K. Gandhi in the party and his visible tilt towards the leaders hailing from a particular family, Jinnah felt gradually marginalized in the INC which drove him to leave the INC and join the Muslim League as he thought neither he nor his fellow Muslims had any prospect of advancement in the party which was generally perceived to be a party mainly of the Hindus. This perception on the part of Jinnah made him the fanatic leader of the Muslim League which was, in fact, in urgent need of such a leader of his stature and perception to give a boost to the cause of the League at that point of time.

On the contrary, had Jinnah, with due recognition and encouragement, continued in the INC, he with his liberal background would possibly have worked as a bulwark against communal politics and the history of the freedom movement would possibly have been written differently. In fact, Jinnah in the early days of his political career in the INC established his secular credentials when he stoutly opposed M.K. Gandhi’s move to join the Khilafat movement lead by Ali brothers, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali evidently to appease the Muslims to win their support for the INC. But Jinnah perceived the Khilafat movement as a religious movement which it really was. Therefore he argued that the INC as a secular party should not have any truck with such religious movements. Having failed to prevent the INC led by M.K. Gandhi to join the said religious movement, he left for England in a huff. He apparently realised that his liberal and secular ideas were not getting due recognition and appreciation and thus slowly veered away from those progressive ideologies to gradually get imbued with communal ideologies which culminated in his joining the Muslim League. Apparent failure on the part of the then leaders of the INC to comprehend the importance of Jinnah as a nationalist leader which he indeed was in his early days in the INC proved to be a very costly mistake. This became evident when Jinnah established himself as the undisputed leader of the Muslim League, M.K. Gandhi as the leader of the INC had often to take great pains to woo the same Jinnah who was ignored while he was in the INC.

Incidentally, the fondness of M.K. Gandhi for one family possibly unwittingly prepared the ground for dynastic rule in independent India even with a democratic set up. And as if taking the cue from this family, a number of such families came up in democratic India, always trying to establish their sway in political parties set up by them as fiefdoms with the objective to rule over different regions of the country.

During the Chinese aggression of India in 1962, Biju Babu was singled out by Nehru to be his official Adviser in matters relating to the defense of the country during that critical period the nation was passing through those days. Biju Babu acquitted himself admirably in that very important assignment. After a year or so, when due to the falling health of Nehru, there was a talk of choosing his successor, the name of Biju Patnaik was also mentioned as one of the possible contenders. But when the time for actual selection came, it was Lal Bahadur Shastri from Uttar Pradesh, a close associate of Nehru and a trusted member of the Council of Ministers headed by him, was selected to be his successor. History and possibly geography denied Biju Patnaik the top job of the Prime Minister. Had he belonged to Uttar Pradesh and been one of Nehru’s close and trusted associates, he would have possibly become the Prime Minister after Nehru. He had all the qualities of head and heart to occupy that top job. There is a belief in certain quarters that had Sardar Patel been the Prime Minister when Kashmir was invaded by Pakistan shortly after Independence, he would have pushed the Pakistani invaders out of Kashmir fully before going to the United Nations or to agree to a cease-fire and thus the Kashmir problem which is pestering the country for so many years would not have been there. In the same vein, it can possibly be said that had Biju Patnaik succeeded Nehru as the Prime Minister, he could have possibly bargained the return of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to India in exchange for return of the vast tract of Pakistani land occupied by India during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, at the Tashkent Agreement concluded by Shastriji with Ayub Khan. The Tashkent Agreement and possibly the history of India would have been written differently had Biju Patnaik succeeded Nehru as many had anticipated those days.

Book Review:

Often post retirement memoir by civil servants tend to be self-important and dull. However, Dr. Purkait’s recollection in “An Unknown Civil Servant on an Uneven Passage” is none of the above. The book is the memoir of an Indian civil servant who was born in a family belonging to a community generally perceived to be below the elite group of the social structure and, therefore, subjected to social discrimination almost throughout his life. Reading the book is almost like living a life vicariously.

First of all, the book is a pleasure to read. The language is simple; and we can associate the incidents to experiences in our own personal lives. Throughout the book, the author has shared his rich and varied experiences, almost day-to-day chronological account of the over three decades of impeccable service put by him during his posting in various distinguished positions as an Indian civil servant. Facts have been stated almost cruelly in their literal truths without any apology for people who troubled him or who were the cause of his troubles.

The book further gives a peep into the history of freedom movement and the traumatic crisis the author had personally gone through, the source of which can be traced to the Government of India Act of 1935 and ascendancy of the Muslim League. The author while analyzing the history of the freedom movement, has attempted to trace how the gradual alienation of M. A. Jinnah, once one of the top leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC), from the INC, which led to his adoption of the Muslim League, and then later his strident call for the partition of the country to justify which communal riots were orchestrated in different parts of the country. The author’s views on these historic events appears quite fresh and bold.

During his visit to UK, the author had the opportunity to reflect on the history of evolution of the British as a nation through integration of diverse genes, which may interest those having a sense of history. Similarly, during his sojourn to Italy, he has attempted to trace the possible reasons for rise of notorious mafiosi in Italy through a historical perspective covering an exciting period of the history of Italy.

Furthermore, the author, while penning his experience in the IAS, has dealt with the woes and aspirations of the poor, the greed of the rich, the selfish games played by officials and politicians to safeguard their sectarian and partisan interests. The book is inspiring, and is a must-have for those who are in public life that can help them have a ring-side view of the functioning of the bureaucracy inside and outside.