On Red-Letter Day of the 2017 batch, President Kovind urged the young civil servants to break the binary of ‘us and them’
Last Monday (September 16, 2019) was a Red-Letter Day for officers of the 2017 batch who were undergoing the last leg of their three-month posting as Assistant Secretaries to the various ministries and departments of the government of India. They were invited to meet President Ram Nath Kovind at the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. This invitation and the format of interaction was a welcome departure from the routine 'call-on' from our times, wherein officers would come, get a homily, a photograph and a cup of tea.
This time, the President's office and the Department of Personnel and Training took the initiative to make the program both interactive and meaningful as five officer trainees – Surabhi Gautam, Suman Mohanty, Nandini KR, Sheikh Tanvir and Illakiya S – from across cadres, regions and linguistic affiliations shared their emotions, experiences and expectations with the President. The program was conducted by Namami Bansal from Uttarakhand cadre.
Surabhi Gautam spoke about her journey as a girl child studying in a government primary school in a remote village in Satna district of MP. Expressing her profound gratitude to her parents and teachers who always instilled a sense of pride in her village, her language, her culture and her country, she now had the confidence to contribute to her nation. She spoke about how the Academy had instilled punctuality, discipline, fitness and love for the outdoor besides honing her skills in extracurricular activities. During her district training, she understood the 'connect' between citizens and administration.
Suman Saurav Mohanty, borne on the West Bengal cadre, mentioned that the posting of batchmates to diverse ministries gave an idea of the federal set up, as well as the imperative of cooperative federalism. He spoke of their participation in the Jal Shakti Abhiyan and the pan-Indian initiatives on Water conservation at the district level. He made a special mention of Friday sessions with Secretaries which gave an opportunity to the youngest members of the service to interact with their colleagues who were in the highest echelons of governance. He ended with a quote from Woodrow Wilson: "there is no higher religion than human service… to work for the common good is the greatest creed".
Nandini KR thanked the President for taking out the time to interact with their batch. She said that while life can only be understood backwards, however, it must always be lived forward. She spoke of how the Himalayan trek had taught them to face challenges with a smile and how the village visit gave them an insight into life in the hinterland. Bharat Darshan had dissolved many preconceived notions and gave them a sense of pride in the diversity of the nation. On completion of their training, they were convinced of the Academy's crest: 'Sheelam Param Bhushanam', character is the best embellishment.
Sheik Tanveer Asif recounted his training in Mysore and mentioned that his batch had the opportunity of meeting the PM twice which gave them an idea of his expectations from the young civil servants. Many of them had their first experience of trekking in the Himalayas or seeing the coastline and foreign travel. Through their direct involvement with Jal Shakti, they got an idea of what does the Centre expect from ground-level administration and vice versa.
Illakiya S from the Kerala cadre shared her experiences of training in Kollam, a district famous for cashew and fishing. Her district had taken the lead in empowering transgenders and giving the youth an opportunity to interact with them in a caring environment. She was also impressed with community participation in the Kerala floods and enjoyed her involvement with the 2019 elections, which she described as a festival of democracy.
In his address, President Kovind congratulated the officers for joining the prestigious service and mentioned that the basis of this privilege was derived from the higher call of duty. He complimented them for sharing their experiences but he added that sharing was also about listening and how this was the Mantra of success for an administrator. Describing the IAS as the vanguard of India's growth, he spoke of challenges with regard to social justice, equity, environment and good governance. He told officers that their generation will witness the makeover of India as the country which had transcended the scourge of poverty. He advised officers to bridge the gap between vision and implementation, and this would be possible only if we took everyone along. The Service gave officers an opportunity to lead from the front, and this was an opportunity to be leveraged for the transformation of India. India was changing fast, and the aspirations of youth and women had to be met. IAS bestows authority, prestige and responsibility but this had to be exercised for the public good, even while keeping in mind the highest standards of probity in public life. "Change the vocabulary of district administration from authority and power to service and dedication." He went on to add that impartiality was the hallmark of bureaucracy, and the ideals set by Sardar Patel must be implemented in letter and spirit.
And, last but not the least, he said that we had to break the binary of 'us' and 'them'. To be successful, it had to be "us together!"
(Dr. Sanjeev Chopra is Director, LBSNAA, Mussoorie, and Honorary Curator, Valley of Words: Literature and Arts Festival, Dehradun. The views expressed are strictly personal)