1972 to 2022 : A reflection on my days and beyond in the IAS

Falguni Rajkumar (IAS Retd) *

Fifty years ago on 1 May 1972, the results of the All India Civil Service Examinations were out. I had qualified for the IAS, IFS and IPS. I opted for the IAS. It had taken 25 years after India’s independence for a Manipuri Meitei to make the grade and find a place in the registry of Indian bureaucracy. On 15 July 1972, I was on my way to the National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie to register myself as an IAS officer.

As I stood in line to register along with other successful candidates I was somewhat awed by the place I was, a place where no Manipuri Meitei ever stood before. It gave me an overpowering sense of fulfillment and relief, an overwhelming feeling, a moment of personal triumph and pride for all whom I represented. For me that moment was special, gratifying that, I could mark attendance in the pages of the history of Indian bureaucracy that a Manipuri Meitei like all others from every part of the country too was there.

I recollect watching so many others like me, knowing how hard each one of them must have worked, conquered mountains of fears, and fought self-defeating delusions to be where they were that day just as I did. It is possible that each one of them too have stories like mine to share and each one worthy of being written and shared. I reassured myself that all that was happening to me was real and not a dream. I completed my registration and other formalities. As for the future another sub-cycle of life had begun to weave its magic wand once again remorselessly.

The memories of years of trial and tribulations came rushing, my first journey to Tezpur in Assam as a youngster barely five years old in 1954 with my father for getting a reasonable good English education leaving all near and dear ones behind in Manipur. What about those excruciating lonesome home-sick moments at Don Bosco School in Gauhati watching the mighty Brahmaputra languorously teasingly flow comparing with tiny Nambol-turen ?

What about the first drive up to Shillong for schooling in the wet and bleary cold rainy night through the fog and mist amidst the looming thick pine forest without knowing what lay in wait for me ! Can I forget the hellish and torturous train journey to Delhi from Calcutta across the vast Gangetic Plains of North India in the scorching dusty summer June heat of North India the first time in 1965, all for getting a graduate and a Post-graduate degree ? They now seem so surreal.

And what about those heartbreaks, when childhood friends I grew up with in Manipur left me suddenly, without telling why, where, and for what, only to reappear as stories from lips of other friends or as heaps of bones and ashes of insurgents ?

Those are now all memories, but worth recalling, what it was like to break a barrier so long denied. Now, having crossed the milestone I considered important, I am at peace with the world and myself even though a few regrets will always remain. But over the years knowing what I missed out, and got were all handiwork of destiny in which I had no control, I have learnt to live and accept them with humility and grace.

In this success story, I acknowledge the words of encouragements, faith and confidence of friends and well-wishers who stood by me when I was alone trying to break through the ‘impossible’ cordon of making into the IAS. And to the few detractors, who made me believe the IAS was for a Manipuri Meitei an impossible dream, I am indebted to them too, after all without their incertitude, qualms and cynicism of me getting into the IAS those days, I probably would not have worked so hard and purposefully to prove them wrong. The journey of making to the IAS was a learning process about life that flayed open the real meaning of human relationships and all that it entails. The experience made me a much wiser person.

I of course derive a lot of solace from the fact that my ‘success’ carried a message for all youngsters from Manipur then that they too can succeed, if I could. I have not been disappointed. Many more have joined the IAS ever since Manipuri Meiteis categorised as Other Backward Community (OBC) in 1994. And for those who aspire and dream to be an IAS my advice is, have faith in oneself, have determination, courage of conviction, and sincerity of purpose. For, if many others have succeeded since I did fifty years ago many more certainly will, I have faith in their innate determination and ability and live in hope they will prove me right !

As I celebrate those moments of my success fifty years ago, I wish to advise those who have crossed over and bracketed as IAS officers and other Central services, my expectations from them goes beyond. It is time they seek new goal posts. Getting into the IAS is not the end of it all anymore. Strive now to cross the threshold of mediocrity. For those who have Manipur as their cadre, strive and prove they can provide a much better kind of administration than what my generation could give in the past to the people of Manipur, when the number of local IAS officers were non-existent. And for those who have been allotted to other cadres outside Manipur prove across India, they are as capable like any other in the country as administrators.

Let me expand what I mean. For those direct recruits IAS allotted to Manipur and working (also those who join later), they should work in tandem with their colleagues in the MCS (Manipur Civil Service) who too are capable of handling things, achieve results with equal aplomb, and do their bit. Leave space for them. They too need administrative ‘breathing’ space to blossom.

I make this observation as the scope, jurisdiction and duties of IAS and MCS officers often overlap, which especially in small States of the North East like Manipur creates its own problems. A ‘silent’ tussle for administrative control and jurisdiction goes on between, which the public are often not aware but feel the pinch as victims. In the long-run Government, people and State suffer. This ‘turf war’ is prevalent in larger States too. But because those States are spatially spread far and wide, the ‘tussle’ gets less pronounced and somewhat diffused in their intensity and vehemence. Officers working in smaller States like those in the North East do not have such luxuries.

Such salutary advice becomes necessary with the growing number of local IAS officers in small States like Manipur, where two things are happening. While MCS and other State subordinate service officers feel hemmed in (they may not openly say) by the all-powerful IAS over lording them. On the other, IAS officers not only feel cramped in working in small States, importantly underutilised, doing things the provincial civil service officers could normally perform and carry out.

The situation and environment where role-play overlaps is not conducive to good governance. This undercurrent ‘tussle’ is most likely to increase with the ever-increasing number of local young IAS officers to find themselves confrontationally placed against the MCS officers. I flag this suggestion so that IAS and the MCS officers must perform and prove they can provide a clean, efficient, development and result-oriented administration, be the cutting edge of the State Government with their intimate and in-depth knowledge about the people and the State rather than find themselves working at loggerheads.

Serving in one’s home State is certainly preferred, but this general formulation may not always be desirable for a young local direct recruit officer for reasons stated earlier being hemmed in from all sides, constrained and handicapped by all sorts of local pressures incapacitating them from taking an unbiased objective decision that is not only fair, legal at all times. Such a situation in the beginning of their service can prove detrimental and self-serving.

Young local IAS officers have also to overcome unique socio-cultural dos and don’ts, a problem most other officials not native of Manipur may not be aware the entrenched bebhahar (social etiquette and behaviour) especially the ingrained respect for their elders, which poses a challenge to young fresh local direct recruit IAS officers from the Meitei community. Working as new entrants in such an environment can be daunting and challenging. Officers placed in such situations are fully aware of these pitfalls.

I give my own experience to explain what I mean. When I first came to Manipur in 1974 and was posted in the Secretariat, I found it extremely uneasy dealing with officials who were much elder to me in age but very junior in the official hierarchy. For instance, how do I address or chide an official (junior to me officially but much elder) who was a habitual late comer to office ? It was both embarrassing for the concerned official as much as I was. And this was even more awkward if the official happened to be an elder family member or a close elderly person I or my family knew.

Things might have changed now. But way back in 1974, when Rakesh, Lalringa and I joined as the first direct recruit IAS officers of the combined Manipur-Tripura cadre I found myself in the most unenviable piquant situation being addressed as ‘Sir’ (instead of Ibungo) by those whom I had addressed as ‘Tamo’ ‘Tada’, ‘Khura’, ‘Mamma’ etcetera before I joined the IAS. The problem is even more when in official meetings I had to come ‘heavy’ on a few of them for failing to do what had to be done. Local direct recruit young IAS are bound to confront these situations even now. It takes some effort to remain cool and calm in dealing with such unforeseen situations. Rakesh and Lalringa did not encounter such problems.

And for those Manipuri officers (both from the hills and valley) who have got other cadres outside Manipur they need to think the whole of India their domain because the All India Services alone provides the chance to serve and make a name in India.

Being a member of the IAS is an opportunity to serve the country and make National headlines. Local IAS and Central Service Officers need to think and go beyond Manipur, think of India and beyond to expand their vision and think even bigger than what they can hope to achieve. The world is waiting to see more IAS officers from Manipur (both from hills and from the valley) to prove their mettle as sportspersons have done Manipur proud. I may sound judgmental and didactic, but is not impossible. Manipur needs many more ‘ambassadors’ outside Manipur to project and prove officers from Manipur are capable like any.

I make this observation keeping in mind that many young officers working outside Manipur want to come to their home states in the hope things will be easier in doing something good in their home States a noble thought. Nothing wrong in this desire but not always easy. And should they want to come on deputation then why not first gain experiences outside in bigger States, make mistakes if need be there, pick up the best rudimentary knowledge and experiences in administration in these bigger States, before they can translate their commitment to their state and the region.

My personal experiences in this connection have been very rewarding as I could do a lot for Manipur and the North East even though I could not be physically present in Manipur. Just to cite one example. When the Government of India was considering the handing over of Kangla to the State and correspondences exchanged between the State Government, the Home, and the Defence Ministry in Delhi, I was in picture as the Joint Secretary concerned in the Ministry of Defence as link-officer in the Policy and Co-ordination division and dealing with real estates.

My presence certainly helped in clarifying and highlighting the significance and importance of Kangla for Manipur to other colleagues in various Ministries in the Home, Culture, Defence and other Ministries both officially and unofficially. Kangla was finally handed over to Manipur just as I left the Defence Ministry in 2004. I could do several other things for Manipur and the North East. But all these will be put in a book that should be out by the end of this year or very early next year.

This was possible because I served in Manipur very early in my career, left for Karnataka worked in various capacities, then in Delhi in two powerful Ministries of Petroleum and Natural Gas, and Ministry of Defence besides as Secretary of the North Eastern Council Shillong in the rank of Secretary to Government of India.

Post retirement I served as Special Advisor UNIDO looking after the North East and as Chairman, IIM Shillong. I could do much more for Manipur and the North East sitting in Delhi and Shillong, than I possibly could had I been in Manipur itself because of the kind of rich and rewarding experiences and exposures I got in the early infantile days in the IAS when I was ‘raw’, and vulnerable.

In all these, besides being an officer from the North East I was an ‘ambassador’ for Manipur and the North East wherever I served across the country. People came to know about me more no doubt, but importantly also, from where I was. That ‘knowledge’ to people across the country (and abroad) though intangible, in the long-run is how the fair name of Manipur needed to be built. My role in this regard went beyond being merely an IAS officer, but as someone who represent Manipur from the North Eastern corner of the country.

My interactions were constructive and fruitful making people change their views about Manipur for the better. Whenever I could achieve ‘something’ big or good for people around me, credit went to me but also added a nickel in the kitty of Manipur’s reputation and standings.

Manipur needs many more such ‘ambassadors’; roles that can be best played by those who have successfully made the grade to be in the IAS and other Central Services from the state. This especially as the fair name of Manipur stands somewhat overcast and sullied with all kinds of negative impressions. Nothing can be more satisfying in proving these impressions wrong by being exemplary competent officers outside across the country. I want new young entrants to the IAS and other Central services from the State and the region to do precisely that and be proactive ‘ambassadors’. Manipur and the North East need you to play this role.

Many years ago a friend once asked me after I joined the IAS how I would like to ‘remember’ my days in the IAS by the years, or by the incidents and events during service. I had then replied by the important events during the service years. Today fifty years after I like to remember both 1972 the year when a young Manipuri Meitei made it to the coveted IAS the first time 25 years after India’s independence. And also measure my life with various events associated with my years in the IAS. They are worth remembering.

* Falguni Rajkumar (IAS Retd) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is the first from amongst the Meiteis of Manipur to directly get into the IAS.
This article was webcasted on July 07 2022 .

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