By the time this article appears, Gopi Arora would have been cremated, mourned and grieved by thousands of admirers and friends. As a close friend, and one with whom I had the good fortune of sharing a worldview, I feel it important to share with readers a deeper view of a bureaucrat who adorned the service with his unparalleled qualities of head and heart.
Gopi joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1957, with a single-minded purpose: to serve the country. He grew in the ‘idealistic’ Nehru years and came to be known later as the most powerful bureaucrat in the corridors of power. It was a different kind of ‘power’ — one which was used to help the right people, to take correct decisions in the interest of the country and to never get politically influenced.
Gopi’s beginnings were humble and his family espoused simple living and high thinking. At a very early age, he assimilated these principles which he manifested in his educational career. After he finished his academic education in Allahabad University he became a professor of history. It is said that his students were taught not only history but also literature because of the way he communicated thoughts and historical events.
Gopi had the great advantage of being taught as an undergraduate by two celebrated poets: Harivansh Rai Bachchan and the great Urdu lyricist, Raghupati Sahai ‘Firaq’. This helped him to nurture his love for verse. His conversation was always peppered with shayaris. The tiniest gesture from a person could prompt him to write beautiful notes. His choice of words, command of language could be seen even in the smallest of his scribblings I was often privy to.
I happened to meet P. Chidambaram some years ago and I casually asked him how his team in the Finance Ministry was. His one line reply was “They are good, but we no longer have officers like Gopi Arora.” It is a testimony to Gopi’s calibre as an officer even 15 years after he retired.
Another bureaucrat friend of mine, R.C. Sinha, who served in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting when Gopi was Secretary would tell me about Gopi’s notations that weren’t merely orders but visionary statements. After his IAS career, he joined the International Monetary Fund for three years. Officials there discovered the mettle of Gopi, occasionally calling him ‘Dr Gopi Arora’. On any complicated issue he would write out a long note that his colleagues defined as the ‘Arora formula’.
Gopi’s passing away is not only a loss to his friends and admirers, but it’s also a loss for the country. His grasp of economics was such that practising economists were wary of contradicting Gopi’s opinions. He was possibly one of the most respected economists of his time without having had any formal education in the subject.
When he witnessed some thing wrong being pursued, he would just smile and mutter why ‘simple things’ are not understood. He was often proved to be right, but sometimes the ‘damage’ had already been done.
The words of Shakespeare come to mind while remembering Gopi: “How long a time lies in one little world!/Four lagging winters and four wanton springs/ End in a word; such is the breath of kings.”
Suresh Neotia is former Chairman, Ambuja Cement Ltd