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How honest was my babu!

Yet another memoir from a retired bureaucrat who was close to the highest posts in the government. Haven't we had enough of these?

india Updated: Mar 12, 2004 11:26 IST

Journeys through Babudom and Netaland
TSRSubramanian
Rupa and Co
2004
Politics, Government
Pages: 359
Price: Rs 395
ISBN: 81-291-0390-7
Hardcover

Suddenly, it’s raining memoirs by retired babus; the latest is TSR Subramanian’s, Cabinet Secretary for the short-lived United Front (UF) Government.

Standing out is the author’s affection for HD Deve Gowda, the Prime Minister best remembered for yawning, sleeping, and fiddling with his bulbous nose. Subramanian says, bizarrely, that these acts were deliberate, designed to portray the man as a rustic peasant, a true son of the soil.

Beyond the rustic manners, however, the shrewd Gowda was positive and action-oriented, and despite leading a fractious coalition, he gave a major push to reforms. The Golden Quadrangle highway project, now billed as A B Vajpayee’s dream, was actually conceived and started during Gowda’s regime. Similarly, the Delhi Metro, currently appropriated by both Delhi’s Congress government and the Centre’s BJP-led government, was also a brain-child of the UF. Subramanian laments Gowda not having a longer innings; he feels Gowda could have changed the country’s destiny.

Subramanian has unflinching faith in Gowda’s honesty and integrity. He recounts how the PM clearly told him to be careful of Gowda’s own family members trying to take advantage of his position. Only once did Gowda ask him a personal favour — it was a trivial one. Sycophancy or genuine admiration, one really can’t say.

Subramanian has unflinching faith in Gowda’s honesty and integrity. He recounts how the PM clearly told him to be careful of Gowda’s own family members trying to take advantage of his position. Only once did Gowda ask him a personal favour — it was a trivial one. Sycophancy or genuine admiration, one really can’t say.

Subramanian is equally generous in his praise of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Although P V Narasimha Rao forced him out as UP Chief Secretary after the Babri Masjid demolition, Mulayam, upon coming to power, kept him. He says Mulayam was a decisive chief minister. The Chief Secretary had the liberty to express contrary views; a time came when Mulayam had to tell him not to take such postures publicly, as people would say the Chief Secretary did not get along with the CM!

Other nostalgia is self-righteous: How he dissuaded minister Rajesh Pilot from visiting riot-hit Kanpur; how he prevented Governor Motilal Vora from acting the politician during a spell of President’s Rule; how he handled President K R Narayanan’s request for special aircraft for a foreign trip; how he thwarted Ram Vilas Paswan from running trains to every Bihar village; and so on.

But the book does have its funny moments: the gubernatorial breakfast appetite which covered cornflakes, eggs, toast, parathas and vegetables, jalebi, idlis,dosa and vadas, all downed with filter coffee (a collector was nearly sacked for serving cold idlis). Also, Subramanian once refused to return Rs 5,000 he received as advance for a foreign assignment. He spent the money on stitching a suit and a pair of shoes, but his posting was cancelled. He was willing to return the worn suit and shoes to the government!

First Published: Mar 13, 2004 09:23 IST