First image that comes to my mind when I think of a soldier, is that of a person guarding nation’s border without caring about his own safety and security. There are another set of people that manage internal dynamics of nation, officers of the administrative services. A soldier at the border knows his enemies. By contrast, an administrator has a hard time distinguishing friend from foe and warding off temptations. Some succumb, many others suffer. Many become depressed and indifferent. To me an honest officer, that can stand up to temptations of life, is the Best Soldier.
Let me start with a real life experience. A young woman, fresh after submitting her doctoral thesis, appeared for a job interview at an University. Also appeared for the same position was daughter in law of a prominent political family from the state. When the final recommendation went to vice chancellor for his signature of approval, vice chancellor asked for the raw evaluation sheets. Lo and behold! in the raw sheets the young women without any backing had scored maximum marks. Vice chancellor declined to sign the doctored recommendation sheet put forward by university management. Only when the orginal scores and interviewers’ comments were incorporated and merit list reconstructed, did the vice chancellor put his signature on the paper.
This was an incidence that happened nearly 18 years before. The vice chancellor was an IAS officer who was looking after administration of the university. This vice chancellor was Mr. Ashok Khemka. No body knew him that time. He was probably less than forty years old. He did not know the people that appeared for the interview. Most of all, he did not have to antagonize a powerful political family. Yet he did what he had to do as an officer of the university and as an officer of the government of India. This was not the first, and definitely will not be the last. People came to know of Mr. Khemka when he cancelled mutation of a land acquired by son in law of the first family of India.
For his desire to follow the due process of law, Mr. Khemka had to pay a heavy price. Not many people knew, that Mr. Khemka in his 20 years service had been transferred at least 22 times. On an average he stayed in no position more than 6 months. One government of Mr. Chautala had withdrawn his official vehicle. Mr. Khemka walked to office. It would have been so easy for Mr. Khemka to go with the flow, yet he chose to move on, quietly and in a single minded manner.
We may not know of many upright officers that manage administration of Indian state. Service rules prevent these officers from talking to press. Once in a while, nation comes to know of officers when they take on mighty politicians, corrupt businessmen and mafia dons. Mrs. Durga Shakti Nagpal took on sand mafia in UP. T A Ravi, Satyendra Dubey, Shanmughan Manjunath paid with their lives for doing their jobs.. Justice Santhosh Hegde was abused by politicians when he, as Lokayukta of Karnataka, initiated investigation on illegal iron ore mining in Bellary, Karnataka. An unpright police officer, Ms. Damayanti Sen, who solved a rape case was transferred to traffic police department in West Bengal. These people did not have to oppose politician – businessmen nexus. Their salary would still be deposited in their account at the end of the month. They would have got regular promotion, could get enough money to send their kids abroad for education and at the end of career retire in the provincial capital. Who cares if a poor man gets his due as per government rule!
I remember a Bengali novel by Shri Narayan Sanyal, that was also made a movie by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, titled “Satyakam”. Satyapriyo, as his name suggested, was incorruptible. When everyone was enjoying life of bribery and corruption, Satyapriya lived and died in penury. Satyapriyo’s wife, Ranjana, used to be a dancer in the royal court of a princely state. Satyapriyo had married his wife, after she was violated by her employer, knowing that she was carrying a child. Such was the strength of Satyapriyo’s honesty, even in the moment of immense grief, Ranjan, like Jabali of Chandogya Upanishad, informed her son that Satyapriyo was not his father and he should not light his pyre as per brahminical way of life. Finally, Satyapriyo’s grandfather, performed his last rites and took grand daughter in law and grandchild home. Only victory in Satyapriyo’s lonely struggling life.
Sri Rama Krishna used to say greatest dharma of this age are “Honesty and Truthfulness”. Officers like Ashok Khemka are present day Satyakams. Like Satyapriyo, they are fighting for honesty and truth. This may be a romanticised version of their lonely battle, I think steel frame called Indian bureaucracy is still intact from rust and termites of corruption, because of people like Ashok Khemka and others. Soldiers battle external enemies, Ashok Khemkas fight a more difficult battle. They fight internal enemies, many a time it is difficult to distinguish enemy from friend. God bless them. God bless India.
This post is written in response to WOW prompt at Blogadda, that wants to interpret “True Soldier”. More posts in response to the prompt may be found here.