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Aesthetics of a Lost Cause

Gopi Arora

By B.G. Deshmukh
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2004, pp. 392, price not stated.

By T.S.R. Subramanian
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004, pp. 359, Rs. 395.00


…Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.. --W. B. Yeats ‘The Second Coming’   In 1947, the Empire ended in India. A new journey began. Jawaharlal Nehru called it India’s ‘tryst with destiny’. In the magical moment of liberation, memory fused with prophecy, racial memory of past greatness with prophecy of modernity that would lift the burden of poverty.   Soon the tasks of the newly born nation-state would come into view against the sombre background of Partition. Would India break with the inherited patterns of state making or would the comfort of continuity be the ballast of the new state? In the event, the retreating colonial power supplied us not only the instrument of governance but its leit-motif as well. The Indian Administrative Service was born as the direct successor to the Indian Civil Service, characterized by Nehru as ‘neither civil nor service’. The role of the new service as the keystone of the arch of state power was recognized by Sardar Patel who famously said it would be ‘the ring of unity’ for holding India together.   In the two books under review, B.G. Deshmukh and T.S.R.Subramanian, both distinguished civil servants, tell us how the Service shaped their worldview, how it made them into what they became and how they in turn influenced the course of events. They can be read as inspirational texts, ‘motivating’ the younger generation to join the service to participate in the satisfying task of nation building. Or they can be regarded as extended commentaries on the foundational logic of the service which assigned to its members the exalted role of the guardians of the public interest. They can also be viewed, perhaps somewhat uncharitably, as essays in persuasion. Things may, in fact do, fall apart but some among the chosen few stand tall amidst the ruins. And therein lies hope that things can be turned around. If this reviewer prefers the second of the three readings it is only because Deshmukh firmly believes in the revolutionary role of the middle class of which the Indian Administrative Service is an important component.   Deshmukh describes, with considerable panache, his early years in service, spent in the rural districts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, getting to know the ropes, coming face to face with the misuse of public office for private gain, and trying to live up to the ...

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