Category: Book Review

Two books on Indian elections

Two books on Indian elections

The elections are going on and everybody is excited and involved in the entire election process. People vote in the elections and discuss issues. Questions are also raised at times on the election commission of India. Being a retired IAS officer I have been involved in the conduct of several elections during my career and I am convinced that the conduct of elections by the election commission and the District Magistrate and his team is truly a miracle. There are 98 Crore voters residing in various parts of the country and they participate in the election process the conduct of which is indeed a great example of Leadership and effective management at the district level as well as at the election commission level.

Most people are not aware of the humungous logistics and tremendous amount of coordination, team work and people management that is involved. In fact India should be proud of its achievement in conducting an election of this scale with so much efficiency. Conducting of free and fair elections is the very foundation of our vibrant democracy. Few people would appreciate what an unimaginable and almost impossible task it must have been for the first Chief Election Commissioner Sukumar Sen IAS to conduct the first elections in 1952 on the basis of universal adult suffrage. He had to set up the institution of the election commission and prepare all guidelines and processes for the elections. He did not have the benefit of any precedent. In 1952 there was hardly any technology to support him. Literacy levels in India were only 20%. It was because of this that using symbols came into practice so that those who could not read could also vote.

I have recently read two extremely informative books about elections in India which I recommend should be read by all those interested in Indian democracy and leadership. The first one is “An undocumented wonder- the making of the great Indian elections” by S. Y. Quraishi who held the post of Chief Election Commissioner. He details the entire election process. You would be amazed to find that a team of six polling personnel had to be dispatched to a village which had only one eligible voter! The right to vote to even one voter cannot be denied. The book also talks about how polling teams are sent to the remotest corners of the country like snow capped mountain villages and desert areas. The teams often have to trek for several days to reach the polling booths and use all modes of transport like bullock –carts, camels or sometimes even elephants! The book also brings out the evolution of the election process over time and gives excellent suggestions for electoral reforms.

The second book is the autobiography of the irrepressible and controversial Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan titled “Through the broken glass”. Seshan revolutionized the election process and scrupulously ensured its independence. He put the fear of the election commission in the minds of all political parties and candidates and our democracy today owes a lot to Seshan. His leadership style would not correspond to most leadership theories. Frankly, even I would be hesitant to subscribe to it. He was arrogant, aggressive, abrasive and in the words of many of his contemporaries a bully. Yet at the time when he took over the election commission it was not feared by the political parties and there were many electoral malpractices. Seshan realized that the people’s representation act and the rules did not give him much teeth but he used article 324 of the constitution which gave him powers to conduct and supervise elections in a liberal manner and threatened and bulldozed his authority and put the fear of election commission in the minds of all. There is an interesting incident in the book where he makes the Government of that time apologise in writing to him when he objected to the endavour of the Government to try and dictate to him. He reveled in controversy and was always combative. Like him or not but he made a difference to the election process and the Indian democracy.

Alok Sir Blogs-02

“We also make policy” By Subhash Chandra Garg I.A.S RetdFormer Finance secretary

“We also make policy” is exactly what it says in the cover of the book that it is an insider’s account of how the finance ministry functions. Subhash Chandra Garg had a long and varied experience of working in the finance sector. He worked as principal secretary finance in the Rajasthan Government, he was executive director with the world bank and then secretary economic affairs and secretary finance to Government of India. He definitely has the pedigree to talk about issues that the finance ministry handles and the various pulls and pressures that it is subjected to. He has gone in great detail to describe how major economic decisions were taken during his tenure. The tussle between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the finance ministry is very succinctly brought out in both its professional as well as personal aspects. Urjit Patel the then RBI Governor is depicted as zealously guarding the autonomy of RBI but this very concept of autonomy is interpreted differently by the finance ministry and RBI. Personal ego clashes add to the cauldron.

Subhash was initially in support of demonetization but subsequently felt that the initial objective of eliminating black money was not achieved. An interesting snippet seems to suggest that Mr. Arun Jaitly the then finance minister did not have an inkling about the announcement of demonetization though he later fully supported it. Subhash Garg is very much in favour of the electoral bond scheme
which he feels makes the process of donation to political parties more transparent and he is of the view the Supreme Court should not interfere with it.The matter is sub-judice before the Supreme Court and let us see how the honorable court views it.

Subhash is very candid in his appraisal of his colleagues in the finance department and does not mince words about those whose working he did not like. In dealing with issues Subhash comes out as an officer who speaks and writes what he thinks is correct even though it may be against the general thinking around and even contrary to the directions of the top which includes PMO.
The spicy part of the book is about his strained relationship with the new finance minister Nirmala Seetharaman which ultimately led to his transfer from the finance ministry and was the main cause of his seeking voluntary retirement. He had an excellent relationship with the earlier finance minister Mr. Jaitly.

Unless you are very interested in the intricacies of the working of the finance department, certain sections of the book appear to be a little to detailed and do not make easy reading. It is, however, a very welcome and useful addition to public policy literature.

I just finished reading “Dethroned-Patel, Menon and the integration of princely India” by John Zubrzyck

I just finished reading “Dethroned-Patel, Menon and the integration of princely India” by John Zubrzyck

I just finished reading “Dethroned-Patel, Menon and the integration of princely India” by John Zubrzyck This book gives a remarkable insight into the story of how the over five hundred princely states were integrated into India at the time of independence. One was aware of the stellar role of Sardar Patel and his secretary of the states department Mr. V.P Menon in making the states sign the instrument of accession in favour of the Indian dominion but this book reads like a thriller. The intricacies that were involved in the process are fascinating. Patel and Menon coaxed, cajoled and used subtle threats to make the princes agree to make their state a part of the Indian union. Hyderabad, Bhopal, Junagadh and some of the Rajput states were the most recalcitrant. The Nizam of Hyderabad declared himself independent and it required army intervention in the Garb of Police action to make him buckle down. The Iron will of Sardar Patel and the negotiation skills of Menon made this impossible situation a reality. Nehru also was fully involved in making the states accede to the Indian union but he was a pacifist in his approach as opposed to Sardar Patel who did not shirk from twisting the arms of the princes who were acting difficult. The book brings out that contrary to the claims this process of accession and so called Police action was anything but bloodless.

The author does show Lord Mountbatten in a favourable light with which I personally do not agree but I guess western authors have this predilection. The book shows that the Kashmir issue was taken out of the purview of the state department. Incidentally, about article 370 it says that initially all members of the Congress working committee barring two were opposed to it. However, Nehru who was abroad made an emotional plea to Sardar Patel who then used his stature to make all members of CWC agree to article 370.
The book also has very interesting and amusing anecdotes about the eccentricities and peccadilloes of the princes. The remarkable fact is that despite the extravagance of the princes and their addiction to a hedonistic life of some of them they were very much respected by their subjects.

The book is an interesting read for all those who are interested in the contemporary history of India in particular to the momentous events of India getting its independence. For those interested in this subject I would suggest they read the biography of V.P Menon and also the book on reorganization of states written by Menon. I read these books sometime ago and they are the source material for “Dethroned”. Incidentally, for those who may not know V.P Menon was not an ICS officer but started his career as a stenographer in the home department.

Indian independence

Sardar Patel

V.P. Menon

Integration of princely states

Indian Union

Alok Sir Blogs-03

“A small cog in a large wheel”- Naresh Nandan Prasad (I.A.S Retd.)

One felt very comfortable reading Naresh Nandan Prasad’s autobiography as the terrain traversed by him was very familiar to me as he was my colleague in the Uttar Pradesh cadre of I.A.S. Naresh served in U.P. , Uttaranchal, Government of India and in International organizations. Naturally he has a very rich and absorbing tapestry of experiences to share which makes the book a very interesting read. Naresh comes out from the pages of the book as anything but a small cog in a large wheel. In different postings he left his indelible mark by his initiative, creativity and positivity.

The book starts from his training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie where he had a great time just like most of us. I can fully connect myself with his sentiments when he says that the days spent at Mussoorie are the best days in life. Endearing and enduring friendships are built and there is an immense sense of contentment and joy. Of course, for Naresh the memories would be sweeter as he met his life partner Anjali at the academy.

The remarkable thing about Naresh is that he took every posting in a positive light even if he had experienced initial disappointment. He made the most out of every chair he occupied confirming the belief that it is the officer and not the assignment that matters. There is immense potential in every job that one gets in the I.A.S to serve the people and bring about transformative changes. I was particularly impressed by the courage shown by him in getting the Etawah elections countermanded on grounds of unfair electoral practices even though the Chief Minister of the state was contesting from there. It is all the more significant considering that he was in the secretariat of the same chief minister before being posted as D.M. His integrity drew a grudging statement of praise even from a difficult person like Mr. T.N Seshan the Chief election commissioner. The more remarkable thing is that the chief minister concerned did not carry any animosity towards him.

More than the brilliant work he did as vice chairman Kanpur Development Authority it was his successful crusade against corruption in the authority which is worth appreciating. His creative side is evidenced in full bloom in the work that he did as principal secretary Tourism, Government of Uttaranchal. He made a mark in his Government of India assignments also and then spent more than a decade at an international organization at Geneva. The organizational politics that he experienced at Geneva makes interesting reading and only goes to show that human beings are the same everywhere. Naresh had more than his fair share of jealous bosses and colleagues during his career.

Civil servants particularly I.A.S officers would love reading this book. The style and flow of the narrative should attract other readers also especially those interested in leadership and public policy.
It is sad that Naresh is no more with us. His life story as sketched out in the book will remain with the reader for a long time.