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This article is more than 1 month old.

Wading through crises with Kalyan Singh

Mini

I had earlier worked with Kalyan Singh as Director, Information and Public Relations during his first stint as Chief Minister. He said he was a firm believer in keeping his critics (I was one of them) around him as he always believed in getting objective feedback. There aren’t very many like him anymore. RIP.

Wading through crises with Kalyan Singh
Despite all the difficult circumstances, I was thoroughly enjoying my stint in various assignments with the Uttar Pradesh Government during the mid-1990s.
Hence, I had no intention of serving in the Central Government, a move that was coveted by many officers. One fine morning, I got a call from a senior officer with whom I had worked in the State but who was now serving in the Government of India (GoI).
He asked me a simple question: “Why haven’t you sent your name to serve in the Central Government?” (As per the protocol, an IAS officer has to volunteer to be considered for serving in GoI). My answer was simple, “I have no intention.”
However, knowing him previously, I knew he wasn’t going to take my ‘lack of intention’ as an answer. He was a well-wisher who knew what I was missing out by not serving in GoI.
Without giving me any explanation, he directed me to have my application sent in at the earliest. I knew when he said earliest, he meant yesterday! Moreover, I held him in high esteem. So, I got cracking, wrote out the application to the State for the Central deputation. Thereafter, I forgot all about it.
Meanwhile, Kalyan Singh had taken over as the Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh in 1997 as a part of a deal that was struck between Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and his own party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
I had earlier worked with Kalyan Singh as Director, Information and Public Relations during his first stint as Chief Minister. This stint of Kalyan Singh was prematurely terminated on account of the demolition of Babri Masjid.


When he became the CM for the second time, he had expected me to call on him but I didn’t, on account of my own convictions.
After a few days of his taking over as Chief Minister, he gave me a call and asked me to meet. When I met him, he revealed he wanted me as Secretary to the Chief Minister.
I had enjoyed working with him in the past and I considered it a privilege to assist him when he was wading through a crisis-ridden state. So, I agreed.
Consequent to taking over as Secretary to the CM, I got down to business in the right earnest. However, within a month I got a message my name had been retained by the Central Government and subsequently, I was posted as Export Commissioner, in the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India.
It was considered a coveted assignment. It was an ethical dilemma for me whether to tell this to Kalyan Singh or not because, having known him for a while, I had an inkling if he came to know about it, he would ask me to go irrespective of his desire to retain me to assist him.
Hence, I chose not to desert Kalyan Singh. I did not reveal this development to him.
Unfortunately, the Chief Secretary conveyed this development to him in a casual conversation. He asked me why I had not told him about it. I candidly informed him that as he had recently taken over as CM and as I was assisting him in resolving a few emergent issues, I had chosen to stay back.


He heard me out but it didn’t take him long to respond. He spoke with complete clarity. He felt I should not sacrifice this opportunity and directed me to go ahead and take over as Export Commissioner. My explanations fell on deaf ears as he didn’t relent.
In a couple of days, I joined my assignment in Delhi. I had not personally bid adieu to Kalyan Singh. So, during my next visit to Lucknow, I paid him a visit. He was about to leave for Delhi and asked me to accompany him on the State aircraft.
I was a trifle surprised at this suggestion as I was not working with him officially anymore. I had come to call on him in my personal capacity. However, I couldn’t say no to him and accompanied him to Delhi.
On the flight, he explained to me why he was going to Delhi. At that time his government was surviving on the support provided by Mayawati. He was now confident he would be able to hold his own. He was going to Delhi to convince the ‘High Command’ about his intention and plans.
He also had some plans for the socio-economic development of the State, some of which I was aware of but he explained them to me in greater detail. On arrival at Delhi late in the night, as we reached the State Guest House, he asked me to prepare brief notes for him to use during discussions with the ‘High Command’.
I had prepared brief notes for him in the past. Hence, I had some ideas about what he wanted. I worked overnight to develop the ideas he had suggested and to prepare a few handwritten notes.
These brief notes were handed over to him early in the morning. I returned to my room thereafter to catch-up on my sleep. I slept well.
I was woken up by a knock on the door. The messenger informed me Kalyan Singh was calling me. As I entered the room, I found an effusive and upbeat Kalyan Singh.
He had managed to convince the ‘High Command’ he could run the government without Mayawati’s support. I was really happy for him. Though I was not now working with him, I felt deep pleasure for a man who had the potential to transform the State.
We then entered into a very interesting conversation as Kalyan Singh reminisced about the time I had spent with him. He confessed he felt a bit awkward initially with my blunt and forthright comments but what clinched our association was an incident Kalyan Singh narrated, an incident I had forgotten, but which illustrated why he retained me. (The incident is narrated in the chapter 'OVER REACH' in “Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant”)
He said he was a firm believer in keeping his critics (I was one of them) around him as he always believed in getting objective feedback. I told him the people of the State had enormous expectations from him. And then I recited a poem I had composed with him in mind:
Samay ruka nahin, hum kyon theher gaye?
Abhi toh humchale hi nahin, phir kyun thak gaye?
Utho Pathik, mat bhramit ho, dhoomil andhiyaare mein –
Shreshtha wahi jo ghira nahin ho kshanik nirasha mein –
Jago! Jago! Man mat behlao!
Ek Maseeha tum bhi ban jao!
(Time didn’t stop, why did we retire?
We’ve just begun the journey; why did we tire?
Get up, Traveller, don’t be deluded by this smoke-filled dark –
He leads who is not overwhelmed by this momentary despair –
Awake! Awake! Don’t cajole yourself!
Become a Messiah yourself!)
No sooner had I finished these lines than Kalyan Singh dissolved into tears. He promised me and swore by his mother he would do his best to turn the State around. This was an incredible sight that will stay etched in my memory forever. There aren’t very many like him anymore. RIP.
Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book 'Not Just A Civil Servant'. The views expressed are personal. Click to read his other columns
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