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Op-Ed

My Years in Service

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By EMN Updated: Nov 01, 2013 12:23 am
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Khekiye K. Sema 

…CONTINUED- 12

The Minister was in the habit of telling the rural folks that there was no budget for schemes they had come pleading for. Many of them, especially from the Minister’s constituency, would drop in to my office to make further enquiries. When I truthfully let them know about the existence or the lack of budget they would troop back to the Minister and have a bash. I had to face a serious reprimand from the Minister for my eloquence.

In the early part of 1982, the Assembly election was over and the Department now had a brand new Minister… Mr. K.L.Chishi, with a very brand old attitude: stubbornness. It was not uncommon to hear people say that that was his second name and his second nature. The cordial rapport that Mr. Gokhale had built up with Mr. Vamuzo had to be restructured afresh. I somehow felt that Mr. Gokhale couldn’t quite make up the lost ground in that department. They were two different personalities with two different prioritised wavelengths. I was most uncomfortably sandwiched between the two of them: One was my Controlling Officer and the other, a cousin brother. I could not have been served a better ‘wit’ fitness regime, walking this tight rope strung up high between the two of them. Throughout my entire career I had faithfully maintained one simple philosophy that I would do for my cousin brother what was legitimately deserved to him as I would for anyone else but to never blindly cross the bridge of unfairness on account of that family tie. It was the most frustrating experience of a lifetime that no one believed this, especially in the political circle. The Nagaland bureaucracy with its heavy political partisanship and linkages that existed then and as it does even now, had a similar biased notion about where my loyalty lay. I would very candidly admit that when Chishi’s constituency people would ask me who they should vote for I had never hesitated to point my figure towards his direction. Which normal Naga brother would fail do this? But I had a clear line drawn not to be crossed. I had exercised restraint to a logical and honourable limits to the best of my ability. I can safely say that I did not have to reach that point of a hypocritical excesses. Be that as it may, it was I who paid the ultimate price for this political connection in the end, as you will realise when my story unfolds.
Let me take time out and illustrate what I mean by “hypocrisy” and “heavy political partisanship” of the bureaucracy in politics especially at the top of the hierarchy. Much later in the years after the 1982 elections, we had a Chief Secretary who very boldly exhorted the Officers during the Heads of Departments meeting prior to another impending election, stating that bureaucracy should be impartial and that “the right hand should not know what the left is doing”. He convincingly said this with an absolutely straight face… oh, not even a twitch. Then one evening, at the heat of the election time I got a call from him. When I entered his common room there were several anxious looking rural political agents waiting to meet him. Even a fool could guess what they were there for. I was immediately whisked into the inner room and without too much of a fuss handed one lakh rupees wrapped in a polythene bag in aid of Mr. K.L.Chishi’s election campaign. He had taken me for granted as usual that I was Chishi’s political agent. I was stumped but it was not my prerogative to refuse so I took it as a postman would and had started to walk out the way I came. First of all he immediately noticed the carelessly hanging money bag not fully covered by the shawl that I was wearing. Saying “no, no they will see it!” (meaning those sitting in the outer common room), he grabbed it, rolled it up and had it uncomfortably tucked under my armpit and secondly redirected my exit route through the backdoor. I felt like a victim of Sherlock Holmes, furtively slinking around. With a mumbled thanks for his concerned political gesture towards Chishi I drove home rather hot faced in the chill air. Here was a Chief Secretary who had preached a profound “right hand not knowing what the left was doing”. I noticed that in this particular case the Chief Secretary was clearly aware of what both his hands were doing in a well coordinated precision. The one thing that I completely lost that fateful night was the “respect” for the highest bureaucratic office in the State, considering the fact that this was happening to me for the second unfortunate time. The whispers of the grape vines that the Chief Secretary was raising certain compulsory percentages from all the major financial files of Departments for political party funding was not misplaced after all. They say children mostly follow the father’s examples and so you will probably understand when I speak of bureaucratic involvement in politics. With the Chief Secretary, the father figure of Bureaucracy, being thickly involved in this deadly game of dice, it is a royal picnic outing for his obedient subordinates to do the same. If this is not hypocrisy I’m not sure what is. You may be wondering why they do it at all. For the likes of the Chief Secretary: to retrench one’s continuity at the top. For other subordinates: to secure cushy lucrative posting in a big budgeted departments. Why big budgeted department? Oh, don’t be a fool asking stupid questions! Having played the game, the routine partisan decisions becomes a way of life along the way. That’s the reason we keep hearing repeated symphony on nepotism, corruption and unfair practices everywhere within the Government system. My apologies for this unhealthy digression. Let me get back to where I was at.
During Mr. Vamuzo’s time he wanted to provide asbestos sheets to the villagers under rural housing scheme. The Department had seriously argued against this. Many rural villages had no roads and it would become an unmanageable proposition for the villagers to firstly, reach the breakable asbestos sheets to the village on head load. Secondly, asbestos sheet could not be hammered on to the roof rafters straight away as they would CGI sheets and would have to be technically fitted. This was an unnecessary added burden on the villagers without the expertise. Mr. Vamuzo saw sense when presented and finally backed off. The asbestos issue cropped up yet again with the incoming of the new Minister. The non-local Marwari businessmen were hyper active once more and no matter what rationality was placed on the table, the Minister, true to his second nature, unwaveringly stuck to his decision to go ahead with it. The Department was given no choice but to order for asbestos sheets for the poor villagers later in that year. The daily working atmosphere was beginning to get vitiated. The Minister was in the habit of telling the rural folks that there was no budget for schemes they had come pleading for. Many of them, especially from the Minister’s constituency, would drop in to my office to make further enquiries. When I truthfully let them know about the existence or the lack of budget they would troop back to the Minister and have a bash. I had to face a serious reprimand from the Minister for my eloquence. Notwithstanding, I simply told the Minister that it was dishonest to say we don’t have when we have. Of course I said this taking advantage of being more as a brother than an Under Secretary. He warned me against it as a future reference which I don’t remember strictly following.
My VDB training routine continued as before now that the elections were over but I did have sufficient time to interact with colleagues from other services. I remember one discussion that I had with Mr. N. Belho who was at that time also an Under Secretary from the Nagaland Secretariat Service. We were later joined by another Under Secretary, Mr. Lanu, if I’m not mistaken. The topic was to do with safeguarding the interest of the in-service personals from the Government. I had dwelt at length how the Trade Unions protect their rights from their employers and in adoption of the same approach, how we Govt. Servants could safeguard our rights from the Govt. which tended to undermine welfare issues. The task that was needed to be carried out was to coordinate all Service Associations and create an apex organisation. The credit goes to Mr. N. Belho who took this discussion very seriously and along with his friend Lanu, they began series of meetings with other service associations and finally what is now known as CANCEA was born. I had attended and interacted in the initial meetings of CANCEA. However, when the matter of joining this association was broached in the NCS Association, the majority of the members felt that as a Government Administrative backbone it would be inappropriate to be a part of this. Thus NCS refrained from joining this Association. In a manner of speaking, though NCS provided the first spark to light the bonfire we failed to join it. Today, I look back at those formative years of CANCEA and the level of maturity it has now attained and feel proud to have had something to do with it. It can only be hoped that CANCEA will use its clout with a balanced mind in dealing with the issues which has every possibility to go selfishly overboard sometime. They should resist this temptation and maintain an honourable stance at all times. At the end of the day, faithfully serving our people is the end responsibility even while protecting our own service interests.
Sometime towards the end of November 1982, I got a surprise visit from the elders of Kholeboto Village led by their Head GB. They had brought a dozen bottles of honey (rum bottles spiritually emptied), harvested from their community bee keeping project that had been sanctioned earlier in the year. The Hd. GB happily explained that it took time for the bees to hive in new boxes and so to ensure immediate community production the new boxes were distributed to each household with a condition that each household would contribute 50% of their already hived in boxes to the community. That was how they had achieved prompt harvest within the first year. I retained a bottle, led them to Mr. Gokhale’s residence and made them present the rest to him. Mr. Gokhale’s attention was immediately captured when the Hd. GB enthusiastically recounted the story of the efforts they had put in to achieve the first project funded production. He couldn’t have been more pleased. He then remembered about the apple orchard and the lake which I had referred to in my tour report. He asked the Hd. GB how much would be needed for the maintenance of the apple orchard and a fishery scheme for the lake. The Hd. GB was an unassuming honest fellow. He estimated that Rs.10,000/- should comfortably see them through maintenance of the orchard, repairing the lake embankment and getting fish fingerlings. Mr. Gokhale granted them Rs. 15,000/- instantly. There was a shared happiness all round. Before leaving, the Hd. GB jokingly told me that getting Government’s help in broad daylight was more comfortable than receiving it at 12 midnight. It further amused me to actually have Mr. Gokhale drawn in to fund the project in my assigned jurisdiction rather than Phek District of his charge. He couldn’t escape viability.
All good things must also come to an end I guess. By mid July 1983 my promotion order was issued. Since the post of a Deputy Secretary was vacant in our department, I had expected to be retained especially with a political brother at the helm. Instead, I was being posted as Additional Deputy Commissioner, Kiphire, an outpost that most of my NCS colleagues looked at as a punishment posting at that time. I had not realized that my main problem was infect my political brother who must have been itching to see me out of his kitchen garden. This was an answer to his prayers. It was him who had surreptitiously organized this posting and had even gone out of his way to convince Mr. Rothrong, a Minister from that sector, when he objected to a Sumi ADC for Kiphire. Mr. Rothrong was told that I may be a Sumi but had not been brought up in a total Sumi environment and to try me out. That was the magnitude of my political clout in a complete reversal order. When others were harvesting cushy placement in civilized areas because of the political connection they wielded, I was being exiled to the choicest possible places in the furthest backwoods of Nagaland, that too handpicked by a brother. “Who needs an enemy when you have such a good brother on your side of the fence”, was a thought that did occur in my mind at that time.
So this was my 9th transfer in a 9 year service. Mr. Gokhale was sorry to see me go in a sense but he was a pragmatic optimist. He was happy with the prospect that I had reached a stage where I was now able to steer my own ship and put to test, the many areas of our discussion, of agreements and disagreements that we had wrestled with over the three long absorbing years. At that point I couldn’t fully share his enthusiasm. All that I could thinking of was the 8 long hours of travelling the narrow, winding, never ending road to Kiphire.

The writer a retired IAS Officer, Forest Colony, Kohima.

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By EMN Updated: Nov 01, 2013 12:23:35 am