Everyone wants to be an IAS officer. But retired IFS officers write much better books


RRetired government officials are writing books like never before, primarily those of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

The trend did not spread to lower caste officials in the “central services”, although some former police officers wrote their memoirs. Leaving them aside for the moment, and looking only at the books written by those of the IFS and the IAS, one detects a trend.

IAS officers, those who held the main positions of bureaucratic power in government, write mostly about their own exploits while in service. In contrast, IFS officers write less about themselves and more about the issues and context of their work (international relations and history), while also straying into unrelated areas. Some of their books are the fruit of genuine scholarship. The same cannot be said of the books written by the IAS.

This divergence deserves some analysis. After all, officers in both services come from similar backgrounds. Many went to the same colleges and studied the same subjects (usually history). Their performance on the qualifying exam and interview would have shown little difference.

Yet, at the end of their career, what occupies the minds of the first two services are very different territories.

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VSLet’s look at some recent examples. From the IFS stable there is the captivating book by Talmiz Ahmad Western Asia at Warby Shyam Saran How China sees India and the world (a companion to his previous How India sees the world), third or fourth book by Rajiv Dogra war time (two earlier had to do with the Durand line), the thoughtful reflection of Shivshankar Menon ChoicesChandrashekhar Dasgupta’s revealing book on the Bangladesh War, and the remarkably varied offerings of TCA Raghavan: One of Three of India’s Leading Historians (The men of history), another on Indo-Pakistani relations (The people next door), and a third on the courtiers and poets of Mughal India (Lord attendants).

Among those of an older vintage that are worth mentioning are Narendra Singh Sarila’s The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of the Partition of Indiawhile Bhaswati Mukherjee’s most recent book, Bengal and the scoreis also billed as an “untold story”.

Kishan Rana, meanwhile, has been prolific, with no less than nine books written for fellow diplomats on the practicalities of diplomacy, while Jaimini Bhagwati (economist as well as diplomat) has chosen to rate all Indian prime ministers nowadays. in India’s Promise. For a relatively small service like IFS, this is an impressive result in terms of range and quality.

Next to that, I would list the most recent books from the IAS stable: the memoirs of Tejendra Khanna (An intention to serve), and the forthcoming book by former Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar also focused on his life and career.

Other books written by the IAS are those by Vinod Rai Not just an accountant (which relates more to his time in the headlines as Comptroller and Auditor General), and that of Jagdish Khattar Driven: Memoirs of a Civil Servant (which also covers his time as Managing Director of Maruti Udyog).

On a personal note, PC Parakh, a former coal secretary caught up in the coal scam through no fault of his own, wrote about his brave fight to set the record straight and clear his name (Crusader or Conspirator). Pradip Baijal, divestment secretary under Arun Shourie, also wrote about his post-retirement struggles (A bureaucrat strikes back), while Rai followed up with a second book (Rethinking good governance), who focused on the problems and not on his own actions.

Meanwhile, a little-known IAS officer in Hyderabad, Vasant Bawa, delved into local history to Nizam: Between Mughals and British.

As can be seen, most of the IAS library consists of memoirs. These reminiscences of the past are significant, especially since they were written by some of India’s most able officials and offer a glimpse into the mindset of the administrator, sometimes unbeknownst to him. But for the most part they involve navel-gazing and are slightly turgid – unlike, say, BK Nehru’s well-written one. The Nice Guys Finish Second. But then he was from the predecessor of the IAS, the Indian Civil Service.

In recent years, the IFS has lost its appeal among aspiring civil servants, while the IAS reigns supreme. But judging by the published books, it is IFS that nurtures the most engaged and engaging minds.

By special arrangement with Business Standard

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