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Interview with Principal Advisor – Mr Robin Gupta

Interview with Principal Advisor – Mr Robin Gupta

Interview with Principal Advisor – Mr Robin Gupta

Tanya Singh

We had a conversation with Mr Robin Gupta, where we talk about his book, his views, and his inspirations. Read on to know more about the civil services, how the system works (or does not), and about Mr Gupta’s foray into literature.


Your book, ‘And What Remains in the End : The Memoirs of an Unrepentant Civil Servant’, published in 2013 received acclaimed fame. Can you tell us about the process of writing – was it cathartic? How long did it take you?


My memoir ‘And what Remains in The End’ was written shortly after I retired over ten years ago. It was written with a heavy heart at not being permitted to contribute my best to innovative policy making or executing rules, in the public interest, in my day to day functioning even while wielding sovereign power of the state.  In a manner of speaking the memoir is an anecdotal account of a series of disappointments spanning a long career of 37 years; of which two initial years were spent in the I.P.S.

If the book has been acclaimed and recommended as compulsory reading for aspirants to the civil service, the principal reason would be the dismal; even absurd manner by which the Leviathan of governmental machinery functions—slowly, without commitment or compassion or dedication as a result of which justice comes to the needy, almost by chance, or through tangential circumstance, political ‘sifarish’ or, a community connection.  Also, through bribe money.

Effectively, the memoir took me about three and a half years to complete; mainly owing to the torrential remembrance of incidents, insignificant in themselves, but illustrative examples of the manner by which justice is gained, for one who would petition government, quite by chance—almost as a stroke of good fortune.

The process of writing was quite simple.  I did not pontificate or take to any vain glorious exercise quite unlike some books written by well regarded civil servants post 1947.  In fact I simply recounted events as they had actually transpired without resorting to a veil of secrecy or circumventing facts by stating half truths.  My sole guide was the incontrovertible maxim that truth in itself has a volcanic momentum, which no earthly power can stall.


As a former bureaucrat yourself, how did you navigate the push and pulls of politics? What suggestions do you have for aspiring IAS candidates and youth that seek out positive changes for the country?


I was unable to navigate the pressures brought on me and, at times tactlessly refused to resort to the shortcuts indicated by politicians, invariably for extraneous considerations. I am a third generation civil servant who was groomed from my childhood about the great I.C.S officers, who at one time; 4,000 of them ruled the British Empire exercising the sovereign power of the British monarch. The memoir though written with a pen wielded lightly speaks of a number of painful, even comical encounters with semi literate politicians . The sub title of my book is ‘The memoirs of an unrepentant civil servant’.  In retrospect—I made my poor opinion of politicians, most of whom were semi literate known quite openly and, paid the price for not being a ‘boot licker’. I thrice resigned from the service but fate determined that I complete the very long tenure which, in fact, cost me a lifetime. Fortunately of gathering experiences for my second incarnation as a writer. The basic flaw in my understanding was the lack of understanding that I was not joining the hallowed I.C.S; but its very diluted, watered down version, the I.A.S.                                       


You’ve talked about the emerging nexus between the bureaucracy and corporate houses in an interview with the Hindu [April, 2013]. Since then, this nexus has become even stronger. How do you see this dissipating in the future, if ever?


The relationship between Government and the Public Sector Undertakings is inbuilt; many Chairman, for example, of the Air India Corporation have been civil servants from the aviation ministry. Similarly, the many loss making P.S.U’s under other Union Ministries and Departments. Almost all the P.S.U’s are in a critical financial

condition and through previous political dispensations, at first surreptitiously and later quite openly had become cash cows, providing expensive facilities ( foreign travel, stay abroad in luxurious accommodation, for extended periods to senior government officials and their families; as well as to Parliamentarians and their offspring, arrangement for cars and transport, entertainment in 5 star hotels, expensive gifts on celebratory occasions and so on. The list of concealed abuse of government moneys is endless ).


As regards the relationship between corporate houses and top bureaucrats; there are several examples of civil servants who are so inclined who simply cannot resist the lure of giant industrial houses such as the Ambani/Adani group who go out of their way in showing favour to industrialists. In fact I know of cases where bureaucrats have resigned from the government to join the Reliance group. Corporate houses have a massive clout with the political government of the day and in some cases have even helped bureaucrats get appointed as Governors of States. Even chairmen of centralized banks. Many bureaucrats have got their children educated abroad in Oxford, Cambridge or one of the Ivy league colleges in U.S.A.

Such civil servants are heavily indebted to the industrial houses who extend very substantial financial assistance to them. During U.P.A 2, the scholarly, honest P.M affixed his signature of approval to the most scandalous scams in the history of independent India. All this cost the national exchequer millions and billions of financial loss. Some civil servants are presently serving jail sentences in Delhi’s high profile jail. Of course the root of the problem also lies in the gaping lacunae in the

Representation of Peoples Act, 1951.


“It is time that all industrial houses be kept at an arm’s length from the permanent executive government for which the industrial houses must be totally banned from funding political candidature.”


All this is inextricably interrelated to the problem of civil servants becoming agents of industrial houses, in government.


It is well known that honest, hardworking and brilliant IAS officers are not allowed to make changes at the grassroots because of corruption and fear of transfers. In this environment, what are the modes you’ve found yourself turning to?


Since government is plural — with a Secretary and a Minister with the latter calling the shots while the Secretary takes the blame and is even sent to Jail, mostly owing to ministerial corruption— most officers at the grass roots level have started playing safe, avoiding their brilliant ideas on reform and development from being brought on record, much less seeing them being executed on the ground. In rare cases, however, a good minister and a committed civil servant, work in tandem for the public good.


In my case, I turned to progressing literature and creative writing, ignoring ministerial balderdash, most of the time.  Also, I have, after my retirement published two books including the best seller ‘And What Remains In The End’. The more recent book is titled ‘The 70th Milestone’ and was launched on my 70th birthday, on 1 October, last year. That book, too, has been sold out in its first edition.  During my service, I also published ‘A Bouquet Of Thoughts’ (Minerva—London) and several monographs and numerous articles including the book ‘From the Green Hills of Purola to the red light areas of Meerut and Delhi—concerned with trafficking in women from the hills of Uttarkashi.  This research was brought to the then P.M Indira Gandhi and also turned into a film.


You’ve been associated with the Valley of Words since its inception. What do you look forward to the most from it each year?


The Valley of Words Festival, thanks primarily to its chief curator Sanjeev Chopra Esq, I.A.S, has brought the winds of change; of new ideas into the sleepy, complacent town of Dehradun. Imagine the world’s intellectual glitterati descending on Dehradun in congenial circumstance!  Imagine the exchange of ideas and above all, the vision of promising individuals of Uttarakhand to new and prosperous vistas in India and abroad. All this has resulted from the vision of a single brilliant, committed individual—Sanjeev Chopra.


On a lighter, albeit conclusive note, who are your favourite authors? We would love a list of recommended reads from you.


The Brothers Karavazov is my favourite classic and amongst contemporary literature: I believe that Rajmohan Gandhi’s History of Punjab from Aurangzeb 1707 to Mountbatten 1947, are books that readily come to mind.


About the Interviewee:

Mr Robin Gupta is Principal Advisor to Valley of Words. His best selling memoir, ‘And What Remains In The End’ has been described by Khushwant Singh as ‘a literary milestone’. A former I.A.S. officer, he divides his time between Panchkula, New Delhi and Goa, and devotes all his time and energy to promoting the literary movement in India.