Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Honest Always Stand Alone by C. G. Somiah

The title of this book  made me curious to read this book of memoirs  by a former IAS officer , CG Somiah , who later on became CAG(Comptroller and Auditor General) of India. Though the book does indicate that Somiah was an honest civil servant , yet  his  continuous rise in  career to the top  in civil service despite his honesty ,   does not  really  prove the title of the book right; on the contrary , you begin to  get curious .
                             Somiah was  no doubt honest , hardworking civil servant who believed in shouldering  responsibility. He  joined the IAS in 1953 (Orissa cadre)  and was Home Secretary of India  during the years when Rajiv Gandhi  was the Prime Minister of India.He  wrote this book  after reaching the age of seventy five  , out of his memory as he “never kept any notes”. He dedicated this book to “the dwindling band of honest officers who are battling  heavy odds to maintain  their integrity and dignity  to extend  corruption-free good governance to the people of India. They need all our support.”Unfortunately , the book was published in  July , 2010 and Somaiah died at the age of seventy nine  on September13,2010 .
As Secretary , Forests and Cooperatives , Orissa , he was asked by the Chief Minister , and Forest  Minister to give a proposal  for giving remission  and relief  in the lease rent  in the final year of three years lease to the kendu leaf contractors. He refused to do this  as it  was a move to make money by the CM  by sacrificing the revenue of the State. Within   fifteen days, he was transferred to  Cuttack  as Excise Commissioner. Even as Excise Commissioner , to break  the  cartel of excise contractors , he put certain units to retendering .He was asked to cancel the retendering which he refused. He was transferred abruptly to Delhi as Director , Budget  in the Finance Division of the Ministry of Defence. The CM  also recorded scathing adverse remarks in the character roll of Somiah.As a result , Somiah was not included in the panel  for  Joint Secretaries for two years. This resulted in a loss of promotion for two years.
 He was Joint Secretary  Home during emergency .After this, he returned to the state and  became  Chairman of Forest Corporation and then   Home Secretary of Orissa. In  November , 1980 , he became Additional Secretary , Finance  in Government of India. Then he became Secretary , Department of Company Affairs. He was shifted to Secretary , Planning Commission, where he got in close touch with Rajiv Gandhi, the  Prime Minister of India. He joined  as Home Secretary , Government of  India in  June , 1986.He found that both his telephones  in his office were bugged  on the orders of the Director , IB.
                He chose KPS Gill , an IPS officer of Assam cadre  to serve as a deputy to Julius Ribeiro  to help him fight the growing menace of terrorism in Punjab. Later , Gill succeeded Ribeiro as DGP of Punjab and had phenomenal success in eliminating terrorism in Punjab . Somiah played a critical role in the success of  operation Black Thunder  in Golden Temple , Amritsar when   terrorists surrendered and were taken into custody.
  In solving the issue of Gorkhaland , Somiah played a crucial role and was instrumental  in creating an autonomous  Darjeeling hill council  for the hill areas of Daejeeling , Kurseong ,Kalimpong and part of Siliguri.This came to be known as Darjeeling Accord and solved the issues  of   of  Gorkhaland.
However , Somiah did not like Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to circumvent  the Supreme Court judgment in Shah  Bano’s case by getting enacted in Parliament in  May ,1986  the Muslim Women (Protection of rights on divorce) Act.”I was getting sick of my work and the long hours I used to keep in office and I felt I needed a change”. And the change came .Somiah got permission to visit Egypt and Greece  for three weeks  .
Regarding Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses , Somiah writes:”I read Satanic Verses and came to the conclusion that the book needs to be banned  in the interest of maintaining law and order in the country”.After taking legal opinion , the book was banned in India.
Somiah believed in astrology , though he  wrote that had no desire to know his future. He recalls how TN Seshan was an astrologer. How Peri shastri , the then chief Election Commissioner was offered  governorship if he acceded to the Prime Minister’S(Rajiv Gandhi’s) request  to postpone  the Presidential election  after Zail Singh completed his term. Peri shastri firmly refused the inducement  and quietly slipped into retirement.
After demitting the office as Home Secretary , Somiah took charge as the Central Vigilance Commissioner. His successor Kalyanakrishnan  was sacked from his job when he missed out reading  just two lines of the Intelligence report where  there was a hint that an attempt would be made to kidnap the daughter of Syed Mufti Mohammad, the Home Minister. The kidnapping did take place but home department had not taken any preventive action .
      Somiah was sworn in as the Comptroller and Auditor general of India by the President on 15 March , 1990.On 22 May , 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. On 11 March ,1996,  when he turned sixty five, Somiah handed over charge to  his successor , Vijay Shungloo. CG Somiah died on 13 September, 2010 at the age of 79 years. One cannot fail to be impressed by Somiah’s  humility, integrity and professionalism .
There can be two interpretations to Somiah”s story in this book. One  is that despite wide spread corruption in India’s Political –administrative system , it is possible for a civil servant  to stay honest and still reach the top. The other is that  you can be honest in  your own limited way  way and if luck favours you , you can reach the top. I for one , subscribe to the second interpretation .