An Account of Retrospective Courage

Title: A Tide In The Affairs of Men
Author: Prateep K Lahiri
Publisher: Lotus Roli
No of Pages: 225
Price: Rs 395/-

A Tide In The Affairs of Men is reminiscences of senior bureaucrat PK Lahiri who lucidly shares vignettes of journey through public life. The 225 page book is Lahiri’s journey that he has tried to relook at some of the milestones as chapters of this book. The book can be classified into three parts — early phase of his bureaucratic journey which he begins with the Sikh sensitivity in chapter one and ending at the night landing of the chief minister of MP’s flight in Gwalior, which the Air Commodore declined to allow due to insufficient light. Then Lahiri begins recounting his journey into the power corridors in which he has relooked into his work as a civil servant. The author is quite candid in revealing that he could get elevated into the state secretariat of Madhya Pradesh after twenty-six long years of service in various capacities. He recounts his first posting as secretary into the Health Department in July 1985 where he shares his first direct interaction with the Chief Minister — operational head of the state governance. Here Lahiri shares an interesting incident where he used to get some undersigned CM orders, which as secretary he found non-implementable. As secretary, Lahiri had two options — let the orders pile up at his table as CM Office never enquired about its orders and second option was to send his inability to implement those orders with proper mention of its reason(s). As secretary, Lahiri chose the second one which the new bureaucrats who are in the nascent phase of their career may think of adopting. Interestingly, Lahiri recounts that his refusal to implement those CM orders didn’t riled the then CM Motilal Vora.

In this second part of this book Lahiri goes on to share his journey till his job as revenue secretary with Dr Manmohan Singh, who was Finance Minister in the PV Narsimha Rao government. But, before that he doesn’t fail to recount an interesting tenure of his journey during Yashwant Sinha’s tenure as Finance Minister in the Chandrashekhar government. He recounts that in Yashwant Sinha’s time, they were undergoing the rigrous job of budget making which they had to get ratified by Chandrashekhar, the then Prime Minister of India. To his ‘quaint’, the meeting took place while sitting on the floor where Chandrashekhar sat in the middle while Sinha and other bureaucrats and important officials sat around him, but to his surprise Chandrashekhar telephoned Dr Manmohan Singh who was economic advisor to the Prime Minister to know his views on the budget that was made by his team of finance. The PM asked Dr Singh to join them, which as bureaucrat, Lahiri of 1990s was not expecting because till that time Economic Advisor to PM was not considered part of the inner core committee of the budget making process.

Third part of this book is devoted to PK Lahiri’s international exposure which began with his posting in Bangladesh as Civil Affairs Liaison Officer after it became independent from Pakistan. He recounts his job as CALO, which helped local administration to restore civil administration in Bangladesh, assist in return of and rehabilitation of the near 1 crore Bangladesh refugees who crossed to India in the wake of Pak troops barbaric act to suppress the Bangladeshi Independence Movement initiated by Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman. Lahiri also recounts his role in establishing police and law and order in Mymensingh district where he was posted as CALO. In short, India had a major contribution in independence of Bangladesh and Lahiri was one of those few officers who make it happen. As Executive Director at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Lahiri recounts his memoire while working at the General Capital Increase (GCI) where he forcefully helped the regional under developing member nations to counter the non-regional developed member nations like the US, who were in mood to impose some stringent conditions like withdrawal of certain subsides, commitment to have a structure for recovery of electricity dues, adherence to the guidelines for safeguarding environment etc., for lending loans. But, an Indian at the GCI in the form of Lahiri, helped India and other regional member nations to have the last laugh as these regional member nations continue to borrow loans from the ADB even after losing the battle at the GCI.

Apart from these assignments, Lahiri has also recounted his work at NMDC, which used to mine and deal in diamonds and his work during the nationalization of the coal mines. In short, thgis book is not a memoire of a civil servant, who glorifies his work as if had he not been there, those works won’t have happened. He has just narrated how he handles those assignments as a civil servant and what helped him achieve success in the chair he was adorning at that time.

So, the book is an honest recount, which deserves to be called an account of retrospective courage.