Author :
Ram Sahai Varma,Former Chief Secretary Government of Haryana.
Category :
Political/ Autobiography
Publisher :
Rupa Publications India
Available On :
Available on- Amazon
Quote By Author :
“No matter how hard the past was, you can always begin again”
Publish Date :

Review :

“Life in the IAS: My Encounters with the Three Lals of Haryana” is a 332-page-book that gradually takes the readers through a transition from one phase to another phase of Ram S Varma’s life, which begins after he gets into IAS (initially, into IPS) till his retirement. Having served in different capacities; from a Sub-divisional Magistrate to the Chief Secretary of Haryana (and as a Public Relations Officer, in between), the author not just relives the first three formative decades of Haryana, but also mentions about various situations that has occurred in the bureaucratic and political corridors during that period of time, including those that he was a part of (and, still he is, inevitably), and his encounters with many people, but most importantly, his work with the three Lals of Haryana: Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal.

The “Foreword”, written by S.K Misra, Former Secretary to Prime Minister, and Chairman, Indian Trust for Heritage & Development, will drop several cues on your think-tank as to how the scenario must have been before, and after the constitution of Haryana as India’s seventeenth state. He mentions that the author “...was allotted to Punjab on his first Indian Administrative Services (IAS) posting in 1965, and was assigned to serve as Assistant Commissioner in Hisar district.” Ram Varma entered the services as a trainee, under the guidance of S.K Misra, who, now, knows the author from his early days, and about his encounters with three “Lals” of Haryana, each with different persona, lifestyles, habits, preferences, and approaches. S.K Misra has mentioned that the author was a quick learner, and that too without any prior administrative experience, and that the young entrants to the civil services, will find this book interesting. The book is written in a simple manner that ensures a smooth flow, intertwined with humour.

India saw the birth of its brand-new 17th state, Haryana, on 1 November 1966, which was carved out of Punjab. This new formation is beautifully presented in the “Preface”, and compared with the hymns of Rig-Veda, called as “Nadi-Stuti”, which raise 19 rivers of the Sapta-Sindhu region, especially, river Saraswati as it flowed through the areas that make present-day’s Haryana, north Rajasthan, and southern parts of Pakistan before joining Arabian Sea. The preface travels the origins of Haryana, tracing back to the emergence of Indian sub-continent’s civilization, while throwing some light on the pre-Harappan sites, which as the author describes, should have been called as “Saraswati civilization”. Additionally, he puts light on some of his experiences as an IAS officer, wherein he also talked about the black spot on his career, “deserter”, when he joined as the Principal Secretary, after Bansi Lal was crowned as the Chief Minister of Haryana, for the second time. The book covers the state’s history, holistically; starting with its inception; its chief ministers; bureaucracy; the infrastructure reconstruction program, electricity provisions, lift-irrigation projects and much more.

Two years preceding the evolution of Haryana, the author had graduated from the esteem IAS Academy and was allocated to Punjab cadre from where, he was then transferred to Haryana. Haryana in its newly defined borders was in a state of mayhem. Within a year of its formation, it earned a negative reputation, and was recognized as the land of political perfidy: ‘Aya Rams and Gaya Rams’.

In the first chapter, “The Birth of Haryana”, the author compares the birth of Haryana with the birth of Eve (ref. to Bible, story of Adam & Eve). Like Eve was created by god by taking ribs from Adam, making her Adam’s “flesh of flesh, bone of my bone” (as Milton described), Haryana, too was created with the some parts taken from Punjab. The formation as a separate state led to an expected sociocultural discord with Punjab, as the Haryanavis had never consented to be called as Punjabis. This chapter also talks about the movement and revival of Punjabi Suba. As a part of revival activities, Punjab government had appointed the freedom fighter Shriram Sharam as the Chairman, Haryana Development Committee with an objective of finding out the scope of improvement in the state. This eye-opening report brought forth a grim picture of the situation in entirety, like the representation of persons from the Hindi region in Punjab Civil Services was awfully low with 20:289 ratio of Hindi-region’s people with Punjabi region’s people. Other issues that the committee recommended are development in the sectors like education, irrigation, electrification, etc.

The author also mentions that the credit for the birth of Haryana doesn’t go to Haryanvis, as it came as a by-product when the PM Indira Gandhi gave into the persistent and strident demand of the Akali Dal who wanted to demarcate and create a Sikh-majority state.

In “My Early Days in the IAS”, the author talks about his early days in the IAS right from being upset about being selected in the IPS, not in the IAS (where his heart was broken and ego was bruised), to getting into IAS and completing the training. He joined the IAS in the 95th rank, but at that time he was doubtful about his cadre. His fellow mates asked him to use a political contact to get the Punjab cadre before the other candidate takes it, else stay in Kerala like an alien. To this replied that the other candidate is more deserving, and that even in Punjab, without knowing the language, he will stay as an alien. Further, he moves on to describing his days in Mussorie like the Library Point in the mall; playing with the snow in April (throwing yahoos like the famous song of Shammi Kapoor); memorable days in Kempty Falls (where he had his dinner in a dhaba.) and more. While he was training in Hisar, a war broke out with Pakistan. S.K Misra had installed the author as the District Public Relations Officer, as the post was lying untaken. As a DPRO, he began issuing press notes on the public meetings to boost the morale, highlighting donations of money and jewellery.

The book will take each and every reader to several periods of Indian history that play a pivotal role in the evolution of the country that it is today. Through this book the author has focused on his encounters with the three Lals of Haryana; his life and country’s struggle with fate and destiny.

Chapter five begins the author’s encounters with the first Lal of the three, Bansi Lal. It is set in the outset of mid-term elections conducted during in May 1968. The selection of chief ministerial candidate was on the roll, and the two emissaries of Mrs. Indira Gandhi came up with the name, Bansi Lal, who had been a Congress member of Rajya Sabha for six years, then. Author recalls several moments of this phase, one of them is, during (then) Governor, B.N Chakravarty’s oath taking ceremony, a reporter asked about his accomplishments, to which, Bansi Lal gave an immediate response saying, “Papad Belta Raha”, and the audience burst into laughter.

Another moment is when Bansi Lal became the Chief Minister, the day following to the oath-taking ceremony, he addressed the first public meeting, during which she expressed his gratitude to his benefactor, B.D Sharma, and announced him as his mentor. But B.D Sharma had something else in his mind, which further led to his internal conspiracies and treachery by asking all his supporters in the party to resign; however, Congress was unmoved by this and then came the reign of Bansi Lal.

The chapter also talks about the phase of victory of V.V Giri that led to expel of Mrs. Indira Gandhi from the party and the formation of a new party, called as Congress (Ruling). An enlightened Ara Samajist, Bansi Lal was a restlessly sincere CM, who used to tour the state for 25 days, a month and confronted many dismal situations, including the fury of the peasants. Water, electricity, roads were in the list of high priorities of his agenda, and he accomplished many of them. He activated a programme for supplying electricity to nearly 7,000 villages, and connecting them to all-weather roads. The famous pilot lift irrigation project was also in his agenda. Siwani Lift-irrigation project began in 1971.

Moving to chapter seven, where you will get to read about Devi Lal being crowned as the Chief Minister, and the author’s post-emergency troubles. 1977 parliamentary results shook the foundation of Indira Congress. The same year, Devi Lal was elected as the party leader, who took over as the Chief Minister further. He summed up his intentions of his tenure in just one slogan, “Bhrastachar Bandh, Pani Ka Prabandh”. He worked a lot for the welfare of the farmers, and he was also known as the leader of the farmers. He afforded them relief, amended old Land Revenue Act and freed the marginal and small farmers. He also released a fund of Rs 1 crore, as an advance, to Punjab for the undertaking the work of Sutlej-Yamuna-Link project, where canal was supposed to be constructed by Haryana and Punjab, in their respective areas. When Punjab government did not take any actions, he appealed to Supreme Court to intervene for resolving it.

The author was highly impressed with the stature of Devi Lal, especially, when he met him after the election results, to congratulate him. Devi Lal, who was sitting at the high table surrounded by the officers, instantly stood up and welcomed the author, when the author entered. Further, he asked all the officers including the Principal Secretary, to spare them with some one-to-one moment. Even though, he was becoming a bit forgetful that time, he could recollect some memories of Sirsa, where he had seen the author there. Devi Lal charged the author with pointing a finger at him during Premsukh Das’s election when the author had announced requesting all the non-candidates or the counting agents to leave the hall. The author was taken aback with this charge though, but he clarified that he did as per the rule book, without any intentions of offending anyone, and that he didn’t know him by then.

The author has also talked about the Bhiwani Police summons, talking at length over the issues that led him to appear in the court and being summoned by the DSP Vigilance, Bhiwani for questioning regarding the criminal case. He also talked about the effect of emergency had led to a situation where there was a new sense of discipline, everyday. During that chaos, the author had felt being victimized. His appearance before the Reddy Commission is another critical part of his life. His transfer as an Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Administrative Reforms, in 1978 came to him as a relief.

The book gradually moves on to cover various issues and phases of his life and country’s life, which included operations Blue star, Devi Lal outshone by Bhajan Lal, resurgence of Indira Gandhi, Bhajan Lal’s somersault, water-sharing feud, 9th Asian Games in Delhi, floods in Assandh, State Transport fleet, 20-pont programme, post-era of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and more.

He also talks about how Bhajan Lal kept all his MLAs happy by allowing them a certain quota in the government appointments. He used to gift people with pure ghee. One day he asked the author to meet him at the Haryana Bhawan, early morning at around 7 a.m. and, the author saw that he was sorting out hundreds of request slips given by the MLAs, and by the sundry supporters for the appointment of peons. He said, “…arey Varma ji, bada jhamela hai …..” Bhajan Lal was in the habit of using the word “jhamela”.

The author was also stuck in the situation where the SP wanted to arrest his Deputy Commissioner (DC), Pius Pandarwani, as DC’s wife had accepted bribe by the Red Cross Fair contractor. In this chaotic situation, the author had suggested for the transfer of the DC, and Bhajan Lal entrusted him with the work to find a replacement of the DC. You must read the section, “An Effectual Love Letter”.

From here, the book transitions from Devi Lal’s phoenix return to power, running electricity board, construction of Shakti Bhawan, watermelon treat by the Chief Minister, “Dilli Chalo”, aborted Mahem bye-elections, ‘puppet’-Chief Minister B.D. Sharma, Chautala’s innings, author’s visit to Jerusalem and Pharoah’s tomb, and more.

In 1991, when Bhajan Lal became the Chief Minister again, he made Sher Singh, the independent member as the Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Commission, and ordered CBI probe into various matters related to Chautala’s rule, including the death of Amir Singh; death of Chautala’s first daughter-in-law, Supriya; and murderous assault on Banarasi Das Gupta, former CM.

But he was more worried about the dissidence against him led by Congress’s Birender Singh (who was ousted from the Presidentship, later on) and Shamsher Singh. The author also throws light on his historical role in saving PV Narasimha Rao’s government from collapsing, during a no-confidence motion through his axiomatic resourcefulness.

Towards the ending of the book, the author mentions about his appointment as the Chief Secretary of Haryana, and Haryana’s golden jubilee celebrations (on the last page), and both were the marks of important accomplishments of his life. Father of three daughters, the author has also added another angle of personal touch by mentioning about his wife, Savitri (whom this book is dedicated to) and his daughters.

The strength of this book lies in the narrative form of writing that empowers the value of the facts presented, further, leading it to have more attention-capturing potential. Indeed, it ends with a stroke of positivity, which is what we all look up to, while facing our life and all its moments; thrills, ups and downs, victories, self-discovery and what not, the way the author Ram Varma Sahai also did. He has penned down, not only the essence of his tenure as a government officer, but he has also given an in-depth insight, or shall we say, a picture of Haryana’s governance (and the country’s situations post-independence), and how both, the state and country have evolved together in the past decades.

This book is a must read for everyone, especially, for those who are interested in the bureaucratic and political affairs of the country. It is available on the e-commerce websites, if you want to grab your copy, explore them.