Civil servant: how to be and how not to be!

Leaders in non-political fields!

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then President of India, used to go on tour to various places in India with a large entourage. Earlier, the Viceroys were doing that but they were visiting only the princely states in that manner where the local rulers used to look after them all by providing extravagant facilities. There were no such hosts for a President. Yet, the entourage of Rajendra Prasad was large.

Mr. Bimanesh Chatterjee was working as Military Secretary in the Presidential Palace at that time and he was there from the time of Mr. C. Rajagoplachari when he was the Governor General of India. The Government Hospitality Organisation had to maintain the Presidential Palace. That organisation was headed by Mr. Bimanesh Chatterjee but was part of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. Mr. Chatterjee was under the direct administrative control of the Prime Minister while he had to work for the President. He was now working under two bosses.

Mr. Chatterjee had been receiving feedbacks from various states regarding the size of the entourage and the problems faced by them. He had broached the topic with the President. But, the President refused to cut down the number of persons. Once, when Mr. Chatterjee omitted two persons from the party, the President sent for him and told him include those two too. He said, “No amount of drastic economizing in this House will reverse or even arrest the spending sprees of some Government departments” citing a “fancy brochure” issued by a Ministry.

The Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had also received such complaints about the size of the President’s touring party. He was annoyed. Naturally, Mr. Bimanesh Chatterjee had to face the wrath of the Prime Minister. Writes Mr. Chatterjee:

The Prime Minister enquired, “What is happening? Is it really necessary for a battalion of people to accompany the President on his tour? By convention, the Members of Parliament do not raise the matter inside the House, but mind you, they are talking about it outside the House”. Puffing at his cigarette, he continued, “There used to be a saying among British seamen, ‘Join the Royal Navy and see the world. Now you seem to be subscribing to a new dogma; ‘Join the President’s staff and see India”. Is your sense of discipline and concern for economy thinning out?” He went on in a fit of laughter and cough, “I am sure you must be aware of the reaction the President’s circus creates in the various states. There are frequent reports from Chief Ministers about their difficulties in meeting the heavy demands on the exchequer caused by the unwieldy size of the President’s party. At times, they are embarrassed and even annoyed. I want you to explain to your staff that all such obtrusive and extravagant practices have no place in democratic management. I personally think that yourself, a couple of ADCs, a private secretary and half a dozen assistants should be enough to meet the President’s touring requirements”. The Prime Minister then continued on his way to the President’s study.

When the Prime Minister emerged from the President’s chambers, I asked him whether the size of the tour party had been discussed. He merely waved his fist in the air and walked off. Inside the chambers, I found the President flushed in face and breathing heavily. I was in an awkward situation, unable to withdraw or initiate a talk on the subject in question. Suddenly, the President spoke, in a hoarse voice: “The President of a country does not go on tours with just a valet and a stenographer.” He stopped abruptly, and after a long paused added, “No changes need be made in my touring arrangements.” (Page -41 – Presidential Predicament – Bimanesh Chatterjee)


1. The most important thing is that Mr. Chatterjee himself had pointed out the problem to the President already. He had done his duty correctly.

2. When he was overruled, he obeyed.

3. If he had not pointed out, he might have faced various problems and such hypothetical issues are not required to be gone into now.

4. He had been polite even while pointing out the facts.

5. When put in awkward situations, as explained by him, he maintained silence and did not act like a sycophant.

Episode 2:

Dr. Rajendra Prasad had so much faith in astrology that he “could not bear anyone talking disparagingly about astrology”. Mr. Chatterjee writes:

“As he sought the guidance of stars on all important matters, I occasionally found myself in awkward situations. The President had an unofficial astrological adviser in a distant town, who from time to time sent periodic forecasts to the President. He followed the astrologer’s instructions religiously, especially the do’s and don’ts prescribed. Thus once after having completed all the arrangements for the President’s tour to Simla, I found him asking me to cancel the trip. When I explained that a large advance party had already left for Simla, and that the concerned authorities had all been informed, the President repeated, “You had better cancel it.” Thinking of the expenses and of the expectations of the people at the other end, I asked him again whether the tour was to be cancelled or postponed. With a faint smile he answered, “Yes, postpone the trip for some time”. (Page 29).(Readers may please click on the image to get full size picture of it for easy readability)


Mr. Chatterjee had pointed out the problem to the President. He had also made some attempt to reduce the negative reaction on the other side by using the term ‘postponement’ instead of the term ‘cancellation’, although that does not have any effect on the expenditure incurred or efforts made.

Episode 3:

One day, after the visit of some astrologers, the President called Mr. Chatterjee. “He told me with a worried look, “You should ensure that the visit of the two pundits does not get publicity in the newspapers”. And then he remarked irritably, “Jawaharlalji thinks that I guide my steps with the help of the stars”. (Page 79). Mr. Chatterjee explains the lack of necessary concord between the office of the Head of State and that of the Head of Government.


Just listen, in such situations. Your comments either way would not be liked.

Episode 4:

Rajendra Prasad wanted to celebrate a happy event in his family in Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Mr.Chatterjee suggested that it would be better if the ceremony were performed elsewhere instead of in Rashtrapathi Bhavan. He also suggested that a suitable place could be found, even on rent, and the necessary materials could be transported from the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Or it can be performed in his hometown. The President got excited and said “How is it that you are reflecting the same views as those of the Prime Minister?” Mr. Chatterjee adds, “The implications of the President’s somewhat unkind words were not lost on me and I hastened to remind him that what I had just told him was exactly what I had said on the previous occasion, when he had actually appreciated the reasonableness of my advice”. (Page – 109)


Take such annoyance in your stride and ensure that your duty is performed correctly.

Episode 5:

The Prime Minister wanted all the valuable gifts which were received by President and others, in the discharge of their official duties, would have to be surrendered and an inventory prepared. But, the President was annoyed and said, “You mean that only the garlands and the addresses will remain in my possession and that all other articles will have to be sent away? Let me hear more about this from the Prime Minister and then I shall decide.” Mr. Chatterjee adds, “Unpleasant situations were now constantly cropping up in rapid succession. The Prime Minister questioned Mr. Chatterjee the need for the President to draw entertainment allowance. Later the President called him and asked what transpired between the Prime Minister and Mr. Chatterjee. He asked whether any report was sent on the entertainment allowance. Mr. Chatterjee replied in the negative. He said even the practice of sending annual report to the Auditor General that was followed during the period of Viceroys had not been followed for a few years.

Thereafter, the President gave him “an extraordinary verbal directive”. Mr. Chatterjee took a day to “coax himself to fall in line” but “found it impossible to reconcile himself”. That had tormented his mind, he says. So, in all politeness, the next day he requested the President for written directions so that his position to convince others would be easier. But, the President was not pleased and said that there was no difference between a president’s verbal and written orders.

The President also told him “that the Prime Minister had come to him a short while before to inform him that in view of the existing facilities of the Hospitality Organisation there was no longer any justification to continue the President’s entertainment allowance”. (Page 112).


Be polite and request for written direction in serious issues.

Episode 6:

One day rumors are spread that Mr. Chatterjee was resigning when he himself did not have any such idea. But, later the President calls him and gives him a letter from a Minister recommending appointment of some other person in the place of Mr. Chatterjee as he had been in post for a long time. The President wants the opinion of Mr. Chatterjee but he says that the code of service discipline demanded that the competent authority should look after the service interests of an officer and the individual officers should not be allowed to advance their personal interests.


(Page 114 contains the detailed reply and it deserves to be read in full by the youngsters in public service that its scanned image is uploaded here. Readers may please click on the image to get full size picture of it for easy readability).

Episode 7:

Mr. Chatterjee is recommended for National Award by the Prime Minister. But, that proposal was not agreed to by the President. (Page – 116).


As per Biblical saying, real and meaningful life is one that “transcends money, fame and success”.

Episode 8:

Mr. Chatterjee moves away from the post of Military Secretary. Mr. C. Rajagopalachari writes a letter to him (Page 115):

“I read the note in The Hindustan Times about your impending retirement with a sense of sorrow. I feel your leaving Rashtrapati Bhavan as an event in my own life and a kind of parting. God bless you and may Rashtrapathi Bhavan and its master find an equally good caretaker and diligent servant. You were like a faithful son to me all these years”.


Do your duty as per rules. Somewhere, recognition will come from.

Episode 9:

Dr. H. C. Mookerje, the Governor of West Bengal knew Mr. Chatterjee when the former was Vice-Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. He spoke to Mr. Chatterjee “with great anguish about the callousness with which Gandhian principles were being thrown to the wind in the country, even as they continued to excite the imagination of thinkers all over the world. He regretted how the invigorating climate of independence was being fouled by hatred and jealousy born out of old acrimonies and antagonism, reducing everything to a dull and depressing gloom. What bewildered him about our young democracy was the self-importance and self-righteousness that were being cherished in transient posts of power, and the morbid desire of old people to see the fulfillment of their random fancies during their lifetime. The Mahatma was second to none in admitting his mistakes, and never allowed a good man or a friend to go the enemy’s way. But, these things have changed so soon. The virtue of receptiveness seems to have evaporated in every field. The existence of leaders in the non-political fields is now hardly recognized” (Page -117) .

The warning

Dear Readers,

You have seen a civil servant who set an example to be emulated. Now see a case of warning that tells you how not to be. You can see the ultimate fate of a responsible bureaucrat who identified himself with the ruling party and abused his power for that, instead of acting as a neutral advisor for which purpose he was chosen and paid for from the public funds.

“I know one does not speak ill of the dead but try as hard as I might, I cannot think of anything nice or complimentary to say about Brajesh Mishra. All my exchanges with him were thoroughly unpleasant. Once after a few whiskies at Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s house, he asked me why I had turned against Atal Behari Vajpayee. I responded by asking him why he had ordered the I-T raids on my proprietor’s residence in Mumbai and why he threatened me over the phone, denying a story given to us by the Vajpayee household, of how much Vajpayee disliked Arun Jaitley.

As far as his famed competence and knowledge of international affairs was concerned, it was Brajesh Mishra who persuaded Vajpayee to write a letter to President Clinton in 1998 mentioning India’s China apprehensions as the reason for the nuclear blasts. The ministry of external affairs was appalled at this diplomatic faux pas. Incidentally, I noticed no condolence message was issued by the BJP top brass after Brajesh’s passing.”, writes Mr. Vinod Mehta in Outlook of  October 15, 2012.

The next one, next week, will be just a PowerPoint Presentation on the Policy, Procedure, Law, Theory and Practice of Administrative Procedure.



Filed under For Trainees

2 responses to “Civil servant: how to be and how not to be!

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