Ex-CAG Vinod Rai’s book: An eye opener that crushed my Vanity
Perhaps the only way of dealing with volumes of information – facts and fictions, rumours and truth and probably life and death – ‘Information Overload’ for a journalist is to read. And read more ! I got hold of former CAG Vinod Rai’s book ‘Not Just An Accountant: The Diary of Nation’s Conscience Keeper’ --- only recently.
And the first glance at the book, which was published in 2014 left me pleasantly surprised. The book to me now stands as an eye opener vis-à-vis my knowledge about Nagaland! Yes, I mean it. My vanity about knowledge of Naga people and the state of Nagaland is crushed !
This was for someone like born, brought up and also had baptism into journalism in Nagaland. Till one has glanced through the pages of Rai’s first chapter ‘Dimapur to Delhi’, there was a perception that we knew most - if not all things - about Nagaland!
One is not saying this to pass any adverse remarks on either Rai or Nagaland.
Vinod Rai, who from 2010 to 2014 hit headlines almost on daily basis, was originally a Nagaland cadre official. And can you take it, his stint in the Naga hills was cut short or in other words had never began as the Nagaland government in 1972 had then “not agreed to accept them in the Nagaland cadre”.
“That year (1972),” writes Rai “Nagaland had no insiders among the successful candidates; all five of us were from the outsider category. The government of Nagaland, a Congress-led ministry with Hokishe Sema as Chief Minister, was of the view that the state, which had only three districts at that time, could accommodate only two or three officers in a batch”. Well, as stated above Rai’s was not alone.
“Five IAS (Indian Administrative Service) probationers reported to Dimapur railway station (today). Since the state government has not agreed to accept them in the Nagaland cadre, they have been directed to go back and report to the department of personnel, Government of India,” says Rai’s book which otherwise throws light on the CAG statistics and figures vis-à-vis probe into government functioning and much to the discomfort of the then Manmohan Singh regime.
Here’s another coincidence! How many of us – journos and ivory tower experts – covering Nagaland did bother to know that R S Pandey, former Nagaland Chief Secretary, was in that group of five.
Pandey later became union Petroleum Secretary under Prime Minister Dr Singh and post-retirement was taken in as government’s chief negotiator in Naga peace talks. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Pandey quit as the peace interlocutor and joined BJP. Denied ticket in Lok Sabha polls, Pandey is now all set for electoral contest in the ensuing assembly elections in Bihar.
Three other officers were A.P Sharma, Ravi Dhingra and N.G Laloo.
The book then talks about the five officers meeting with their senior colleague, Binod Kumar, who later became Home Commissioner under S C Jamir stint around the time in later eighties and early nineties – I was in Kohima dreaming of becoming a journo, -- na, the so called ‘ivory tower experts’.
This volume and the pages in the book has left yet another lesson for me that things keep coming circling back. The five officials also had interacted with the then Chief Secretary (1972) H Zopianga – a local Naga official whom Vinod Rai rightly describes as “exceedingly gentle and warm person”.
At a later stage, we knew Zopianga through his daughter Banu Z Jamir, who also joined IAS, and her husband Alemtemshi Jamir, who at one-point under S C Jamir earned for himself the 'compliment of being called 'Additional Chief Minister'.
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But the Chief Secretary Zopianga had explained to Rai and his friends about state government’s stand. Thus, in the words of Rai, “we (let’s call them Famous Five) were in no man’s land, figuratively and, in fact, even literally. We had been allotted a cadre which refused to accept us, were effectively unemployed and without pay, far from home….”.
Then he recalls the “stay of uncertainty” in police mess lasted for 53 days till the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi intervened and advised the Chief Minister (Hokishe Sema) to accept the officials for training period and that after the training three of these officials could be shifted to other states.
Rai then pens some wonderful lines on his training in remote Tuensang district along with another compatriot, R S Pandey. The visit to Angh’s village and home in Konyak Naga tribal belt were equally interesting as they got the first glimpse of ‘a collection of skulls’ in Angh’s (village chief’s) house. Want to read more on these and the famous ambush on another IAS officer K K Gupta of 1969 batch – please switch over to the page-turner.
Before, I conclude, I must add, as assured by Indira Gandhi – Rai was later shifted to Kerala cadre. And the coincidence is less than baffling:
“I was a trifle baffled to find a glass of pale yellow liquid on Menon’s table (then Kerala Chief Secretary KPK Menon). Coming from Tuensang in Nagaland, where the redoubtable John F Halliday (Mizo officer and DC Tuensang in 1972) started his early lunch with a glass of beer, I had not expected to witness the same trend in distant Kerala”.
Well, oh boy! The game did not end with this.
Vinod Rai could only realize at a later stage that: ‘contents of that glass’ in Kerala was perhaps different. “People of Kerala prefer to boil their drinking water (to make it safe for consumtion) and add some flavor to it…”.
I generally tend to endorse T N Seshan’s definition of ‘IAS’ cadre – I am Sorry! This is how actually I tease my class mate (fellow St Anthonian, Shillong) – Palungthang Vaiphei, Manipur cadre. Of the ‘civil servants’ I have also read: they are servants to devil and civil to everyone. In my analysis, I presume ideologies and practical political compulsions often leave our civil servants puzzled.
They could be good men/women and perhaps also not so too good as individuals. But in the end, they do reflect the country and the state(s) they serve, and importantly the times and the society they lived in. Each IAS officer must have had dreams, some achieve it, and perhaps most do not - like us, the working journalists.
Likes of Vinod Rai end up turning into fighters against corruption fungus at least as an auditor; R S Pandeys leave ‘peace parleys’ half-ways. In journalism, my friends quit the profession and embrace more soothing world of ‘public relation firms’. Some seniors craze to end up in the din of Rajya Sabha.
But the ultimate story is, --- no one is born for hatred or heroics. Only time decides that.