Choosing a career

Print edition : April 25, 2003

ON April 14, 1953, I formally became a member of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). On that fateful day, seven IFS and 32 Indian Administrative Service (IAS) probationers entered the portals of Metcalf House in Old Delhi. Ours was the sixth batch of the IFS/IAS. The population of India had not crossed the 400-million mark. The Congress was ruling at the Centre and in every single State of the Union. Jawaharlal Nehru was at the peak of his international authority and influence. He was considered a world statesman of wisdom and foresight. India was spokesman at the United Nations of all countries that were still under British, French, Spanish and Portuguese rule. We were the champions of the anti-Apartheid movement throughout the world.

In 1947, India and Pakistan had become two sovereign states. In early 1948, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar) and Israel had become members of the U.N. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, had died a month earlier and he had been replaced by the Trokia of Khrushchev, Malenkov and Molotov. In May, Jawaharlal Nehru left for England to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Churchill was serving his second term as Prime Minister, Tenzing and Hillary were to climb Mount Everest in the same month. Our starting salary was Rs.350 with an allowance of Rs.40; Rs.390 went a long away 50 years ago. One actually did not know how to spend it. Petrol was less than 12 annas a gallon and the salary of servants was Rs.30. Five star hotels did not exist. At that time, cinema tickets cost less than a rupee.

Fifty years later, we live in a vastly complicated world and the budget of the MEA, which used to be less than Rs.200 crores, now runs into thousands of crores. The IFS is no longer the first choice of young men and women wanting to join government service. Fifty years ago it was the first choice of the top 15. Today multinationals absorb the best and the brightest. The Green Card of the United States is a major monitory, if not moral, attraction.

Of my batch, three have passed away and of our IAS colleagues, more than a dozen, out of 32 who joined on April 14, 1953. The batch, as a whole did reasonably well. One became a Governor, another a Lt. Governor, one Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, a dozen became Secretaries to the Government of India and one became a Union Minister of State. After 50 years I count my blessings and thank the cosmic master.

THE other day, three very bright young Indians living in the U.S. came to see me. All three were in their 20s and their spokesman was a young man called Rohit Tiwari. They have an audacious dream. They have the intellect, the integrity and the dynamism to make that dream come true. What is the dream? To assist the Indian National Congress to regain the political ground it has lost in the past decade and a half in various parts of India. Briefly, their vision can be summarised as follows:

Nationhood should create an India based on justice, freedom and opportunity, thereby creating a nation that dignifies every human life. It should empower all citizens to celebrate diversity and work for social harmony. Rights and obligations will work in tandem. There would be increased public participation of decentralised political power. The youth will play the role today to define the India of tomorrow and India must play a historical role in world affairs and go back to the message of Mahatma Gandhi and promote non-violence.

I asked them how Mahatma Gandhi was fairing in the United States. They said that the Mahatma was held in very high esteem in all sections of society. This was a great asset that the Congress party had. When they left, I was both excited and inspired. Not a common occurrence for someone who is in the eighth decade of his life. So, the best is yet to be.

SENATOR Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died recently, was a man of noble character and endowed with a brilliant intellect. I only met him on two occasions in Washington. On one occasion, he took me up to the Senate Chamber. I said that I did not have any permit or pass and I did not wish to break any rule. Senator Moynihan said: "If I could take the dictator of Pakistan to the floor of the Senate, I see no reason why I cannot take a Minister of State of democratic India to the Senate floor." This he promptly did. On hearing about his death, I picked up his book A Dangerous Place published in 1978. It is very witty and he writes high class English prose. I looked up the Index to see if Donald Rumsfeld figured in it. He worked as the Chief of the White House under President Ford, Richard Cheney, the present Vice-President, worked under Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld had drawn up "Rumsfeld's Rule" and I am reproducing it. So we now know what kind of a man the world is dealing with:

Don't become, or let the President or White House personnel become, one President. Don't forget it and don't be seen by others as not understanding that fact.

Don't take the job, or stay in it, unless you have an understanding with the President that you are free to tell him what you think, on any subject, "with the bark off" and have the freedom - in practice - to do it.

Learn quickly how to say, "I don't know". If used when appropriate, it will be often.

If you foul up, tell the President and others fast, and correct it.

In our free society, leadership is by consent, not command. To lead, a President must, by word and deed, persuade. Personal contact and experience are necessary ingredients in the decision making process, if he is to be successful in persuasion and, therefore, leadership.

Where possible, preserve the President's options - he will very likely need them.

Know that it is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.

Don't become or let the President or White House personnel become, obsessed or paranoid about the press, the Congress, the other Party opponents, or leaks. Understand and accept the inevitable and inexorable interaction among our institutions. Put your head down, do your job as best you can, and let the "picking" (and there will be some) roll off.

Don't speak ill of another member of the Administration. In discussions with the President, scrupulously arrive to give fair and balanced assessments.

Never say "the White House wants". Buildings don't want.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

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