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22 December 2013

Some Reflections - Tributes to Chaudhary Charan Singhji

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Written by Shri Jayant Chaudhary (M.P)

Some Reflections - Tributes to Chaudhary Charan Singhji

As we celebrate the 111st Birth Anniversary of Ch. Charan Singhji, I am presenting excerpts from two recent publications that bring out facets of his personality; some well known and publicized (his honesty and principled dedication), and some of his work that perhaps people are not so well acquainted with.

First, some text from a recently published book penned by Shri A.P. Mukherjee ex CBI Director. It reflects Chaudhary Sahab’s ability as an administrator. The contrast with the current state of leadership in my State of Uttar Pradesh is particularly glaring as we are witness to major failures of successive State Governments in improving the state of law and order. In particular we suffer from a political culture in the State and also admittedly in large parts of the country where constant interference in policing functions and the deliberate politicization of the bureaucracy is considered a normal privilege of the ruling class. Rarely quoted by proponents of police reforms today is Chaudhary Charan Singhji’s advocacy for the cause, and how he was instrumental in the setting up of the first National Police Commission (NPC) in India. The most important recommendations of the NPC dealt with the problem of insulating the police from illegitimate political and bureaucratic interference.

Following this is an extract from a book authored by Shri G Ramachandranji titled “Walking with Giants”. He is a retired IAS officer of the Tamilnadu cadre who rose to the position of finance secretary at the centre and served in that post during Chaudhary Charan Singhji’s tenure in the Central Government. He retired in 1985 as the Executive Director of the Asian Development Bank Manila. G Ramachandranji’s recollection of his experiences working on the Budget with Chaudhary Charan Singhji illuminates what his followers remember to be a hallmark of his life’s work; a unwavering focus on rural development and empowerment as well as his standards of personal honesty and integrity.

No language or words can capture the complexities and nuances of any individual’s life. However, I know these writings on Chaudhary Charan Singhji and even more, my memories of him and sense of his work and worldview will serve as a constant moral compass for me and the restless aspiring youth of our country.

Jayant Chaudhary

“In the wake of the post-emergency governmental upheaval, a new government came into being in 1977 at the Centre with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister and Charan Singh as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. Desai was known to be a strong status-quoist and as such we in the Central IPS Association felt that it would be futile to expect him to tread the path of basic police reform. On the contrary, the Dy PM and HM Charan Singh, who had earlier been a Chief Minister of UP, though with a short stint, was known to be not only honest but was serious about ushering in good governance in the country, especially in the critical state of Uttar Pradesh- the biggest in geographical area and population as also contributing the largest number of MPs in Parliament. Moreover, in the face of serious political fall-out, he was learnt to have been fully supportive of his appointee chief of the State Police in UP, NS Saksena who, true to his known reputation for integrity and professionalism, went hammer and tong against many of the known police malpractices like corruption, minimization/non-registration of cases including dacoities and robberies being shown as burglaries and thefts, murders as unnatural deaths, kowtowing to politicians for postings and transfers and so on. The inevitable outcome was that many of his MLAs, for long accustomed to misuse the police for personal aggrandizement, joined the camps, resulting in the fall of the Charan Singh-led SVD (Samyukta Vidhayak Dal) Ministry.

We in the Central IPS Association decided to make a fresh bid for setting up of a National Police Commission for the purpose mentioned earlier and sought an appointment with the new Home Minister, with the one-point agenda as above. We decided on a five-member delegation: Hargovind Bhatnagar-DIG, BSF, AP Mukherjee-DIG, CBI, TA Chari-DIG CRPF, Nikhil Kumar of Delhi Police and the previous Secretary of our Association and Gautam Kaul also of Delhi Police and the then Secretary of the Association. Traditionally, one of the very senior IPS officers heading the Central Police Organisations (IB, CBI, BSF, CRPF) used to be requested by the Association to be the leader of the delegation. Three of the top officers were approached by us in turn, explaining the basic purpose of this delegation of ours, and all three excused themselves on the pretext or the other. We realised that those ‘wise’ police leaders did not want to be associated with the ‘young Turks’, lest they incur the displeasure of the new government!  It was then decided by us that the other senior police leader (NS Saksena, IP/1941/UP and then the DG of CRPF) would be requested to lead our delegation before the new Home Minister.  Since I resided in the same area as Mr. Saksena and also knew him well as his morning walk companion, it fell to my lot to persuade him to be our delegation leader.

It did not take me long to explain our purpose and extend our request, which was readily accepted by him.  Fortunately, it turned out to be the best possible choice since he was the Chief of UP Police when Charan Singh was the Chief Minister of UP and his reputation for personal and professional integrity was wellknown.

Thereafter, we five delegation members decided among ourselves in advance as to the aspects on which each one of us would speak, after our leader introduced the members and explained to the Home Minister that we were not seeking any benefits for the IPS or even for the police as a whole that our only objective was for setting up of a high powered National Commission to dissect the maladies besetting the police and consequently recommend appropriate remedial measures including replacing the archaic and ruler-oriented Indian Police Act of 1861 by a modern community-oriented Police Act. At the end of our presentations, the Home Minister asked us quite a few searching questions by way of further clarifications and finally said that he would try to do something about this issue, which he too agreed was a matter of national concern. However, knowing the negative attitude of quite a few bureaucrats in the Home Ministry and elsewhere, besides the utter reluctance of most politicians in power to loosen their grip over police for their petty and partisan interests, we were skeptical about the final outcome. Overcoming all possible objections and obstructive tactics, the upright and sturdy Jat that he was, Charan Singh succeeded in having the momentous first step by setting up the National Police Commission (NPC) with fairly wide and unambiguous terms of reference, with Dharma Vira, ex-ICS, a former Cabinet Secretary and Governors of the 2-3 States, as Chairman and four other members.”

By Shri A.P. Mukherjee
IPS and ex CBI Director

“On the 3rd day when Mr. Charan Singh and I were alone, he suddenly asked me whether I understood Hindi. When I honestly told him, that I did not, Mr. Charan Singh expressed his regret that he had been speaking in Hindu during the two days and promised that he would speak to me only in English when we were alone. What a generous attitude towards non Hindi speaking officers. Like Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh’s attitude towards other linguistic groups was broad minded. Still the view persists that he was a casteist and a regional leader. The budget was not without its sweetness. The Sivaraman Committee on taxation of tobacco growers came in handy. The committee had suggested that the levy on tobacco should be shifted forward to taxation on beedis and cigarettes and other tobacco products. This recommendation was accepted and incorporated in the budget.  Mr. Charan Singh could claim in parliament that by one strode of his pen he had relieved millions of farmers from the clutches of tax inspectors. This part of his speech was wildly applauded in the house.

The budget preparatory period also brought out what a man of high personal integrity Charan Singh was. Perhaps, among other national leaders only Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajaji can match that high level of personal integrity. One day, as I entered his room.  Mr. Charan Singh jocularly told me that he wanted two days “chutti” (leave).  Keeping up the jocular vein I told him that during the budget season, nobody in the Finance Ministry asks for or is given “Chutti”. Then I told him that for going to Lucknow, he did not need two days and that I can arrange for Defence Ministry’s aircraft which he was entitled to use, as Deputy Prime Minister. Charan Singh then revealed that it was for a family wedding and that is why he had to go with the entire family. He could not afford commercial aircraft for all of them and that is why he was travelling by air conditioned second class. No more telling instance of his impeccable integrity needs to be cited.  I shall narrate a couple of more instances later, which marks him out as one of the great figures in contemporary political history.

One of the major discussions Charan Singh took in modifying Mr. Patel’s budget was the reintroduction of capital gains tax.  As I had always been in favour of it, I readily agreed with him. When Charan Singh met Mr. Morarji Desai, with the outline of the budget, I was sent for towards the end of the discussions.  While not objecting to the capital gains tax, at that stage, Mr. Desai however, told me that I was asking the Finance Minister to present an unpopular budget. I told him that the unpopular elements related mostly to taxation of an urban oriented consumption goods and that was the outcome of the Deputy Prime Minister’s economic ideology. At that they both laughed and the approval of the budget had been obtained.

As soon as the budget speech was ready, I took it to the Deputy Prime Minister for approval. I told him after he glanced through the budget twice, following the convention, he should take it to the Prime Minister for approval, but I advised that he should remain with the Prime Minister and bring it back with him. This procedure was followed and Charan Singh sat in Prime Minister’s room, as Morarji Desai went through the speech line by line.  Meanwhile Charan Singh’s appointment in the All India Institute of Medical Services was due and he therefore left leaving me as his substitute! Morarji Desai always used to be finicky about the length of the budget speech. He always claimed that his budget speeches were shorter than that of others.  So after he had finished reading the entire speech, he told me that the speech was a little too long and that I should curtail it by another 3 or 4 pages.  When I said that the speech was just as long as the average of his budget speeches, he said but Charan Singh was not physically fit to deliver this long speech! What a clash of egos between two old figures in India Politics. I went back to my room and without getting Charan Singh’s permission cut the speech by two-three pages.  But the other old venerable figure will not keep quiet. As soon as he returned from his doctor, Mr. Charan Singh telephoned me and asked me about PM’s approval. When I said that in the interest of harmony, I has agreed to some cuts in the speech and had already got a shorter version ready, I don’t think the Deputy Prime Minister was immensely pleased!! The budget speech itself was received well in the parliament. The portion relating to abolition of taxes on tobacco growers, reduction of fertilizer duties were cheerfully welcomed. The increase in taxation on consumer goods were jeered at but after the introduction of budget, there was pressure for the withdrawal of the capital gains tax and Charan Singh had to partially yield to the pressure. Capital gains tax could be avoided by investment of proceeds in rural infrastructure bonds. At the time of the introduction of the Finance bill, Mr. Desai sent for me and asked me to persuade Mr. Charam Singh to abolish the increase in duty on chocolates as it was the children’s year. I carried out the change and with difficulty persuaded the Deputy Prime Minister to let the change remain.

When the Finance bill was to come up for clause by clause discussion, Charan Singh dropped a bombshell. He telephoned me at about 8:30 am in the morning, saying that he was not doing well and that I should arrange for Mr. Agarwal, Minister for State to handle the work in parliament. I alerted the Minister for State, and arrange for a briefing meeting in his room from 9:30 am onwards. Mr. Agarwal was not associated with the budget work at all, but being a man of keen intelligence and clear grasp of legal issues, he was ready by about 12:30 to handle the work in the Parliament. Mr. Agarwal put up a brilliant performance and the Finance bill sailed through Parliament smoothly.

I told the Deputy Prime Minister at the end of the budget session that I would need month’s leave to go to Madras for fulfillment of some religious vows. He asked me why I should need a month’s time to go to Madras. I said I would need 6 days for the train journey to and fro. He asked me whether I cannot fly. I said no because L.T.C. rules did not permit air travel. In our socialist regime a Junior Bank Officer can travel by air on leave travel concession, but not Secretaries to Government do so. I said that there were even more serious anomalies in compensation schemes. A Joint Secretary to the Government of India and a senior DIG drew lesser emoluments than a senior clerk in a Bank of LIC. Charan Singh immediately said that he would bear the political unpopularity involved in setting right these anomalies. At a meeting which Cabinet Secretary also attended the suggested that every time there was increase in dearness allowance in accordance with the recommendation of the Pay Commission, an adhoc increase of Rs. 150 will be paid to officers getting Rs. 2500 and above. The highest pension payable to IAS officers was also increased from Rs. 675 per month to Rs. 1000 per month. After obtaining the Cabinet approval, Mr. Charan Singh made a Statement in parliament explaining the charges in the scheme of compensation, and the rationale for them. Here again a man who was portrayed as an obscurantist and anti-civil servant politician had taken a bold decision to set right anomalies which other leaders had failed to correct.”

By Shri G Ramachandran
IAS (Retired)