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Diamonds are Forever!

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By Sanjeev Chopra

The Diamond Jubilee Foundation Course (FC) of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration had its Valediction last Friday (6/12), with scholar bureaucrat Parameshwaran Iyer delivering the keynote address after an excellent end-of-the course report by NK Sudhanshu, the course coordinator, who received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of his short, precise and witty address. He spoke of how the batch had come together and bonded with each other during this short period of fourteen weeks, of which four weeks were spent together with their colleagues from Hyderabad in a Himalayan trek, the village visit and the Aarambh programme at the Statue of Unity in Kevadia. Sudhanshu spoke from his heart, and the connect with the officers was so clear and obvious: he had led from the front, been there with them through their trials, tribulations and triumphs and defended the odd aberration that is bound to occur when 325 young women and men train together and engage in a range of activities which are difficult to document in a thousand words (the normative size of this column).
Then it was time for me to speak to them. And I thought about the last message that I wished to convey to them as members of the 94th FC. Of course, I had to tell them that they had acquitted themselves with flying colours in everything they did: scholarship and erudition, athletics and sports, arts and aesthetics, empathy, compassion and concern for those less privileged, willingness to learn, ability to walk the extra mile to achieve perfection in everything they touched, boundless and infectious energy, and last but not the least, the esprit de corps, the indescribable feeling of one for all, and all for one! I told them of the need to fulfil their promise to themselves, and stand by what they had written in their essays on why they had joined the civil services. I told them to read, write and engage in conversations with their stakeholders, especially those who were in an asymmetrical relationship with them: those at the margins, and those who needed state intervention the most. A conversation is not just about talking and listening – it’s an active engagement of trying to get into the shoes of the other person – and willingness to understand and appreciate alternate viewpoints. A conversation is not an agreement, it’s the stepping stone towards a nuanced exchange with a possibility of getting a viewpoint different from ours!
I told them to read – not just newspaper editorials and the curated summary of events of the week – but classics and texts that had stood the test of time, and the long view of history. Reading was the first step towards writing: one could start by reviewing books before writing a treatise of one’s own. And civil servants had a strong tradition of writing, starting with Surendra Nath Banerjee’s ‘A Nation in the Making’ to ‘Footprints on the Sands’ by Rajeev Ratan Shah. I spoke to them of diplomats Navtej Sarna and Pawan Verma, who had written seminal works on Baba Nanak and Adi Shankracharya, thereby adding to the corpus of scholarship on these subjects. My batch mate Kula Saikia, who was till recently the DGP of Assam, had won both the Katha and the Sahitya Academy Awards for his contribution, and was an exemplar of how one could excel, both, professionally and in the chosen field of art or scholarship. Likewise, BK Agarwal had produced a magisterial work on Land Management in India and Anita Jain Bhatnagar had stories on environment and ecology for children. A young SDM, Rehan Raza had captured the sheer charm and pictorial beauty of the Great Nicobar Island, and a former Deputy Director of the Academy had penned a ‘do-it-yourself’ manual on keeping fit.
The sheer range and diversity of these writings delights me, as also the initiative of the Rahul Sankritayan Manch to publish the collection of Hindi poems by the officers of this batch!
In his valedictory address, Parameshwaran Iyer recounted his days as a probationer (as the officer trainees were then called), and his experiences as the Group Leader during the trek. He complimented the batch for changing the name of KTP (keen type probationer) to RTP (responsible type probationer) as he felt that it was more representative of this particular genre. He urged the officers to develop a keen professional interest in any sector, and to follow this with both theoretical and practical learning in the domain. If officers could document the best practices in their respective sectors, visit projects both in India and abroad, share their experiences, and learn from successes and failures, it would be a great learning experience for their younger colleagues, besides building a corpus of knowledge, and making them ‘experts’ in the chosen field. This would lead to both personal and professional growth, as civil servants enjoyed an edge over others, as they had the advantage of field experience and ear-to-the-ground assessment.
Finally, there were the Awards to celebrate the accomplishments in different spheres – from athletics and riding to excellence in academics and, of course, the esprit-de-corps, which was the rationale of the FC, and so after the function, the reality of separation sunk in deep, and the general sentiment was that all of us – faculty and the OTs of the 94th FC – will feel a sense of void!