I met SK Mishra in 1969 under unusual circumstances. I was then a member of Indira Gandhi’s secretariat (it became the PMO during Morarji Desai’s prime ministership). My wife and I, along with our one-year-old son, Jagat, were driving to my hometown Bharatpur on the Delhi-Mathura highway. A few miles beyond Palwal, we saw the road blocked by a group of youngsters wielding hockey sticks. They smashed the front screen of the car, telling us that there was a Haryana bandh and no one was allowed to pass.
Every morning, the PM’s programme was sent to all officers. I noticed that Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal was meeting her at 3 pm. I sent her a note saying that the chief minister would tell her how peaceful the bandh had been. I narrated how I was nearly killed on my way to Bharatpur.
Sure enough, the chief minister gloated over the peaceful bandh. The PM told him what had happened to one of her officers. A day or two later, Mishra came to see me to apologise. That is how our friendship began.
Now, to his “memoir”. I read it with unusual interest. It is written by an amiable man with a cultivated mind. There is no heedless exuberance about his considerable achievements.
He came to the IAS after a spell of teaching at Allahabad University. He qualified for the IAS in 1956. He writes, “I have often wondered what I would have done if I had not joined the IAS. I would probably have become a professor…”
Mishra’s book does not err on the side of detachment. Arthur Koestler, in the first volume of his autobiography, Arrow In the Blue, writes, “The virtues of understatement and self-restraint make social intercourse civilised and agreeable, but they have a paralysing effect on autobiography.”
The author is an activist and a doer. He is generally and rightly credited as the maker of Haryana. His boss Bansi Lal made policy, Mishra implemented it. The hurdles were many. These were overcome by tact and determination. In the IFS, the realities of Indian life remain obscure. In the IAS, they are the life blood of its members. All IAS officers are not conscientious. Many go to seed early in their careers. Mishra is among the exceptions.
In his career, SK Mishra worked with three formidable chief ministers — Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal. He not only managed to survive all three, he won their confidence. Something more than tact was required to achieve this feat.
Haryana and tourism were strangers till his arrival. In a short time, tourism gripped Haryana with inhabitable rest houses and classy eateries. The roads became motorable and electricity failures rare, but corruption could not be controlled because most Hindus do not consider corruption as immoral.
The Emergency was a trying time for Mishra. He was then working with defence minister Bansi Lal, who had come under Sanjay Gandhi’s spell. Mishra had one or two brushes with the young man and stood his ground, which very few officers did. It took guts to do so.
During Chandra Shekher’s prime ministership, Mishra was his principal private secretary. History has not been fair to Chandra Shekhar. He was a man of sterling character who did not put up with fools. He resigned as he lost his majority in the Lok Sabha. For a flimsy reason, Rajiv Gandhi withdrew his support and the PM quit.
After retirement, the author spent six years as chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). He had a successful but uneventful tenure with one or two tiffs with the minister of state, Margaret Alva.
The last two chapters deal with his close association with the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH). It was Indira Gandhi’s brain child and she put Pupul Jayakar in charge. She was a pompous and pretentious lady, whom Rajiv Gandhi showed the door after becoming the prime minister.
Mishra’s departure was not a happy one. He lost the election for a third term as president of INTACH. He soon launched the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development. This is doing splendid work.
The book ends with a chapter headed, ‘Memorable Encounters’. This begins with Jawaharlal Nehru and ends with Ramakrishna Sarathy with the likes of me tucked in between.
It is difficult to predict the future of books, but this very readable book by an exceptional individual should do very well.
Book name- Flying in High Winds
Author- SK Mishra
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