It was 60 years ago, in the first week of September, 1959, that the Mussoorie Academy, later named after our late prime minister as the Lal Bahadur Shastri National academy of Administration or LBSNAA, was established in the erstwhile premises of the Hotel Charleville and the Happy Valley Club, on the far end of the British hill station. So, it was only in the fitness of things that the academy invited some of its past faculty and staff on this occasion to mark the milestone. It was nice to see generations of directors and staff coming together to share their memories of the place, on the green lawns of the academy, with the Himalayas as a majestic backdrop.
Since the time the academy was established in the salubrious climes of Mussoorie, by merging together the IAS training school, Metcalf house, Delhi and the IAS staff college, Simla, hundreds and thousands of civil servants, not only those belonging to the IAS, but also of the other All India and Central services, have started their careers from these very portals. Many of them have contributed significantly in the public service and policy space.
For example, even today, a few members of the council of ministers, a few members of both Houses of Parliament, the principal secretary and additional principal secretary to the prime minister, the NSA, cabinet secretary and almost all secretaries to government of India, ambassadors and heads of police forces, almost all district magistrates and district police chiefs are alumni of Mussoorie academy. A few of them, including my own batch mate, Dashrath Prasad, made the supreme sacrifice in their line of duty. Some branched out and became famous authors — Vikas Swarup (Q &A and Slum dog Millionaire fame) and Upamanyu Chatterjee (English, August) come readily to mind. Others went on to head successful private sector organisations. All of them, in their time, have lived in the very same hostels – Ganga, Kaveri, Narmada and Mahanadi — rode horses on the same riding grounds and perhaps had even the same oily paranthas in the Ganga dhaba on formal mess dinner nights. If the civil services are the steel frame of governance then the Mussoorie academy has been the crucible.
In the years immediately after Independence, the IAS officer trainees used to be trained in the historic building of Metcalf house in Delhi, where the DRDO stands today. But there was always talk of moving the academy to larger premises, away from Delhi, ostensibly to “prevent the distractions of the capital”. Finally, I think, a combination of factors came together that helped to make the decision in one swift move — the Union Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant being from the UP hills, the need to revive the moribund economy of the hill station and perhaps, above all, the availability of the entire premises of the British-era Hotel Charleville, whose occupancy had fallen dramatically since independence, along with its furniture, furnishings and even linen at a sum of Rs 8 lakh.
Incidentally, 1959 was also the first time when a combined course was organised for all the services, rather than only for the IAS, a tradition that continued over the years and is now being called the “foundation course”.
Since then, there has been both continuity and change in the life of Mussoorie Academy. Some of the old beautiful deep green, wood façade buildings are gone, the director’s office and the Happy Valley blocks being the proud and much cherished exceptions. The director’s lawn remains and the magnolia tree still stands at its corner. The practice of regular horse riding continues, as does the tradition of formal multiple course dinners on special occasions. In place of the old G B Pant block and A N Jha block (named after the first director of the Mussoorie academy), huge, well-equipped, modern buildings — Karmashila, Dhruvshila and Gyanshila — have come up and so has the Kalindi Guest house on the land where the ladies’ hostel stood. There have been significant milestones in the past 60 years too: The academy mess building getting burnt down to ashes only to rise again like a phoenix and the director of the academy resigning on a matter of principle, for example. In fact, a few of them were lovingly recounted in the form of a novel, Those who Had Known Love by Anita Agnihotri, an IAS officer and prolific writer. There have been presidential and prime ministerial visits too — the present PM, despite his busy schedule, not only visited but stayed in the academy in 2017.
Undoubtedly, the Mussoorie Academy has moved with the times and is now far more technically equipped and modernised from our days in early Nineties. And yet, there are still nooks and corners that remind one of the cultural and historic legacy of the place, a place whose memories would remain forever etched in the minds and hearts of all of us who had the good fortune to spend part of their youth in the Mussoorie Academy.
Even today, every time one gets to visit the academy, despite all the heat and dust of the plains and the monotony and banality of corridors of power, the place never fails to instil some of that old idealism, the dream-like quality that permeates those mountains, the tall Deodar trees and the layers of collective memory that have inspired so many over the years.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 23, 2019 under the title ‘Crucible for the steel frame’. The writer is an IAS officer (UP cadre), currently posted as joint secretary in department of fertilisers.