OPINION
Rise above personal vindication, Mr Suresh Kumar. For Punjab.
- kanwar manjit singh
Rise above personal vindication, Mr Suresh Kumar. For Punjab.



MUCH OF PUNJAB's political discourse in the past few weeks revolved around the fate of one retired bureaucrat whose appointment was quashed by the high court. 

Will he come back to his post or not, is a question Punjab's politicians, media, legal luminaries and political pundits have been debating ad nauseam.

The entire discourse underlines two clear aspects, one a rather obvious one and the other a little deductive:

1. There is a poverty of administrative acumen in Punjab, and so severe is this malaise that the entire smooth functioning of the state government could depend upon the availability of one bureaucrat.

2. There are still bureaucrats in Punjab who are committed to running the administration in a smooth way, give the job their all, refuse to join the gravy train, and stay away from cheap sycophants and unscrupulous elements. Naturally, a stage may come where such a person, pushed to the wall, prefers to stay at home and find a new challenge, a new endeavour than deal with lesser men.

Unfortunately, much as I wish, this does not reflect very well upon Suresh Kumar. 
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With Suresh Kumar's appointment being challenged in the high court on procedural grounds, and the eventual outcome of that decision which sent the celebrated bureaucrat home, Punjab saw the ugly contours of reality.
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Indeed, the fact that he has proven himself as someone up for a challenge is beyond doubt. His running of the CMO as Principal Secretary to the CM during the second half of Amarinder Singh's last stint will be quoted in the annals of Punjab's administration as an example of how a CMO can run smoothly even with an absent Chief Minister and how someone in charge can steer the administration despite a matrix of people working at cross purposes around the CM.

That Suresh Kumar proved his worth even during the Badal regime will be stating the obvious. When he was overlooked by Badal for the post of Chief Secretary, the news was not about who became the CS, but who did not. 

I am not sure if Suresh Kumar felt hurt by that, but I hope he did. And my hope is predicated on my belief that a bureaucrat par excellence is also a human being with all the glorious finer sensitivities – and love, pain, hurt and a huge sense of forgiveness come packaged together along with such a persona.

He was living a retired person's life, making best use of his time, reading, writing, watching his kids grow, moving into a new house, planting flower pots, taking regular evening strolls, occasionally attending a seminar on administrative reforms at the Kisan Bhawan, still more occasionally writing a piece on agricultural crisis in the Punjabi Tribune.

Suresh Kumar had become a full citizen – the kind we yearn for babus to become. Someone you would wish to be your neighbour. 
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It is here that Suresh Kumar rose to the occasion, and it is here that Suresh Kumar let down his dear state of Punjab and its people. It is a conundrum for Suresh Kumar to engage with, and resolve. Not only for Punjab, but for himself, too.
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When Amarinder Singh came back as CM with a resounding victory, many were taken by surprise as he opted to put Suresh Kumar in a seat that can only be seen as a steering pivot. With Tejveer Singh as PS to CM and Karan Avtar Singh as Chief Secretary, here was a troika that did not have deep-rooted insecurities, knew how to work in tandem, could get together in a room and iron out any differences and understood each other instinctively.
 
In short, too good to last!

With Suresh Kumar's appointment being challenged in the high court on procedural grounds, and the eventual outcome of that decision which sent the celebrated bureaucrat home, Punjab saw the ugly contours of reality.

Bureaucrats facing a challenge hire army of lawyers right, left and centre to defend themselves. Here was one who said he was least interested in doing so, and if the state needs him, it better defend his appointment.

That elements within the CMO were finding it difficult to push through their vested agendas as long as a wedded-to-honesty babu was present in his post was a fact known to the CM and everyone who cared to find out. No wonder, hardly any effort was made to ensure that the legal fight in the high court was waged with the full burden of truth, facts, examples, precedents, case laws and argumentation. A mere text-book perfunctory approach could only have ended the way it did.

It is here that Suresh Kumar rose to the occasion, and it is here that Suresh Kumar let down his dear state of Punjab and its people.

It is a conundrum for Suresh Kumar to engage with, and resolve. Not only for Punjab, but for himself, too.

He did not lose a day in relinquishing his post. In fact, he did not lose a minute. 
 

When his appointment was challenged, he left the office within minutes, saying he will join work only when legal situation is clear. When the HC verdict went against him, he quit instantly. Not even his worst enemy has ever accused him of partisanship, or corruption, or discrimination — not one, not once.

His opponents in the CMO, in the Congress, in the Akali Dal as well as the BJP were taken aback by the immense outpouring of respect for the bureaucrat. Journalists known for their die-hard cynicism were virtually singing hosannas to Suresh Kumar's abilities, teflon-nature, no-non sense attitude, work ethic and his ability to remain accessible to one and all, across vocations, political parties and class divides.
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Diving back into that deluge, standing in the way of the storm, marshalling your skills to vanquish your opponents, blowing holes through their flimsy arguments, rolling out the truth to overawe a culture of incessant lies, and remaining in the seat to make decisions that benefit your people — that would have been a fight even bigger than one for personal vindication.
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I am sure all such editorials, comments, news headlines and analysis would have given Suresh Kumar quite a kick. Few bureaucrats get to hear as much profound praise at their farewell parties as Suresh Kumar did when he was unceremoniously sent home by a court verdict.

Many would give their right arm to take a bow in this fashion.

But here is my grouse against Suresh Kumar. There comes a time when a man needs to stand up and fight — not because his own personal character is involved — which is a good reason to fight, but because his people need that fight. 

Picking your bag and going home, leaving behind the deluge and walking proudly because you played fair and remained Mr Clean, is a good personal choice. It enhances your stature.

But diving back into that deluge, standing in the way of the storm, marshalling your skills to vanquish your opponents, blowing holes through their flimsy arguments, rolling out the truth to overawe a culture of incessant lies, and remaining in the seat to make decisions that benefit your people — that would have been a fight even bigger than one for personal vindication.
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Such a fight may even have bruised Suresh Kumar. It is possible that some who sing praises of his administrative acumen and honesty today may have held back their opinion. Also, such a fight does not come with a guarantee of sure-shot victory. The unscrupulous are remarkably resourceful in piling up dirt, and fights like this can get dirty and prolonged.
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As the great Mahatma once said, the combination of the crooked and cleverness is a natural one. Men of character must forge a new combination — of the truthful and shrewdness. The truthful must be shrewd, must ensure their victory, particularly when they know better than anyone else that their victory is for the benefit of their people.

Such a fight may even have bruised Suresh Kumar. It is possible that some who sing praises of his administrative acumen and honesty today may have held back their opinion. 

Also, such a fight does not come with a guarantee of sure-shot victory. The unscrupulous are remarkably resourceful in piling up dirt, and fights like this can get dirty and prolonged.

It is possible that Suresh Kumar would have spent quite some weeks in doldrums, not sure which way the chips will fall, and may have been forced to sit at home, retired and exhausted and bruised.

But he would have one thing to tell his friends: he put up a fight, gave it all he had got, and did not feel like a loser because he did not fight for himself.
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It is just that we wish he could see that Punjab needed men and women of his ability, integrity and sensitivity. If there is a dearth of such administrators in Punjab, then our politicians and administrators, including Suresh Kumar, are responsible for it. It is time to rise above personal vindications. 
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Punjab is watching as every few days, the CM lands up at his door and cajoles him to come back and help steer the state. We know that the CM of a neighbouring state was also trying to court him. We know that international institutions are courting him to benefit from his experience. We know that he will do well in whatever challenge he accepts eventually.
 

It is just that we wish he could see that Punjab needed men and women of his ability, integrity and sensitivity.

If there is a dearth of such administrators in Punjab, then our politicians and administrators, including Suresh Kumar, are responsible for it. 

It is time to rise above personal vindications. 

Punjab deserves better. It deserves better than a Suresh Kumar sitting at home, being hailed by everyone as good, honest, able. It deserves a Suresh Kumar who throws back a punch, and packs it with all the force at his command. For after all, he will be doing so for Punjab.
 

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Comment by: Sanjay Vohra

Well written, thoughtful and encouraging article.

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