Anil Swarup is a former Secretary, School Education (2016-2018), and Ministry of Coal (2014-2016), Government of India. He has immense experience as a public servant with a demonstrated history of working in the coal and school education sectors. He has also authored a book, Not Just a Civil Servant. Excerpts from an interview with the ace bureaucrat:
The Optimist: Your attempts at becoming an IAS officer had failed initially, so you joined the IPS academy, but you cracked the exam in your next attempt. How did you prepare for the most coveted job? How did you deal with your initial failure?
Anil Swarup: I have treated failures as stepping stones to success. My failure to get through in the IAS exam on the first attempt made me even more determined and I analysed the causes of my failure and overcame them in my second attempt.
The Optimist: When you look back today, how do you analyse your tryst with Indian bureaucracy?
Anil Swarup: I enjoyed every moment as a civil servant. That’s why I wish to be a civil servant if I’m born again.
The Optimist: You had an eventful career as an IAS officer and you’re known for your honesty and for being straightforward. Is honesty a boon, or a bane when you’re working in a critical socio-political ecosystem that thrives within the bureaucratic set-up of India?
Anil Swarup: Honesty’s a boon. It’s necessary for a civil servant, but that’s not enough. A civil servant must perform to make things happen on the ground. Honesty alone isn’t enough.
The Optimist: What led you to become a writer? Is Not Just a Civil Servant an outpouring of your suppressed emotions, or a barrage of experiences that you gathered when you were at the helm of affairs?
Anil Swarup: Not Just a Civil Servant isn’t an outpouring of ‘suppressed emotions’, but a narration of my personal experiences as a civil servant.
The Optimist: During your tenure, you worked with many political parties and political leaders. Do you have any fond memories of any political leader that you still cherish?
Anil Swarup: I have several fond memories in a career spanning 38 years and the book brings forth some such memories. However, the politician I admired the most was Kalyan Singh as I saw him during his first stint as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
The Optimist: In your earlier interviews, you mentioned the advantages of working as a team. But how do you manage to build teams in completely different places and overcome such barriers as caste, language, sentiments and emotions?
Anil Swarup: Team-building centres on trust and trust isn’t based on any caste, community or regional preference. It’s based on human psychology that applies to all human beings. Once you trust people, you can delegate. This creates a sense of responsibility among team members and leads to team-building.
The Optimist: In such a country as India, is bureaucracy closely entangled in politics and politicians? Do you think bureaucrats can actually stay aloof from political colours and sentiments?
Anil Swarup: Bureaucracy must work with politicians in a democracy. It can’t stay aloof from them. However, it must prevent itself being politicised. This can be done and this should be the case in the interests of bureaucracy and in the larger interests of the people of the country.
The Optimist: The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) — the health insurance scheme for India’s poor — is your brainchild. Apart from establishing a strong insurance-backed healthcare infrastructure, how do you think that we, as a nation, can dodge the challenges of this sector?
Anil Swarup: You don’t have to ‘dodge’ the challenges. You must face them! RSBY was all about facing — and, yes, overcoming — challenges.
The Optimist: During one of your interviews, you branded ‘B.Ed’ and ‘D.Ed’ the ‘biggest mafia’. Why do you think those systems of teacher selection aren’t appropriate or transparent? How can they be rectified?
Anil Swarup: I reiterate that some B.Ed colleges are embarrassing — to say the least! Some of them are run by mafia. I’m glad the government has taken a decision to go in for a 4-year integrated course for B.Ed. If implemented appropriately, it’ll eliminate fraudulent colleges that exist only in name.