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In the decades following 1947, as the tallest national leaders were building a
new India, they were supported by a band of idealistic civil servants fiercely
committed to the country’s Constitution and its people. Among these remarkable
officers was Bhairab Datt Pande, a young man from the Himalayan district of
Kumaon, who joined the Indian Civil Service in 1939. Over almost forty years as
civil servant, and later as governor, he played an important role in the country’s
administration, and interacted with leaders like Indira Gandhi (as cabinet
secretary during the Emergency), Morarji Desai and Jyoti Basu. His memoir—
which, respecting his wish, is being published posthumously—is a fascinating
record of his own life and that of India in the half century after Independence.
Pande chronicles several landmark events and initiatives that he either
participated in or witnessed. He helped increase food-grain allotment to the
state as food commissioner of Bihar in the early 1950s and drew up a new
famine code as land reforms commissioner. His work in the Community
Development programme some years later still has important lessons for today’s
Panchayati Raj institutions. After retirement, he was governor of West Bengal
during the resurgence of Naxalism in the early 1980s, and of Punjab in 1983-
84—a tragic and turbulent year in the history of the state and the nation. Pande
chose to resign as governor rather than carry out unconstitutional orders. His
compelling narration of the behind-the-scenes events and negotiations leading
up to the Anandpur Sahib Resolution and Operation Bluestar is of great value.
Engaging and inspiring in equal measure, this memoir is both a fascinating record
of an extraordinary life and an important and revealing historical document.