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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 46, November 6, 2010

Tribute to S.R. Sankaran

Wednesday 10 November 2010

[The following e-mail from S.P. Shukla was read out at a meeting held at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi on October 18, 2010 to offer homage to the memory of S.R. Shankaran. The e-mail was sent to Prof Manoranjan Mohanty in response to the latter’s mail to him giving the sad news of Sankaran’s demise.]


It is hard to recomcile with the fact that S.R. is no more. I came to know of his sudden demise only through this mail. We grew together in the IAS. Right from day one, back in 1957, one could mark him as extraordinary in the crowd of the would-be elite of the bureaucracy. We were again together in Delhi in the sixities, the seventies and later in the early nineties. All along he maintained his unmistakable solidarity with the poor and the marginalised. His self-effacing style of work was as unique as his sense of humour and, on occasions, his thornless satire.

He stubbornly refused to don the normal bureaucrat’s attire of the Delhi winter (he was always uncomfortable with anything formal or heavy) and jocularly described this was his way of sympathising with the “wollenless millions of Delhi”.

His years of Special Assistantship with Mohan Kumarmangalam, his Chief Secretaryship of Tripura, his term as Director of the Academy of Administration and finally his tenure as Secretary, Rural Development were rich with his own contributions. He was also privy to many events and decisions which could provide interesting material for good “stories”. But he warded off any queries with an almost apologetic smile. As a true civil servant belonging to the era preceding the burst of the visual electronic media, he preferred to remain in the background and nameless.

IN his post-retirement years, his was a signal contribution towards ‘searching for space for genuinely democratic politics’ in Andhra Pradesh. He was unique in securing the trust of the opposite ends of the violent strife at least for a while when the negotiations were on. It was tragic that the effort did not succeed. His anguish at the failure was palpable.

Sankaran abhorred formality and protocol. He systematically shunned any public honour. I know how he quietly declined the high Padma award that was offered to him and did that with such effortless ease, no fuss or noise.

Sankaran will be remembered not simply as a very gifted and able civil servant, which he undoubtedly was, but more as a sensitive human being with innate empathy for the poor and the marginalised. And for his true Gandhian style of trying to put in practice what he believed.

The author is a former Finance Secretary, Government of India.

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