Hyderabad: Dr R.V. Vaidyanatha Ayyar, a former IAS officer, has left a mark on the country’s education system as well on training his successor babus. His books have been taken as policy documents.
He has often said, “I began my career as a teacher in 1966 and ended it as a teacher at IIM-Bangalore in 2009. In between I was in the University of Public Life.”
“There are three types of IAS careers,” he says, speaking to Deccan Chronicle. “One type is the rolling moss, moving from job to job, doing short tenures. The second does long tenures, as Nietzsche would say, ‘eternal recurrence’. I belonged to the third category and did not stay permanently in any particular department, but I did long spells in a few departments like taxation, education and culture.”
“I was there long enough so that by the middle of the term I would become a specialist or at least as good as one. While others learnt theory, I had the opportunity to see how the theory works in practice, how they could be made into policies and how they were implemented.”
After retirement, Mr Ayyar began teaching mid-career government officers at the IIM. “I found that there was no point in teaching someone who has been in the government for 10-15 years, at least in theory. What they needed was some practical examples, which meant that I had to develop cases based on real life and with reference to real world things, put it in a theoretical frame and then teach,” Mr Ayyar says.
He found that nobody wrote about the actual process, the actual politics. “It was easier for me to write about something which I had already gone through.”
He wrote a book on what he was teaching. `Public Policy Making In India’ was published in 2009. “Apart from theory, I also had six to eight cases, for example, how Sunita Narain surprised the health ministry saying that Coca-Cola has pesticide residue and forcing the government to make a regulation on soda. I wrote a number of cases like that.”
When Mr Ayyar designed a mid-career programme for officers at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoo-rie, the government made him chairman of the syllabus review committee for entry-level IAS training as well as entry-level foundation course for all All India Services and Central Services.
Soon, he says, he was getting bored and thought that instead of teaching he should devote himself to writing and returned to Hyderabad. “Life happened and he was now in the `Indian Ayah Service (IAS)’,” he recalls with a laugh.
Then he documented the policy making process in education. This was later called the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. The District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), which he drew up, and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have transformed the system of education. In 1994 one-third of all children out of school at the elementary stage were from India, but by 2006 this came down to .3 per cent.
According to Mr Ayyar the problem today is not getting children to school but seeing that they stay in school and that they are taught. “There has always been an intellectual tradition of addressing elementary education in the country,” he adds.
The book starts with Maharani Sethubai, the Travancore maharani who gave an imperial order on education. “I wrote a part autobiographical, part anthropological-cum-theoretical study. That book was published in 2016 and was called ‘The Holy Grail: India’s Quest For Elementary Education’.” he said.
Next he took up the process and politics of education policy making. J.P. Naik, the founder of the Indian Institute of Education, fell out of favour during the Emergency and he retired to Pune where he died. “He was the man who really wrote about modern Indian education. But he did not focus on politics and process and I thought I must carry on the work,” says Mr Ayyar.
“I took up the history of the making of education policy, History of Education Policy Making from 1947 to 2016’,” he said. This was published in 2017.
He is now working on a three-volume book on cultural policy and administration. He says nobody has attempted to write on culture because of the various angles. “It is not only culture as performing arts, but culture as a way of life, like secularism, what you are as a nation, where you are headed,” Mr Ayyar said.
As a senior IAS officer, Mr Ayyar has had his set of interactions with top Union ministers and Prime Ministers.
“Arjun Singh did not like to deal with officers directly,” he says. “He trusted a small coterie from Madhya Pradesh and he worked through them. You could never guess what he was thinking and he kept a distance from all others, but he was a brilliant man.”
In 1991 because of the fiscal crisis, there was no budgetary support even for the District Primary Education Programme, but Mr Ayyar mobilised close to $2 million from the World Bank and European Commission. Though Singh lent his ears to his buddies, he supported Mr Ayyar.
“Madhavrao Scindia was different. He too had his cronies, but he was close to his officers. I was one of those lucky officers who handled every international agency. I prepared drafts for him for the World Social Summit at Copenhagen and when he returned he was very happy because his interventions were much appreciated.”
“When Uma Bharati accused me of being political, I told her there were only two people who knew whether I was political or not and one was Lord Krishna (a statue of which I kept in my office) and the other my conscience,” Mr Ayyar recalls.
Mr Ayyar, then a junior joint secretary. went to meet Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi about the drug policy along with N.D. Tiwari.
“I did most of the speaking. Tiwari was a bright chap and capable and a people’s man, but Rajiv Gandhi directly asked me what the position was in the United States, regarding the drug policy. As my luck would have it, one year before that I was studying at Harvard for a year and one of the papers I wrote in MIT was on pharmaceutical industry economics.”
On a lighter note, he talks of one of his episodes with Atal Behari Vajpayee. Though an eloquent speaker, in private Vajpayee was very reserved and did not speak much, says Mr Ayyar. “The cultural minister of Myanmar had come and I briefed Vajpayeeji saying that he should refer to our long ties, not that he needed any briefing. The cultural minister came and he was so deferential that he thought Vajpayeeji would speak first, whereas Vajpayeeji thought the cultural minister would speak first. In two minutes it was all over and the minister went away. Then Vajpayeeji wondered why he went away so soon,” he says.
Mr Ayyar’s family has been in Andhra for more than 90 years and were in the hotel business in Visakhapatnam. He he did his high school at Tuni in East Godavari district, became a chemistry lecturer at the Andhra University and completed his PhD.
His doctoral dissertation was done under the supervision of eminent Andhra University teacher, Prof G. Gopala Rao, and evaluated by a panel comprising three eminent chemists — Nobel Laureate R.G.W. Norrish, Sir Harry Melville and Prof. E.J. Bowen of Oxford University. He brushes it away saying, “I was lucky.”...