Why Satya Nadella‘s dad will always be remembered

Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandhar‘s ‘formidable legacy will survive through a generation of civil servants whom he trained, nurtured, mentored and inspired with a rare combination of energy, enthusiasm and passion,‘ remembers former RBI governor Dr Duvvuri Subbarao.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

 

My first meeting with Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandhar happened at the Mussoorie academy in 1972 where I reported for training as a young IAS recruit and he, 10 years my senior, was a deputy director.

Barely a decade in service, he was already a legend by then for his deft and sympathetic handling of the Naxalite uprising in the tribal tracts of Srikakulam district in north coastal Andhra Pradesh as collector there in the late 1960s.

Yugandhar became our course director some three months after the training had stated.

Until he came into our lives, the Mussoorie training was an unremarkable combination of an elite public school and a mediocre college — PT and horse riding in the morning, eating in a well-appointed dining hall and banal lectures all through the day.

Soon after taking over as course director, Yugandhar spoke to us — a motley group of trainees with inflated egos and exaggerated notions of self-importance.

I have a distinct recall of what he told us: ‘My job is to prepare you for the rough and tumble of field postings in the first 10 years of your career.‘

‘No complaints or grumbling about overwork, odd hours, having no time for relaxation etc.‘

‘That‘s how it‘s going to be in the field, and that‘s how this training is going to be.‘

In a sense, Yugandhar defined the quintessence of the IAS — the challenge and opportunity of working at the frontier.

He believed passionately in plunging headlong into the field — to see, listen, talk and experience.

Whether it is freeing bonded labour or providing drinking water facilities in villages, he believed that the only way a civil servant can be effective was by going out and dirtying her hands.

He visited me when I was sub-collector, Parvathipuram, in the mid-1970s.

We went on an intensive three-day tour of agency villages by jeep and occasionally by foot.

I had already visited dozens of these villages earlier, but going with him and seeing the empathy and enthusiasm with which he interacted with tribal people was a rewarding learning experience.

At the end of the tour, he asked me if I had camped overnight in a tribal village and was disappointed that I had opted for the relative comfort and convenience of travelers‘ bungalows.

Years later, at a difficult phase in my career, he took me under his wings in the small-scale industries department where he was secretary.

Working with him felt like a continuation of my training on how to be effective.

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Other secretaries would summon their subordinates to their office.

Not Yugandhar; he‘d just walk into your office if he had something to discuss with you.

That he did one afternoon and found me reading a report on sick small industries.

He obviously didn‘t think that was good value of my time.

Two days later, he told me gently: ‘Subba, the foundry industry around Rajahmundry has flourished for years; but of late it is showing signs of sickness.‘

‘Why don‘t you go and find out what‘s happening?‘

Needless to say, that intensive tour in Rajahmundry taught me more about sick industries than a hundred reports.

The value of the emphasis Yugandhar placed on field exposure came to me powerfully later in my career while serving in Delhi where officers from all civil services compete for senior management jobs in the government of India.

The IAS enjoys, or at any rate enjoyed, a unique advantage in this competition because of the field experience IAS officers bring to bear on policy making.

It is disappointing though that this USP of the IAS is rapidly ebbing away largely because of young IAS officers‘s apathy for field jobs.

In what was an initiative surely inspired by Yugandhar‘s training, as governor of the Reserve Bank of India, I instituted an outreach programme which required all senior management personnel of the RBI to spend a full day in a village at least twice a year.

I believed that this village immersion would help them relate better to decisions that they make on issues such as financial inclusion, priority sector lending or microfinance.

I could sense resistance from my colleagues who thought this was a nuisance in their busy workload.

What was most heartening though was that having gone on an outreach visit, virtually all of them appreciated its value; some of them even got hooked on to it.

The last time I met Yugandhar was at a dinner in a common friend‘s house some six months after I stepped down as governor.

We talked about a lot of things including the RBI‘s outreach programme and about Jalanga — a village near Bhadrak in Odisha that I nurtured as governor, going there every year for five years.

With characteristic enthusiasm, he said to me: ‘Subba, now that both of us are retired, we must go there and see what’s happening.‘

That was not to be.

Soon thereafter, he became a virtual recluse.

I called him a few times hoping to plan our Jalanga visit, but each time he demurred, possibly because of failing health.

When the news of his passing came, I wasn‘t shocked, but there was deep sense of loss.

Yugandhar is gone, but his formidable legacy will survive through a generation of civil servants whom he trained, nurtured, mentored and inspired with a rare combination of energy, enthusiasm and passion.

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