Mythili Bhusnurmath, a senior economic journalist, called me from Chennai a few weeks ago, while attending the book release event of Dr C Rangarajan’s book Forks in the Road.

She mentioned about the erudition of Dr Rangarajan and at the same time she said that the book was very different from what many economists and bureaucrats were writing.

Often the bureaucrats are full of themselves and their personal interactions.

Similarly, economists’ biographies seem to be a lot more about policies, especially macro policies.

It would have been more useful, if the narration of IAS officers contained the nitty-gritty of the field administration in the districts, the interplay of pettiness and manipulation of institutions at micro level.

She felt that these micro aspects reveal the circumvention of the macro policies. In effect, many people complain the problem in India is one of inefficient implementation.

These inefficiencies, she felt, the civil servants seldom bring out in their biographies though they are best equipped to write about them. I believe the book under review Breaking Barriers by Madhava Rao, addresses in detail the dynamics of institutions at the ground level.

TCA Srinivas Raghavan, a distinguished journalist, expressed in an article in a financial publication a few weeks ago that the memories and autobiographies of people from the Indian Foreign Service have shown considerable perspectives and analyses, while those of economists in general have been more about themselves and lot more on their contribution to the policies, in particular macro-economic policies.

Therefore, in a way the book under review may be filling the gap in the knowledge about micro policies and governance, though there is perhaps a lot about the author himself.

However, this is understandable given the overall theme of the book.

The author has been described as a “Naxalite IAS Officer” by some journalists.

However, he did not make an effort to be a Naxalite. On the contrary, he was a professional Civil Servant. Therefore, the title “Naxalite” will not be consistent with his own personality as described in the book.

The very first sentence of the first chapter reads: “This is the story of the persons, authorities and events that made me who and what I am.”

The first sentence sums up the theme of the book, and indeed, the first chapter titled “Village Days” captures the very soul of the book.

It describes, in very simple and easy to understand language, the struggles and processes of overcoming virtually impossible constraints. It also captures the values that Madhav Rao cherished most and followed diligently in all his official and personal dealings, described in the book.

Chapters 2,3,4, and 5 are full of details on his exposure to the national stage, a different world from rural Andhra Pradesh. The account here is of how a provincial young man matures into an adult in the world at large.

Chapters 6,7,8 and 9 cover broadly the socio-political aspects particularly in regard to administration at the de-centralised level and at the state level. The pulls and pressures, politics and economics, formal and informal aspects of the administration, are all captured here.

The strengths and weaknesses of state-level political level leadership are clearly brought out. In a way, this represents the story of change in the society in India.

Chapters 10 and 11 deal with the political economy of the country in which politics and economics overlap significantly. They contain interactions with several leaders like Chenna Reddy, Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy, NT Rama Rao, N Chandrababu Naidu, N Janardhan Reddy, etc.

Madhava Rao’s remarkable characteristic was that he was uncompromising on principles while being flexible to suit the situation.

In particular, his close equation with Chandrababu Naidu cannot be missed. In his account of the interactions with the leadership, he certainly proves his own leadership qualities.

The independence of Madhava Rao is very clear in his principled approach as State Election Commissioner.

He went to the Court against the government and still did not invite any adverse criticism, though politically some may not have been happy. It is also perhaps a sign of maturity and balance of the political leadership of the day.

After the tenure of the State Election Commissioner, he devoted his life to being a public intellectual.

He served in the Reserve Bank of India as a Director, and also as a member of a very important sub-committee, Board for Financial Supervision. I have no hesitation in saying that the RBI benefitted by the wisdom of Madhava Rao.

As the book shows, Madhava Rao has been taking keen interest in the functioning of democratic processes.

The author provides many important insights into the political, social, cultural, artistic and humanitarian aspects of our country. This book is a collector’s item that should be read with both head and the heart.

(The reviewer is a distinguished economist, bureaucrat and former RBI governor)

Check out the book on Amazon

About the Book


Author: Kaki Madhava Rao

Publisher: Sahithi Books

Pages: 192 pages

Price: ₹200