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Civil Servants – Unsung Heroes of India

The History of India is often told through the lens of its political leaders. Figures like Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister, are celebrated as the architects of modern India. However, this narrative overlooks a crucial group of individuals who played a significant role in shaping the nation – the civil servants, or as they are colloquially known, the ‘Babus’.

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India


The British East India Company and the Birth of Civil Services

The story of India’s civil services does not begin with independence, but rather, around 200 years prior, with the British East India Company. As the company expanded its power in India, it needed bureaucrats to run its growing empire, leading to the creation of the Covenanted Civil Service (CCS). Initially, appointments were made by the company’s directors, but by the 1850s, a Civil Service Commission was set up in London, and regular exams were held for appointments.

The First Indian Civil Servants

The 1st Indian to crack the civil services exam was Satyendranath Tagore, brother of Rabindranath Tagore, in 1864. However, these early Indian civil servants were the exception rather than the norm. By 1883, there were only 12 Indians in the civil service, and by 1915, the number had increased to just 63. The rest were Europeans, ruling over a population of 250 million Indians. Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India


The Shift Towards Indianization

The Civil services exam was finally held in India after the 1st World War, from 1922 onwards. This made the test more accessible to Indians, and more Indians began to become civil servants in their own country. Figures like Subhash Chandra Bose, who stood 4th in the 1920 batch, were among those who aced the exam.

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India

The Role of Civil Servants in Independent India

At the time of independence in 1947, India had 980 civil service officers, nearly half of whom were European. Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India

After partition, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) was created, and its officers became the backbone of the new country. Politicians like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel recognized the importance of civil servants in keeping India united.

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India

The Legacy of Civil Servants

Civil servants played a crucial role in shaping modern India. They advised ministers and politicians, ran day-to-day affairs, and put new systems and checks in place.

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India

They also presided over significant events like India’s first general election in 1951, which was conducted by Sukumar Sen, a civil servant. 

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India


Notable Civil Servants

Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee holds the distinction of being the last member to serve in the Indian Civil Service. Over his extensive career, he held several key positions including Home Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, and eventually Governor of Punjab. Mukherjee retired from his role as cabinet secretary in 1980, marking his departure as the end of an era as he was India’s final ICS officer.

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India

JPL Gwynn was a British civil servant whose career spanned across the colonial Indian Civil Service, the independent Civil Services of India, and the British Civil Service. Remarkably, he was the only British national to have served in an executive position in India even after its independence. Gwynn held various positions such as District Collector, Secretary in the Education Ministry, and the Second member of the Board of Revenue, before he returned to England in 1968 after a 30-year service in India.

Civil Servants - Unsung Heroes of India


The civil services have come a long way since the days of the British East India Company. Today, they continue to play a vital role in the functioning of the country. Let’s honor these unsung heroes who, alongside our political leaders, have played a significant role in shaping the India we know today.

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