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Bihari turned Kashmiri

Meet Navin Choudhary, the bureaucrat from Bihar who has become J&K’s first non-local domicile

After being interviewed by several news outlets and posing for photographs, a pleasant sense of fatigue was visible on the faces of Vaidehi and Deokant Choudhary at their home in Majhaulia village of Hayaghat block in Bihar’s Darbhanga district. They were basking in such media attention after two and a half decades, though for a different reason. The last time was in June 1994, when the results of the civil services examination of 1993 had made the regional press take notice of their village. Their eldest son, Navin Kumar Choudhary, whom they fondly call Baua, had attained 68th rank in the exam to enter the prestigious Indian Administrative Service.

This Friday, June 26, the media was abuzz with the news that the IAS officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre had become the first non-local bureaucrat to get a domicile certificate under the new domicile laws notified after the dilution of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Navin Choudhary, 51, is currently posted as principal secretary in the agriculture production department of the union territory. In his 26 years of service in Jammu and Kashmir, he has held many important positions, including that of finance secretary, principal secretary to the governor, and principal secretary to former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Born in 1968, the eldest of four brothers and a sister, Choudhary had humble beginnings. He received his primary education at his village school in Majhaulia and secondary school education at Laliteshwar Madhusudan High School at Anandpur in Darbhanga. For his university education, he moved to Patna. He graduated with a degree in economics from the Bihar National College, Patna University.

In some ways, he could be seen standing halfway in a process that was unfolding at Patna University in the early 90s. As in other parts of Bihar, the uncertain university calendar was forcing a mass exodus of students to other parts of the country for higher education, mainly Delhi. That, however, wasn’t the case with him as he graduated from Patna University. However, it was also the time when Patna’s reputation as a breeding ground for future civil servants was fast fading. That had led many civil services aspirants in the state to move to Delhi for preparations. Choudhary did the same.

His success in the civil services exam was widely reported in newspapers published from Patna. As a schoolboy, and with a weird capacity for unimportant details, I somehow remember that the papers made it a point to mention his optional subjects in the exam – public administration and sociology.

What, however, was remarkable was that unlike many successful candidates with higher education degrees, he was simply a graduate. Unlike candidates with degrees in technical education, it was really bold for a student with a simple graduate degree in humanities to attempt and finally tame the exam. Those with humanities degrees usually attempted it while pursuing higher degrees or even research fellowships. In some ways, it showed his single-minded dedication, complemented by the slice of luck that you need to crack such intensely competitive examinations.

As he found himself again in the news cycle, the media in Bihar was quick to highlight his native identity. Hindustan, the most circulated daily in the state, ran a frontpage headline in its Patna edition declaring, “Darbhanga ke IAS ko Kashmir ka domicile (Kashmir domicile for Darbhanga IAS officer).” The regional daily Prabhat Khabar had a more dramatic headline on the front page, “Jammu Kashmir mein basne wale pehle vyakti bane Darbhanga ke Navin Choudhary (Navin Choudhary of Darbhanga becomes the first person to settle in Jammu and Kashmir).”

In their Patna editions, English dailies such as the Hindustan Times also emphasized his roots. “Darbhanga native gets domicile rights in J&K,” was the headline of the paper’s report.

Even the Patna wing of the state broadcaster All India Radio emphasised Choudhary’s native roots as it used hashtags of Bihar and Darbhanga in tweeting news about him getting the domicile certificate. In a way, the senior bureaucrat also remembered his native state as he thanked Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in a tweet after getting the document.

In their reports from his native village, the news media emphasised the humble background of his parents. His father was a farmer and he stuck to his rural roots and farming profession even after his son found a place in the elite civil services.

Navin Navin Choudhary is married to Anita Choudhary of Samastipur district in Bihar, and they have two sons. His mother is happy that her son got the opportunity to be the legal resident of the place he served his entire career. “Vah Bihar ka Janmjaat putra hai to Jammu Kashmir ki dharti ka maanas putra hai (If he is the son of Bihar by birth, he has become Jammu and Kashmir’s son by choice),” she said in an interview to Hindustan.

Maanas putra is a concept in Hindu religious literature about the non-biological child, nurtured by wish. The villagers also remember Chaudhary’s visits to the village during festivals and functions. The reports also show how the news of Choudhary’s newfound and history-making domicile status has become a talking point in the village, bringing a sense of pride.

As a 25-year-old thin and studious-looking young man, Navin Choudhary, had found his way to newspapers for reasons that are still close to the dreams of youth in Bihar – success in the civil services exam. In Bihar, the next expectation once you succeed in that is to get the home cadre in the IAS, but he couldn’t get that. However, by being the first non-local bureaucrat to get the Jammu and Kashmir domicile, he has secured a distinct position. He seems to have made up for missing that home cadre.

www.newslaundry.com