May 25, 2020
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All The PM’s Men & Women

People no longer run from Pillai to Pillai in New Delhi. The bureaucratic centre of gravity has clearly shifted from the South to Gujarat.

All The PM’s Men & Women
All The PM’s Men & Women

Familiarity is a force. And who knows it better than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known to value fellowship when it comes to governance? No wonder, there’s coming up a mini Gandhinagar of sorts in Lutyens’ Delhi, well-versed in the Gujarat model of governance, that is calling the shots in the corridors of power in the capital. If you don’t believe that, just take a good look at the number of Gujarat-cadre bureaucrats occupying plum positions in Delhi, their number having grown since Modi took over in May last year. Over the last year, Modi, known to trust officials more than politicians, has recreated some of his governance and administration practices of Gandhinagar in the capital.

The number of senior bureaucrats of the Gujarat cadre posted in Delhi since Modi took office has gone up to 30. Even before he took charge, there were 14 other Gujarat-cadre officers who were on central deputation. The total number of Gujarat-cadre officials in Delhi durbar is therefore an impressive 44.

It is clearly easier for Modi to drive his ‘achhe din’ agenda the way he wants by deploying babus well versed in the Modi school of administration. Old hands at aiding Modi in executing his blueprint for the state, these officers need little or no help in second-guessing what the prime minister may require of them. They would also have a fair idea of the sort of programme implementation that would please him. They’ve seen Modi for long during their tenure in Gujarat—and closely enough too—to know what must be done. No wonder, the Kerala dominance in Delhi’s bureaucracy, visible all through upa’s rule, has now been brought to a halt.

From Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers to Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, from law officers to even Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers, the Gujarat cadre is omnipresent. Of course, many of them are known to be competent. For 13 years in Gujarat, where Modi was chief minister for three consecutive times, it was these officers who drove the development agenda.

At the PMO, there’s P.K. Mishra, brought out of retirement to be principal secretary to the prime minister; there is A.K. Sharma, joint secretary to the prime minister; and Rajiv Topno, private secretary to the prime minister—all from the Gujarat cadre. Add to that others like Bharat Lal, a 1988 batch Indian Forest Service officer who has been the Gujarat government’s resident commissioner in Delhi since 2010. Lal, known to be close to Modi, has accompanied the PM on his visits to China and Japan. Other than helping Modi liaise with India-based envoys, Lal has also helped Modi push crucial projects like Tata Motors’ Nano plant.

O.P. Singh Chandel, popularly known as OP to those following the prime minister, has been with Modi since his Delhi days in the BJP office in the early 1990s. Chandel, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, works as the prime minister’s personal assistant and finds support from another Gujarat connection, Dinesh Thakur, a native of Uttarakhand who also works as Modi’s personal assistant. 

So in the central government, if Modi is the measure, then his Gujarat cadre officers make for its essence. Sample this: top positions in the government belong to Modi’s men and women from Gujarat.

Appointments made over the last year include high-profile officials like Hasmukh Adhia as revenue secretary, Tapan Ray as secretary (corporate affairs), Gauri Kumar as secretary for coordination in the cabinet secretariat, Rita Teotia as commerce secretary, Pradip Kumar Pujari as power secretary, H.K. Dash as secretary of the inter-state council in the home ministry, G.C. Murmu as additional secretary in the finance ministry, A.K. Jyoti as election commissioner, Sunaina Tomar as joint secretary for textiles, R.P. Gupta as joint secretary (coal), and Raj Kumar as joint secretary for economic affairs, among others.

Several other Gujarat-cadre officials deputed to the central government before Modi became prime minister are continuing in their posts. These include: Ashok Chawla, a 1973 batch IAS officer, who has been the chairperson of the Competition Commission of India since 2011; 1982 batch IAS officer A. Bhattacharya, who is chairman of the staff selection commission since 2013; and P.K. Gera, a 1985 batch IAS officer who is the director-general of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT).

Ashim Khurana, a 1983 batch IAS officer, is secretary of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) since May 2014, and in the commerce ministry, Guruprasad Mohapatra has been joint secretary since September 2014. A.K. Patnaik, a 1983 batch IPS officer, who is also son-in-law to former PM Manmohan Singh, too continues as additional director in the Intelligence Bureau.

A.K. Tomar, a 1989 batch IPS officer, has been inspector-general (personnel) of the BSF since 2013. Sarah Rizvi, a 2008 batch IPS officer, also the first woman Muslim IPS officer of Gujarat, has been deputed as SP in the Intelligence Bureau; and N.K. Singh, an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer of the 1987 batch, has been joint secretary in the mines ministry.

Asheem Srivastav, an IFS officer of the 1982 batch, has been member-secretary of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). Amit Kumar, a 1996 batch Indian Forest Service officer, has been director in the department of land resources in the ministry of rural development since January 2015. And Franklin L. Khobung has been director in the ayush ministry.

The balance of power in Delhi then, has clearly shifted towards Gujarat, what with four out of the 51 officials, which is the highest ever number empanelled as additional secretaries, belonging to the Gujarat cadre. The names include G.C. Murmu, among others. So in Delhi, all the prime minister’s men and women are not just busy driving the agenda of the government but are a force to reckon with because of their sheer numbers. 

If in Gujarat, Modi ruled by concentrating powers in the hands of his bureaucrats, the same formula is now being replicated in Delhi. No wonder, the prime minister feels cosy in his chosen company. Perhaps that’s the reason why, in an informal interaction with bureaucrats on Panchvati Lawns at 7, Race Course Road, on April 1, 2015, he could tell his officers “to consult each other regularly, to eliminate silos if any and speed up the process of decision-making”.

It wouldn’t be wrong then to say that, in the government at the Centre, with major positions across ministries headed by his own, Modi has an eye and an ear in every corner of governance.

By Prarthna Gahilote in Mumbai.

This story has been edited to correct a printing error.

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