Amitabh Kant – one of the most forthright secretaries in the government these days and the only babu at the Centre who is followed by Modi on social media platform Twitter – is probably the first to welcome the change in the mood after the poll results. “(This is the) first time a CM in office will take over as the Prime Minister of India. With three terms as CM, Modi will hit the ground running,” Kant tweeted, reflecting the hope for action in somnolent sarkari corridors after years of policy paralysis. “Modi appears to be a PM who will deliver and his government will be an action-oriented government. It will be exciting to work in the new regime,” said another secretary in one of the key ministries operating out of Delhi’s Shastri Bhawan, hoping that the civil services’ steel frame would be restored to its original shape and officials get more freedom to execute projects and policies under the NaMo government. In several ministries and departments, some of this fresh burst of energy is just nervous energy, as a big-ticket bureaucratic reshuffle could be on the cards as the government settles in. “Yes, the entire system is filled with enthusiasm in the hope of a decisive regime under Modi after years of dithering. But many officials are hyperactive because of the fear of being booted out if you are unable to justify your position,” said a senior official. Several secretaries considered close to the Congress-led UPA, or its ministers, have turned extra-cautious for fear of being on the wrong side of the new government. Some officers in the finance ministry, for instance, are no longer as accessible to the media as in the past and are seeking to keep a low profile. Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth has used this week to hold hectic parleys with top officials from all ministries seeking their versions of why UPA government initiatives failed or worked, and action plans for the next five years. This is the semifinal before they are asked to do the same next week to the new Prime Minister’s Office. Most top officials are refreshing their memories, preparing synopsis of their active participation in formulation of policies and programmes and rehearsing convincing reasons about why they failed. “This is like preparing for a job interview,” a secretary said. “When asked to explain the failures of the past government, it is tempting to blame the drift in the political leadership, but it is equally important that we are able to show that we took initiative and were thwarted by our ministers. In many cases, babus simply twiddled their thumbs and blamed the UPA for being helpless,” said an additional secretary at the Centre. Officials like him, who have met Modi personally as Gujarat CM on different fora, are bracing for a whole new governance ballgame with him as the PM. And, since Modi has ample experience of getting things done in Gujarat, officers can’t just get away with a usual status report to cover their tracks. “The expectations from the new government are extremely high – whether it is industry or the poor. In order to meet these expectations, the new PM would like to have the right people in the right jobs at the right time,” the official added, indicating that the presentations would help Modi in the process of sifting the wheat from the chaff. “Modi is not a novice at governance who can be handed a status report. He may ask why direct cash transfer of LPG subsidy scheme failed and what could be the solution?” said an official who was involved in UPA’s big push for direct benefits transfer months ahead of the elections. “The scheme failed because without proper preparations, the finance ministry forced us to cover the entire country. There was little coordination with banks and the generation of Aadhaar numbers. We hope the new government will give us a chance to explain the implementation issues,” the official said. Most junior bureaucrats are busy dissecting Modi’s speech at Parliament’s Central hall, where the BJP Parliamentary board elected him as its leader. We have to re-align our plans and schemes accordingly. It must reflect ‘Antyodaya’ as mentioned in his speech that his government is for the poor and deprived,” a senior Planning Commission official said. “Modi has a strong mandate from the people and his allies to lead an effective government. But he can’t be everywhere, so the bureaucrats will have to keep up or ship out,” said a senior government official. In the midst of this Lok Sabha campaign, while explaining how the present environment didn’t encourage decision-making, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth shared a succinct definition of the kind of leadership that India needs to meet the aspirations and demands of its 1.2 billion people. “Leadership”, he told senior economic secretaries, “is about focus, a sense of urgency and having specific targets, apart from being inspirational.” It could not be ascertained if Seth had a premonition about the UPA rout at the hands of a PM candidate that is expected to bring these very leadership skills to the table. But his words reflected the pain felt by many bureaucrats over the past decade under an indecisive regime that bent the so-called iron frame of babudom beyond recognition. Hounded out of retirement by the CBI; castigated for playing along, often at gunpoint, to ministerial excesses; summarily shunted out of top jobs when they stood up to protect the national interest in the face of mantris’ corrupt designs, the decade of the UPA rule has been a nightmare for many in the civil services as the traditional centres of power like the PM’s office and cabinet secretariat weakened. As scams from the UPA-I tumbled out and ensnared many top secretaries in investigative-judiciary dragnets, the bureaucracy responded by a stoic resolve to stall, leading to the coinage of the term ‘policy paralysis’ that dogged all of UPA-II. Seth had another message for secretaries at the meeting where he laid out his definition of leadership. “Bureaucracy provides continuity and institutional memory and acts as the glue when any significant change could lead to instability. We need civil servants to be enthused to deliver on the implementation side,” the cabinet secretary said, expressing hope that babus rise to the challenge and the demands of the times. That time has come.