Bu­reau­cratic Reshuf­fle

The Economic Times - - Com­pa­nies -

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.

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