Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Countdown Begins: Who will be India’s next cabinet secretary?

THE race for the next cabinet secretary’s post may get intensified in the coming days as there are just three and half months left for a new IAS officer to clinch India’s top bureaucrat’s job. But if incumbent KM Chandrasekhar, a 1970 batch Kerala cadre IAS, gets an extension for six months, as was reported by a national daily on Monday, the present permutations and combinations may go topsy-turvy.

Situation 1: Advantage Ramachandran
First, let’s do a reality check of the Situation 1 in which Mr Chandrasekhar retires as scheduled on June 14, 2010 after serving as the cabinet secretary for long three years. In that case, the senior most bureaucrat of the 1972 batch and current urban development secretary M Ramachandran is a clear winner. He is non-controversial, a strong follower of rule books, hard-working and also a hot favourite of Prime Minister’s principal secretary and one of the most influential officials in the PMO, TKA Nair. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has interacted with him on a few occasions, and is believed to have a good opinion about him. The only other 1972 batch secretary level officer who will remain serving till then is tourism secretary Sujit Banerjee, but he is no way a contender for the post.
What further helps Mr Ramachandran over someone from 1973 or 1974 batch is the fact that both home secretary GK Pillai and defence secretary Pradeep Kumar who are on two-year-long fixed terms, happen to be his batch-mates and are unlikely to be subjected under a junior cabinet secretary.
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Situation 2: First woman cabinet secretary
Sometime back, there were gossips in Raisina Hill that incumbent cabinet secretary Mr Chandrasekhar who is already on an extension now, may be given a post equivalent to a minister of state earlier than scheduled, paving the way for Planning Commission secretary and the topper of the current merit cum seniority list of 1972 batch IAS now, Sudha Pillai to get the coveted post. But that can be possible only if the announcement is made one and half months earlier, as Ms Pillai who is also the wife of home secretary GK Pillai, retires on April 30, 2010. babu blogger made a mistake in an earlier post saying that Ms Pillai would retire on May 31, 2010.
Her strong social sector background may rather count as a positive factor, as the cabinet secretary’s mandate no longer requires prior experiences in home or defence, as the incumbent cabinet secretary himself is a former revenue secretary. Also, NSA Shiv Shankar Menon and home secretary GK Pillai, both happen to be from the same 1972 batch IFS and IAS respectively, are likely to take care of issues related to external and internal security respectively. For Ms Pillai, the biggest strength, however, comes from the fact that Dr Singh’s government may like to make a history by elevating two women officers as foreign secretary and cabinet secretary. For the record, 1973 batch IFS Nirupama Rao is already the top diplomat of the country.

Situation 3: Chawla Vs Chaterje
This is a newly developed situation of present cabinet secretary getting an extension for another six months in addition to his one-year extended term. Though the national daily which flashed this speculative story on Monday did not assign any major reason for his possible extension, many of his ongoing initiatives including assessment of ministries in a structured manner could be one of the reasons for the PM to vouch for continuity.
But a six months extension for Mr Chandrasekhar means current finance secretary Ashok Chawla, a 1973 batch Gujarat cadre IAS retiring only on January 31, 2011, emerging as the top contender for the coveted post. He is known to be well-connected in power circle and has served under two Congress heavyweights – finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P Chidambaram. Though a person close to the development says that his closeness to Pranab Mukherjee may rather be counter-productive, but few people know that he has some 10 Janpath connections too!
But even a fewer people have anticipated so far that if Mr Chandrasekhar is given another extension, it could also pave the way for Pulok Chaterji, a 1974 batch UP cadre IAS and close confidante of UPA chairwoman Sonia Gandhi, to supersede a few officers to grab the top bureaucrat’s job.
A secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during UPA’s first innings, Mr Chaterji is now in Washington DC serving as the executive director of the World Bank. After all, he had served as district magistrate of Rae Bareli in early 1980s, a director in the PMO during Rajiv Gandhi’s time, a secretary (joint secretary equivalent) in Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in early 1990s, and then a private secretary to Sonia Gandhi when she was the leader of the Opposition. A quite a strong CV indeed to clinch India’s top bureaucrat’s job!
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1 comment:

  1. good stuff to keep us crossed-finger....