LOOK, even Prime Minister wants someone he trusts as his joint secretary. After Chhattisgarh chief minister wrote to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh asking newly appointed PMO joint secretary BVR Subrahmanyam to be repatriated to the state, this was what PM wrote to Raman Singh: “I need an officer who has the experience and exposure in handling sensitive matter. The officer also needs to be someone who enjoys my trust and confidence. Due to these reasons, I have selected BVR…”. Yes, PM emphasized on two keywords: trust and confidence. But most ministers in his cabinet or for that matter even in earlier governments have to be satisfied with the officers they are thrust upon. Even a secretary to a department can’t choose his team-mates. Why can’t the Dhoni of a government department have the liberty to pick and choose his own players?
The rationale behind this British legacy is that...departments could go corrupt and inefficient if the ministers are given the liberty to handpick their own bureaucrats. Many believe ex-telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura was former telecom minister A Raja’s personal choice. Behura, a 1973 batch IAS, was an additional secretary in environment ministry where Raja was the minister then. Behura who signed controversial 2G licenses barely 10 days after he became secretary was also jailed, and is now out on bail.
The Appointments Committee of Cabinet which decides top government appointments is headed by the Prime Minister, but in most cases ministers ask for their chosen persons out of the short-listed ones.
But here is the question: if a minister in today’s world is expected to behave like a successful CEO, can he afford to have juniors on board who he can’t trust at all. It’s the world of RTI where disgruntled officers don’t necessarily need to take risks and spot beat reporters of prominent newspapers to leak stories. He can even “manufacture” an official leak through a well-planned RTI. Also, everyone now carries a smart-phone, and remember, social media is hyper-active.
Yet, there are times when ministers develop trusts among officials. When Singh became the country’s Prime Minister in May 2004, he really did not have a team of officials of his own. Many of his key PMO officials then were actually thrust upon. Then National Security Adviser JN Dixit and advisor MK Narayanan were more of Congress first family’s men than Singh’s old hands. Everyone then used to call his private secretary Pulok Chatterji as 10 Janpath’s “eyes and ears” in PMO. In a way, ex-Punjab cadre IAS TKA Nair was only man who PM himself picked up.
But trust is also developed. Pulok Chatterji who went up the ladder to become secretary in PMO and now principal secretary to PM is one of Singh’s most trusted men and a key trouble-shooter in the government. Even 1987 batch IAS BVR Subrahmanyam’s proximity to the PM was the result of his service as PM’s private secretary during UPA-I.
In the government, only a few ministers like Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony and P Chidambaram get their chosen men around them. FM for example chose R Gopalan in lieu of Rahul Khullar as DEA secretary. Is it mere efficiency or sheer trust?