|Pulok Chatterji (Middle). Menon, Mathai are also seen|
And ladies and gentlemen, the most powerful Indian bureaucrat in 2012 is none other than…
Pulok Chatterji, principal secretary to PM and the only bureaucrat in India who does not need an appointment to drive down to 10 Janpath, the official residence of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
In August 2009, BoI surprised many of its readers when it ranked Chatterji above TKA Nair even when Chatterji was then located in Washington DC serving as India’s executive director to World Bank. We wrote: “…but his one phone call carries more power than many important files doing round the power corridors of Delhi.” After all, he has been attached to the Gandhi family from the time he was the district magistrate of Rae Bareli in early 1980s when Indira Gandhi represented the constituency. Later, he had served as private secretary to Sonia Gandhi when she was the leader of the Opposition during the NDA regime.
His high connection is further supplemented by his massive administrative skills. He along with cabinet secretary and his IAS batch-mate Ajit K Seth (you can call both as Pulokaseth) have picked up right secretary for each department. But the real contribution of Chatterji as principal secretary to PM has been his ability to co-ordinate with ministries and cripple “policy paralysis” wherever possible. When most bureaucrats were shying away from initiating any pro-industry policies, Chatterji has become a key driver in pushing big-ticket infrastructure projects and getting the "India story" still on track.
But, there are challengers all around him. The so-called Coalgate scam has dragged PMO into controversy. Top Indian auditor CAG has given an astronomical figure as “loss to the exchequer” because of allocation of coal blocks to private companies without an auction. The government has argued that it has just followed the policy of earlier regimes. But it remains to be seen whether Chatterji succeeds in keeping the PMO at the “arm’s length”? Chatterji’s bigger challenge, however, is to make the government’s social agenda digestible for the Congress party which will face the crucial general elections in May 2014.
And if sources are to be believed, Chatterji is quietly mentoring Rahul Gandhi by giving him “real-life" lessons from inside the government.
4 Other Powerful Bureaucrats
Menon as 2nd Most Powerful
National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon’s mother tongue is Malayalam but he speaks Chinese as fluently as someone from north of the McMohan Line. He speaks German too. But his ability to speak multiple languages does not qualify him to be powerful. BoI has chosen this ultra-low profile diplomat to be India’s second most powerful bureaucrat because he has remained at the core of India’s security and diplomacy at least for the last six years.
Changing faces of national security
Mr Investigator, 3rd Most Powerful
Mr Investigator is faceless and plural; could be from CBI, CVC, ED or I-T. He is taking more and more responsibilities, and in that process he has invariably entered a hitherto “no go” area of probing powerful politicians.
Heading CBI, ED…
Usmani as 4th Most Powerful
He is the chief secretary of India’s most populated state, Uttar Pradesh. But how can a bureaucrat located at 500 km away from power-centre become powerful? It is because this Lucknow-based bureaucrat and 1978 batch senior-most IAS officer, can speed up his state’s agenda by using his personal equations with those who matter in Delhi.
Mr Indispensable, 5th most powerful
The appointment rules were relaxed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to accommodate BVR Subrahmanyam, a 1987 batch Chhattisgarh cadre IAS, as a joint secretary in PMO. What makes BVR Mr Indispensable?
PM on BVR