as his replacement. First, why Pulokaseth has slipped in their ranks in BoI Power List 2013, the fifth edition of the ranking of India’s 5 Most Powerful Bureaucrats? The question is how can the combo of PM’s principal secretary and the cabinet secretary of the country be ranked only at the third place among most powerful bureaucrats? The reason is straight and simple. Armed with RTIs, hyper-active media, anti-corruption crusade and activist bureaucracy (Rais, Durgas and Khemkas), the anti-establishment voices are no longer restricted to opposition parties and insipid editorial pages of daily newspapers. The common people, particularly the Twitter-happy new Indians, have started asking questions on anything and everything about the government, which were in older days swept under the carpet.
So, Chatterji’s 10 Janpath connections, for example, do turn a liability rather than an asset in today’s circumstances. When the issue of alleged land grabbing by Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra surfaces off and on, it is Chatterji who needs to be extra-careful of not using his clout, at least openly, to quash the controversy. Also, both these powerful bureaucrats spend a lot of time and energy to get things done with zero mistakes, including the honest ones, because of the aggressive opponents at various quarters including in bureaucracy.
Yet, during the last two years or so, Chatterji has tried his best to get Indian infrastructure building story back on track. He has gone out of the way to fix problems being faced by private power producers. He has also anchored government’s initiatives of setting targets for completing core sector projects, and in the process, has used a combo of cajoling and warning to get work done in various ministries. Chatterji does not beat around the bush and uses crisp directives both in written and verbal communications with his fellow bureaucrats.
So long as pushing the public sector companies to invest more, for a possible turn-around of the Indian economy, it’s the Ajit Seth who has been taking the lead. During the last one year, he has sat down with top PSU honchos several times, and strategized on how to use surplus PSU cash to boost the beleaguered economy. Also, whenever a natural disaster has stricken, whether it was earthquake in Sikkim or flash flood in Uttarakhand, Seth, and not Chatterji, was in the forefront of government’s disaster management brigade.
For Pulokaseth, the power is however restricted on two counts. The UPA has ruled for nine years and three months so far, and there is no guarantee which controversy crops up the next. After all, a file lying in a cupboard of one of the 82 departments may cause trouble for the government in its fag end of the term. Secondly, despite their genuine attempts to break policy paralysis in babudom, they know their limitations well. How can they ask their juniors to go out of the way to clear files when they know if something goes wrong in the system, they won't be able to safeguard one honest bureaucrat? The Catch-22 situation continues.