Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ajit K Seth’s Extension as Cabinet Secretary: 5 meanings to this surprise move

CORRIDOR'S speculation on who could be Narendra Modi’s pick for cabinet secretary ended on Monday, at least for now, after the government in a surprise move extended incumbent Ajit K Seth’s term for six more months till December 13, 2014, his second extension after getting appointed as cabinet secretary in June 2011. Many believe Seth was originally handpicked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s confidant and his own batch-mate Pulok Chatterji who eventually became principal secretary to PM, and Pulokaseth, as BoI called the duo, had worked as a team with no visible evidence of…
differences of opinion in the last three years of working together. Let’s now analyze what does Seth’s extension of tennure actually mean? 

1. First, with Seth remaining as cabinet secretary, two UP cadre IAS, the other being principal secretary to PM Nripendra Misra will call the shots once more. The domination of UP IAS in bureaucracy has been quite evident for many decades now except for the first seven years of UPA rule when the Kerala lobby managed to grab key posts.
2. With Seth’s continuation for the next six months, senior most IAS officers of 1976 batch, and some of 1977 batch too, will disqualify for cabinet secretary’s position, as all of them will turn 60 by then. If the government sticks to seniority in December, it has to pick someone from the following IAS officers of 1977 batch: Alok Rawat (water resources secretary, Sikkim cadre), PK Sinha (power secretary, UP cadre), Naved Masood (Manipur-Tripura cadre) and Madhav Lal (MSME secretary, Jammu and Kashmir cadre). According to rules, a bureaucrat has to be below 60 to get appointed as cabinet secretary, but once appointed, he or she gets a fixed two years term. Even in the past, former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar’s serial extensions denied the top bureaucrat’s post to IAS like Sudha Pillai and M Ramachandran.
3. Thirdly, Seth will bring in some amount of continuity to the system when the new government is expected to experiment a lot with bureaucracy. It’s Seth, not Nripendra Misra, who knows the strength and weaknesses of each of the current union secretary. And prime minister Modi may ask for Seth’s frank assessment of each of the secretary before undertaking a bureaucratic reshuffle at the Centre.
4. Fourthly, it has almost become an unwritten norm now that cabinet secretary gets three to four years tenure, though on paper it’s two years, thereby denying this coveted post to many a brilliant officer of the subsequent batches. Whereas BK Chaturvedi got a three years term, his successor KM Chandrasekhar had an unusually long tenure of four years. 
5. Finally, Seth knows inside out of the UPA’s mismanagement, policy paralysis and firefighting in cases such as 2G, Commonwealth Games, Coalgate and also PMO-10 Janpath communications. It remains to be seen whether Seth becomes an activist and gives any insight to the new regime.


  1. Ajit Seth is known to have no opinion on anything. Therefore conflict is out of question. Secondly he does not have any qualities of having ever taken a stand. Thirdly Sonia selected Manmohan and Sonia selected Seth. Everyone knows Sonia selects the weakest & meekest with zero leadership qualities. NaMo must have realized Ajit Seth was hardly a threat, rather he could be an asset as he will willingly spill the beans. Remember during fag end of tenure of UPA Govt. how some Secretary level officers started throwing tantrums & speaking out openly against Ministers. Sudhir Krishna gave written complaint against Chidambaram. Jawahar Sircar blamed Manish Tiwari's I & B Ministry of interference when NaMO interview was edited. Therefore I will not be surprised if Ajit Seth has started cosying up to new Govt. He desperately wanted to become first LokPal & pressurized Manmohan who tried his best to push for his appointment in a clumsily hasty manner before election code. The bureaucracy is a chameleon and can change its colours. Changing loyalty is no big deal & so is spilling the beans. Sanjay Baru has shown the way.

  2. if all the above are true...........still he became Cabinet Secretary. what is the point of being a brilliant officer when u cannot become a cabinet secretary ?

    1. Brilliance is in the eye of the beholder unless of course you can furnish incontrovertible evidence of competence. Do you have such evidence? Cabinet Secretaries are always political appointees -- the first few incumbents, all ICS officers, were respected by Nehru and his colleagues for integrity and probity. Since then, these are not character and professional attributes that are critical factors.