Monday, June 15, 2015

Chemistry Works: Why Narendra Modi showers praise on Ajit K Seth for his "creative effort"

Cabinet Secretariat Corridors
AS Ajit K Seth ended his extended 4-year-term term as India’s cabinet secretary on Saturday, prime minister Narendra Modi posted three tweets to praise one of Seth's initiatives in cabinet secretariat called “Art in Steps” before wishing him for the “new phase in his life”. For the low-profile bureaucrat who studied chemistry in St Stephen’s college in early 1970s and served two prime ministers -- Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi -- as their cabinet secretary, it was mainly the art of good chemistry that worked in his favour. First, let’s read what Modi had to say for Seth on Saturday…
“After a distinguished career spanning 4 decades, Cabinet Secretary Shri Ajit Seth retired today. Best wishes for the new phase in his life”, was Modi’s first tweet. Then, the PM went on to praise Seth’s “creative effort”. “Ajit Seth ji shared with me about ‘Art in Steps’, a unique initiative at Cabinet Secretariat to promote art and spread message of cleanliness…Staircases were cleaned and along their walls paintings by officials and their spouses were placed. A creative effort!” PM said.
As Seth himself described, “Art in Steps” is an initiative to display paintings, photographs, and sculptures made by civil servants and their spouses. Those are being kept in the cabinet secretariat premises. “The walls of the corridors and staircases provide a good setting and the eye-catching exhibits are impossible to miss”, wrote Seth, as displayed in the corridors. In fact, the initiative which is also called “Stairing at Art”, began in the month of February 2015. The exhibits are replaced periodically and after being displayed for a couple of weeks, those are returned to the civil servants or their spouses.
When Modi came to power in May last year, many thought the axe would fall on bureaucrats who called the shots during the UPA regime. But to surprise many, Modi gave Seth a 6-month-long extension only to be renewed again for another six months. “It’s Seth, not (principal secretary to PM) 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,” BoI wrote in a post dated June 3, 2014 when Seth was given an extension. But as it turned out, Seth’s chemistry with Modi turned better every passing month. Seth made his presence felt in the corridors’ major activities despite the two Mishras (principal secretary to PM Nripendra Misra and additional principal secretary to PM PK Misra) advised the PM in all policy and appointment matters.
When Seth’s appointment as India’s cabinet secretary was announced in May 2011, BoI wrote: “When all powerful man in PMO Pulok Chatterji dictated terms in Raisina Hills during UPA-I, his batch-mate from the same UP cadre Ajit Kumar Seth was the resident commissioner in New Delhi’s Uttar Pradesh Bhawan. Seth had a higher rank in 1974 batch IAS merit list, but no one even bothered to bet on Seth that this man from UP might one day snap the country’s top bureaucratic job. For six long years, Seth -- known for his honesty and meticulous work -- remained a mere resident commissioner in UP Bhawan. Finally, he got the break when he was appointed as secretary, coordination and public grievances in cabinet secretariat in January, 2009. And the rest is history now…”.
But Seth proved everyone wrong. He managed both the regimes, of Manmohan and Modi, pretty well. When he was an OSD in the run-up to his elevation as cabinet secretary, Seth handled the Baba Ramdev crisis for the UPA government. It was June 2011. Seth was seen in Delhi airport’s Terminal-I along with the then cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar. The then UPA government took an unprecedented move to send four cabinet ministers, the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, telecom minister Kapil Sibal, parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay, to the Delhi airport to persuade the Yoga Guru Ramdev not to go for his proposed fast. But the move backfired. And Seth got his on-the-job experience just a few days before he took charge as the country’s top bureaucrat.
And as he exits now, the same Ramdev is a very influential person in the corridors. No wonder, Seth spent the last few days of his office in preparing for the coming International Yoga Day, the rehearsal of which is being conducted by none other than the Yoga Guru himself.
Politicians may come and go, bureaucrats remain. As the poet says:
“Though kings and tyrants come and go
A soldier's life is all I know
I'll live to fight another day 
Over the hills and far away.”

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