gfiles magazine

June 21, 2018

Modi’s foreign visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the globetrotting leader of India. He has galvanised external affairs and diplomatic relations. Diplomacy is a sensitive issue, where every moment and action indicates different nuances. Modi is aware of it. It is learnt that the PMO plans months in advance before each of the prime minister’s visits. Modi, despite his busy schedule, keeps track of the developments. He has an added advantage: even as the official machinery fine-tunes his itinerary, the backroom boys of the committed RSS diaspora keep feeding the Prime Minister. The diaspora is of great help to get social and political inputs, but diplomatic background preparation is the work of senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs. It’s interesting to see the documents that are prepared as briefs for the Prime Minister. Every document narrates the socio, economic and political scenarios of the country he plans to visit. Apart from this, there a detailed dossier on the leader of the host country, which includes details about his or her habits, family, likes and dislikes and his association with the external world. The most interesting portion of the documents is the detailed brief related to the meetings of the two heads of states. They minutely describe which side of the PM has to take and which walk he needs to talk. The time taken for the walk, and the items to be discussed during the walk, are sketched out. Even the breakfast, lunch and dinner details are typed and highlighted for the PM’s ready reference. The officials in the external affairs ministry are cautious to mention the points, which should not crop up during the meetings. In case, the host leader puts such subjects on the discussion table, the PM’s proposed responses are mentioned.

Strengthening the NSA’s Office

Few officers in the government are aware about the activities of the NSA’s office. It is learnt that Ajit Doval, India’s NSA, is the most trusted officer of the Prime Minister. Doval has emerged as the biggest trouble-shooter for Modi. Whether his services are needed in Dubai, Pakistan, Gulf, China or Russia, the NSA’s network comes in handy for the PMO. Doval knows the highest-level officials in these regions. His office is overloaded with work, but lacks competent officers. Thus, Modi reportedly felt the need to revamp his office. The latest appointment is of Pankaj Saran, 1982 batch Indian Foreign Service officer, as the Deputy National Security Adviser (Dy. NSA) for an initial period of two years on a deputation till the date of his retirement, i.e. November 30, 2018. Thereafter, it will be on a re-employment contract basis. Saran is presently serving as the ambassador to Russia. Earlier, he was a Joint Secretary in Manmohan Singh’s PMO. With his appointment, there will be two deputy NSAs, the other being Rajinder Khanna, a former head of India’s external intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW). Khanna was appointed in January 2018. The need to bring in a diplomat into the NSA was possibly felt since both Doval, and his deputy, Khanna, are former IPS officers with experiences in intelligence, not diplomacy. Significantly, some of the former NSAs such as Brajesh Mishra (1998-2004), JN Dixit (2004-2005) and Shivshankar Menon (2010-2014) were retired IFS officers. However, MK Narayanan (2005-2010) during UPA-1 regime was a former IPS officer. Saran also served as India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh. Yet another significance of the move is that after a long time, Modi has inculcated an officer who has worked in UPA government.

Perturbed UP Civil Servants

Civil servants in UP are a perturbed lot. The reason: transfer and suspension spree in the state on one pretext or the other. The Chief Minister recently suspended District Magistrate, Gonda JB Singh, and DM Fatehpur, Kumar Prashant, over food grain scam, and non-purchase of wheat. Along with them, 10 junior officers were suspended. While issuing the suspension order, the Chief Minister said in a statement that the action was taken to send a strong message that this government will not spare even senior officials for any irregularities. While the controversy was being hotly debated in Lucknow, UP Governor, Ram Naik, wrote to Yogi Adityanath, and informed him about a complaint against his Principal Secretary, SP Goel, who allegedly demanded a bribe of Rs. 25 lakh to provide land for road-widening to set up a petrol pump in Hardoi. A national newspaper broke the story without verifying the facts with the concerned officer. In the article, Goel refuted the charge, stating, “This is ridiculous. I received the file only after the governor’s letter was received. I recused myself, did not deal with the case, and informed the chief minister about the same.” He added, “I am not aware of any decision taken on the issue.” A day after Adityanath suspended the two IAS officers, a delegation of the Uttar Pradesh IAS Association met Chief Secretary, Rajiv Kumar, and requested him to withdraw the suspension letters, as due procedure was not followed while issuing it. Secretary, UP IAS Association, Alok Kumar said that the delegation put forward the facts to prove that the two IAS officers were suspended in violation of the Service Rules. Thus, the order should be withdrawn. Corruption in UP is rampant, but the CM could have sought other ways to create adequate checks and balances.

No Trust, No Respect

For the past four months, the fierce fighting between the civil servants of Delhi and Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has continued. There is a stand-still kind of a situation. The Chief Minister’s office and civil servants work on mutual trust and respect. But in Delhi both these traits are non-existent. IAS AGMUT Association says there’s no strike; work is on with “written communications”. However, Kejriwal doesn’t wish to issue written orders; officials don’t want to work on the basis of verbal orders. Kejriwal devised a new idea; he and his deputy CM, Manish Sisodia, and two other cabinet ministers, spent the night in the waiting room of the Lt. Governor’s residence, and protested against what they claimed was the LG’s inaction to end the bureaucrats’ strike. “In the history of independent India, this is the first time that IAS officers have gone on strike for four months. Why?” - Kejriwal tweeted. IAS AGMUT Association strongly refuted the charges, and said that no officer has been on strike subsequent to the assault on Delhi Chief Secretary at midnight on February 19, 2018. In a statement, the Association said that the officers “continue to work with full vigour and dedication, in fact, many times even on holidays”.

Of kings, kingmakers and pawns

SUSHASHAN Babu, Nitish Kumar, is the most unpredictable species in Bihar politics. BJP’s Bihar unit has tried to rein him, but the disciple of Karpoori Thakur changes his track – and tack – each time. Now, Nitish Babu has reportedly told the BJP’s state leadership that the 2019 national election in Bihar will be fought in his name, and not Narendra Modi’s. The demand has baffled the BJP. Former Chief Minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, tested the political waters with BJP, but returned back to the Rastriya Janta Dal (Lalu ) and Congress front. Another wicket may fall—Upendra Kushwaha, Minister of State in HRD ministry. At present, he is weighing the pros and cons. His party only won two out of the 23 assembly seats allocated by BJP in the last assembly elections, but won three parliament seats in the 2014 elections. Kushwaha met Lalu Prasad Yadav at AIIMS recently, and received an open invitation to join the RJD.

Arrogant Princes

POLITICAL relationships need to be nurtured and handled with care and affection. There is no place for arrogance. This dictum isn’t present in the books of the opposition leaders. Former Chief Minister of UP, Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi are out of power, but they behave like ruling princes. The duo went Bengaluru for the oath-taking ceremony of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy. The event should have brought them closer, but reports indicate that the gap between the two has widened. In fact, Tejashwi Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and Arvind Kejriwal were staying in the same hotel. Akhilesh personally held long discussions with them. Sources disclosed that Rahul’s man Friday, Kaushal Vidyarthi, called on Akhilesh and conveyed his boss’s wish for a meeting at the former’s hotel. Akhilesh, who normally controls his anger, was miffed: “Bhaiya (Rahul) wants to meet me and then issues an order. After all, I am also the President of my party, so why can’t Bhaiya come over to my hotel?” Rahul, who thinks he is the President of a larger, national party, could not digest such a reply from a junior partner. Since then, there is an eerie silence between the two leaders.

The ill-tempered communicator

SMRITI Irani has not understood the dynamics between the BJP and RSS. She forgot that she is an outsider, and in the ruling framework, the RSS prevails upon the BJP. Had she not been a confidant of Narendra Modi, the RSS would have pulled out the red card, showing her the exit door from the government. 
Her bitter battle with Surya Prakash, CEO, Prasar Bharti, laid the foundation for her exit from the all-powerful Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Her behaviour is weird; even in the Parliament’s Central Hall, she took on journalists and claimed that she would teach them a lesson. It’s something that has never happened before. The corridors of Shastri Bhavan are rife with rumour that she committed her latest gaffe was over the invitation to President Ramnath Kovind for the annual National Films Awards. It is learnt that Irani used formal channels, as she should have, to write to the President. But she had the audacity of not handing over the invitation personally to Kovind, which has been the norm for decades.

Pranab: The Prez-PM

THE former President, Pranab Mukherjee’s participation in the RSS’s convocation ceremony – Sangh Shiksha Varg: Tritya Varsha – at Nagpur kicked off a political firestorm. He has now emerged as a future Prime Ministerial candidate. It seems like a far-fetched idea, but to paraphrase an old tag line from Nike ads: impossible is nothing in politics. His daughter, Sharmistha, and son, Abhijit Mukherjee, both of whom are active in the Congress party, have denied that their father is joining politics. But Pranabda doesn’t care much about his children’s political loyalty. He reportedly follows the advice of his former secretary, Omita Paul, whose husband, KK Paul, the former Commissioner of Delhi Police, and now the governor of Uttrakhand, is close to the ailing BJP politician, Arun Jaitely.

The case of the missing girl child

ACKNOWLEDGING sex-selective abortion as gender discrimination and its countering through various interventions and initiatives have become common in policy articulation and execution pertaining to a range of local, regional and global bodies, both in India and elsewhere. One of the most important actors in this arena is the state. The state in India, which includes both its central and state government machineries, has been seen to be engaged with confronting the practice of sex-selective abortion. 
The ‘add gender and stir approach’ has been severely critiqued for assuming falsely that gender discrimination can be effectively tackled through strategies and crafty interventions without substantially questioning the dynamics of power and inequity in society.

Spies who came in from the cold

THE book, jointly authored by India’s former Indian Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Amarjit Singh Dulat and the Pakistan’s former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Asad Durrani, was released amidst fanfare by a galaxy of Indian leaders. The august gathering included former Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, and leading politicians and former ministers from different political parties such as Kapil Sibal, Yashwant Sinha and Omar Abdullah. 
The co-author from Pakistan could not be present as he did not get an Indian visa (later, travel restrictions were imposed on him by his home country).

The Maratha Paradox

THE senior bureaucracy in Maharashtra is up in arms after Additional Chief Secretary (ACS Finance) D K Jain (1983 batch) was appointed as the new Chief Secretary, superseding four other senior bureaucrats from the same batch. It has peeved them so much that two of the senior most bureaucrats of the 1983 IAS batch, Medha Gadgil (ACS Relief and Rehabilitation) and Sudhir Shrivastava (ACS Home), have proceeded on a month long leave after Jain took charge on the state’s formation day on May 1, which is celebrated as the Labour Day and is a holiday. 
One of the two senior bureaucrats, who have proceeded on leave while speaking to gfiles on the condition of anonymity, disclosed that they intend to drag the matter to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) once they finalise the draft of the petition challenging Jain’s elevation.

Beware! The lotus eaters are on the prowl

IT’S tempting to project the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections to be held later this year as a Kamal vs Kamal contest—the BJP’s party symbol versus the MP Congress Committee president, Kamal Nath. It is also being perceived as a three versus one fight. 
The three MP Congress bigwigs, Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh, have buried their differences to take on the three-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP. Interestingly, none of the three have been projected as Congress’s chief ministerial candidate. Instead, the party has fielded the three heavyweights in the state in various capacities to take on the might of the BJP.

Flying at Cruising Altitude

THE positive impact of globalisation is undeniable. Since 1990, 1.1 billion people have been lifted from poverty. The world is growing richer and trade, empowered by connectivity, is a leading force in development. But the forces of protectionism are gathering strength. Sanctions, tariffs, and geopolitical conflicts are the mainstay of daily news. The spectre of a trade war looms. Debates on migration and immigration rage. And trust among nations is showing its fragility. 
Facts show that aviation has created immense value by bringing people, products and business together. The 4 billion passengers who boarded planes in 2017 demonstrate the human desire to explore, connect, learn and collaborate across great distances.

An ASSURED way to enrich lives

KOCHERIL Raman Narayanan was the 10th President of India, and one of our most accomplished civil servants, distinguished diplomats and stellar academicians. I met him for the first time in 1982. He was visiting the National Chemical laboratory. I had the unique opportunity to demonstrate an innovation of a super absorbing polymer- the Jalshakti, which could absorb water over hundred times its own weight. I still remember the probing questions that President Narayanan asked me about the potential use of Jalshakti in agriculture in rain-starved areas in India. 
In fact, we both even share the turning point of our academic lives. Both of us were Tata scholars. We both left India, only to return when we were fairly young with zeal to do more for our homeland. He, at the age of 27, and I, at the age of 32.

One step forward, two steps backwards

A few weeks ago, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) issued a circular in which it mentioned that, over a period of time, the derivative segment of the Indian stock market would be required to do physical settlement. This means that the volumes in the derivative segment would come down. Also, the SEBI asked the exchanges to increase the margins, which are paid by traders to exchange, before they can take exposure to any derivative trade, so that excessive speculation by paying a small amount of margin money is curbed. 
To make a further dent on speculative activity in the markets, the SEBI asked brokers to collect income tax returns (ITR) of investors who trade in derivative market so that it can judge whether an individual trader has the financial strength to deal with derivative instruments or not.

Poisoned Morsels

INDIA’S consumer-driven economy has unleashed a large number of brands. They meet top-quality standards and requirements that are laid out by the Indian food regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Normally, they carry a higher price as they have to deliver on multiple benchmarks. However, this has provided an opportunity to unscrupulous players to either produce cheap products or indulge in counterfeiting. 
Such is the greed for money that those indulging in food adulteration knowingly refuse to see the unabashed disregard for human life. What makes this problem more complicated is that there are a host of cheap, easily available and life-threatening options at the disposal of the adulterators.

Lateral Entry, Big Deal

LATERAL Recruitment in Senior Positions in Government’ is the headline of the advertisement by which Central Government has invited 10 ‘outstanding individuals’ who have minimum educational qualification of a ‘graduate’ with expertise in the areas of (i) Revenue (ii) Financial Services (iii) Economic Affairs (iv) Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare (v) Road Transport & Highways (vi) Shipping (vii) Environment, Forests and Climate Change (viii) New & Renewable Energy (ix) Civil Aviation and (x) Commerce. The only criterion for short listing is through a ‘personal interaction’. 
It has become the topic of discussion at almost every social gathering and TV studios.

Treading on dangerous ground

Anews report of May 21 noted that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wanted a major change in the policy regarding allocation of services and cadres for 1,000-odd candidates selected every year through the All India Civil Services Examination. It suggested that their cadre and services should be allocated only after a three-month Foundation Course. 
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) sent a note at the behest of the PMO to all the cadre-controlling authorities and ministries and sought their comments on the possibility of probationers being allocated their cadres after taking into account their performance in the Foundation Course along with their scores in the Civil Services Examination.

Trivial, knee-jerk

THERE is a consensus among the scholars and public administration professionals that the Indian Civil Services in the state and union governments need an urgent overhaul. Hundreds of committees and commissions have addressed the issues in the past, and made considered recommendations, which have generally been overlooked by successive governments. The feeling is that politicians and even bureaucrats are not interested in such administrative reforms.

From the Editor

THE PMO-driven proposals to tinker with the rules and sub-rules governing the Indian bureaucracy have stirred the hornet’s nest. It has whipped up a lively debate among working and retired civil servants, experts and the public. Most issues relate to the motives of the government, impact on the bureaucracy and the influence of the outsiders, 10 of whom may join as Joint Secretaries in key economic ministries. The inevitable questions are: Why now? Why only 10? In the central administration with several dozens of ministries, can less than a dozen people make any difference?