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Vijaya Pushkarna
Vijaya Pushkarna


The love-hate relationship

  • Ashok Khemka
    Senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka was recently transferred for the 46th time in his 24 years of service | PTI

Haryana cadre IAS officer Ashok Khemka was recently transferred for the 46th time in his 24 years of service. He had blown the whistle on former Chief Minister Bhupender Singh Hooda's sweetheart land deal for Congress President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, Robert Vadra, and was shunted to a side post—not much of public interaction, no visitors, very little clout and almost no work, on the face of it. The BJP huffed and puffed, saying the Congress was victimising him.

When the BJP came to power in the the state, Khemka was moved to a better post—Transport Commissioner and Secretary, Transport Department. But in about six months, he was back to a side post. The story of this transfer was spread over miles of newspaper columns and the loud decibels on it went on for hours on the channels.

Lost in the clutter and din was the story of another Haryana cadre IAS officer, S.S. Dhillon. He had enjoyed plum postings for as long as Hooda was the chief minister. When the BJP came to power and Manohar Lal Khatter became the chief minister, he was shunted to the tourism, and archaeology and museums department. After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clearly indicated he did not want people who had worked for the Congress to continue in the same position for his ministers.

Six months after he was sworn in as chief minister, Khatter saw merit in fishing Dhillon out of what they call “khudda line”, and posted him as Additional Chief Secretary, Transport and Civil Aviation, supposedly a better station.

Therein lies the story of the relationship between the Leader of the House—prime minister or chief minister—and the bureaucrats.

An IAS officer called on the new chief minister of her state. He asked her where she was posted. PWD she said. And in the previous regime, he asked, referring to his predecessor. PWD , she replied. And before that, the chief minister asked, referring to his predecessor's predecessor. PWD, the officer said. “Then you must know the work there, and are doing it well. Those two never liked each other. I see no reason why you should not continue there,” he said. She continued in the department. Snide remarks are possible, considering it was the flush-with-funds PWD. But her ability to perform well was acknowledged by three successive chief ministers who could never tolerate each other.

Unlike Modi, these mass leaders in their state saw no reason to shunt her out because the predecessor had posted her there!

Not that it is always this smooth or easy. S.K. Mishra, who built up a formidable reputation for himself as tourism secretary in the Government of India, had first transformed barren Haryana, devoid of its own infrastructure to tempt people to visit the state, when Bansi Lal was the chief minister. When Devi Lal became chief minister, Mishra was sent to what officers call “the dog house”. A year later, the chief minister sought him out for some major development work he wanted done.

There are officers who manage to stick their necks out and curry favour and land plum postings in successive governments. But, generally word goes around about the reputation of an officer. Grassroots politicians are apparently very clued in about the officers in their state.

The relationship between the elected representatives and the officers would be similar across India.

“At the end of the day, most ministers and politicians want their agenda delivered. And this is about the promises they have made to people, sometimes not easily deliverable. They post their officers accordingly,” explained this woman officer, who retired as a secretary to the Government of India.

This is not to say they don't expect officers to help them make money. But it is not that easy for them to identify those who stick their necks out doing this. Two IAS officers are now serving jail sentences with former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala , all convicted in the teachers' recruitment scam.

And ministers aren't fond of officers who are rigid, save when they are in the opposition. Not even when it comes to corruption. Zero tolerance to corruption in the Modi regime notwithstanding.

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