10 May 2006 ~ 0 Comments

Top babu job has many contenders

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Top babu job has many contenders The sweepstakes for the top job in the country’s bureaucracy, the Cabinet Secretary, are always and inevitably a closely watched exercise. This is one appointment, where Byzantine convolutions tend to dominate. Inevitably, the choice processes, when it comes to the big one, are with most governments unfortunately always full of intrigue, and insider lobbying. Going by the sound processes of the current Prime Minister this time around choosing the Cab Sec should be a much more transparent exercise. It is rumored that Manmohan Singh himself will play a key role and may include inputs from detailed interviews he did personally before finalizing the Home Secretary. But, “the Palace”, infuriated by the bureaucratic errors that caused the Office-of-Profit fiasco, is going to want a Cab Sec who fits in well! But with the retirement date of the current Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi racing closer, the sweepstakes are getting more interesting. Leading the pack today from the 1969 batch are two rather sterling and strangely self-effacing low-key officers. Top of the 69 batch is the current Health and Family Welfare Secretary Prasanna Kumar Hota. There are very few people in the service who have either his record of measurable success in a variety of operational roles. Manmohan Singh has apparently interviewed him at length, during the time when the Home Secretary decision was being made. Close on his heels, and Top of the Pops, is Finance Secretary Adarsh Kishore, the number two from the 1969 batch. Here is an officer who is probably as low key as his top-ranking colleague. With a phenomenal performance record, and strategically placed in the finance ministry, he is going to be the most significant contender. But for both these low-key bureaucratic trailblazers, their real competition will come from the batch that’s senior to them but unfortunately both the front-runners from the 68 batch have their own demons to fight. Reva Nayaar, Secretary, Women & Child Development has become the poster girl for the feminist brigade. CPI(M) fire brand Brinda Karat and National Commission for Women Chairperson Girija Vyas have already got in touch with Nayaar to promote her cause in this ‘mother of all races’. Unfortunately, they also concede that there are some problems on account of Nayyar having been away from the system for over seven years. As a result, she got to become Secretary after her colleagues from the 69 batch had been promoted. Technical though it may seem, specially for one who is in the sensitive post that he is in, the word in town is that the Volcker scandal have generated some dust that may possibly envelope a clear front-runner for the post, V K Duggal (currently Secretary, Home). Unfortunately, the organizations that are in charge of the Volcker questioning technically come under the Finance Ministry. And then, there’s the question of age because compared to Hota, Kishore and Nayaar, Duggal is already on an extension in his present job if one goes by the arithmetic of age. But despite having lost some years on account of having joined the IAS after a stint as a short service commission officer in the Army, he is still in service. And, rumor has it that while he may be willing to work under Reva who is technically senior to him, he might find it awkward to work under a cabinet secretary who is from a batch that is junior to him. Delhi’s babu corridors currently believe that Government may be mulling over the idea of sending both Nayaar and Duggal as Governors to the States before nominating either Hota or Kishore to the top babu post on grounds of pure managerial efficiency and measurable criteria. In fact it is further whispered that the Home Secretary has already got in touch with a few of the Governors who are going to be part of reshuffle. If indeed, the cabinet secretary choice is made, as it ought to be, on grounds of pure meritorious track records and personal interviews by the Prime Minister who is an astute judge of both character and content, then there is reason for the entire civil service to stand up and cheer.

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