Capt loses Suresh Kumar’s battle; but game is yet not over

Manish Tiwari | Editor-In-Chief

At a wedding reception two months ago, an eminent personality spotted Suresh Kumar, the then Chief Principal Secretary to Punjab CM, and remarked in a lighter vein: “If Suresh Kumar is here, then who is running the Government?” Kumar’s response to the comment was equally witty: “Now, he knows that I don’t run the Government. It runs without me.”

Undoubtedly, the Government is today running without Suresh Kumar who relinquished the charge minutes after a High Court order set aside his appointment last week. His exit from the Chief Minister’s Office has come as a major relief for those, including a number of MLAs, bureaucrats as well as the Opposition, who wanted him to be dislodged from the coveted post, while some of his colleagues have even started bidding him farewell.

His adversaries are happy and so is Suresh Kumar. He’s in Japan…much relieved after being out of the Government.

A former IAS officer and close confidante of Capt Amarinder, Kumar had become an eyesore for a large number of people — both within and outside the Government — who regarded him as a stumbling block in watching their interests. He, along with his team in the CMO, ensured that there was not a single blot on the Chief Minister and his Office in the past 10 months of this Government and that the CMO functioned like a well-oiled machine.

“Tussi meri bah maror ke kuch nahi karva sakde” (You cannot arm-twist me and get anything done). You can go and talk to the CM,” I heard him retorting to a ruling party MLA who was pestering the CPS to CM to use his authority over the Vigilance Bureau to do him a favour.

After taking over in March last year, Kumar had ruffled many feathers and in the process earned animosity of some prominent officers and personalities. He may be aware of two or three, but according to my personal knowledge there were no less than 24 persons with good clout and influence, who had been wishing for his early exit. There’s now an uneasy calm in the Secretariat even as many officers, including a few of his well-wishers, are waiting for Kumar to come back.

I have known Suresh Kumar since 2000, when he was posted as the Registrar, Cooperative Societies, Punjab. After the Congress Government was formed in the State in 2002 and a group of dissidents led by Rajinder Kaur Bhattal pushed hard for the removal of the then Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder, Suresh Kumar, then a relatively young officer, was brought in as the PS to CM on December 1, 2003. Under pressure from the disgruntled MLAs, Capt Amarinder was forced to shunt his one-time close friend and trusted lieutenant, Sanjit K. Sinha out of the CMO.

Kumar’s induction in the CMO, nonetheless, ushered in a new era as the Chief Minister’s Office witnessed a major shift in approach in dealing with ministers, legislators, the bureaucracy and a dejected media. A no-nonsense officer, Suresh Kumar managed to bring in changes in the CMO’s style of functioning, cleared over 2,000 backlogged files, improved the coordination between the government and stakeholders; and most importantly, restored the sanctity of his office. He lent stability to the Capt Amarinder government and pulled it out of turbulent times.

The CMO became an open and relatively transparent office and even media persons developed a lot of liking for the new PSCM after they saw in him a ‘friendly and positive officer’. He was always forthcoming in briefing them on important issues. Kumar, in fact, proved to be a better Public Relations (PR) person for the Capt Amarinder government than its own PR department. Even the Opposition leaders developed a liking for the PSCM and would openly appreciate his sense of balance and fair approach in dealing with sensitive issues. Though there were many groups in the previous Capt Amarinder government, Kumar did not belong to any faction.

This, probably, is also one of the reasons for today’s situation. Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has now asked his Advocate General Atul Nanda to examine the High Court’s order and suggest further legal remedies. No one knows if the suggestions would yield results for the CM, but one thing is sure that the Chief Minister will realise the importance of an officer like Suresh Kumar as time passes.

They say no one is indispensable in the government. But for those who have watched Capt Amarinder’s functioning and his equation with the trusted officers…Suresh Kumar is. The past 10 months of the rule have only shown the CM’s good intentions to serve people’s interests, but if the Captain wants to take this agenda forward, it will be important for him to set the house in order. The sooner he does…the better it is for him, the Government and most importantly, the people.

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