Daily World Special: The Captain, his lieutenants and the game of thrones

Manish Tiwari | Chandigarh

Some party MLAs who had ÔÇ£high expectationsÔÇØ from the Govt are not happy with ÔÇ£bureaucratic solutionsÔÇØ. The answer to most of their problems lies in ÔÇ£political solutionsÔÇØ which are far beyond the bureaucrats and their rule books.

Suresh Kumar, one of the most trusted officers of Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, set an example for others in public life, by telling his boss last Wednesday that he would not like to attend office till final disposal of the Punjab and Haryana High court case challenging his appointment as Chief Principal Secretary to the CM. On his part, the Chief Minister, like a true leader, showed grace and sagacity by asking the officer to join duty immediately and vowed to extend him full support.

This 1983-batch IAS officer, who was inducted into the Chief MinisterÔÇÖs Office following the Gujarat model, is a strong but sensitive officer and even his adversaries say in private, that he has been an asset for the State government.

Kumar came in direct contact with Capt Amarinder when he was, on December 1, 2003, appointed first as Special Secretary to the CM and a few days later made Principal Secretary to the CM replacing Sanjit Sinha, the all-powerful IAS officer and a trusted friend of Capt Amarinder. His ability to understand file work and its disposal, the demeanour and efficiency with which he could handle politicians, his colleagues and attend to public grievances, won him the confidence of the CM.

He served in the CMO for over three years and was respected even by the Badals for his ÔÇÿno nonsenseÔÇÖ working style and efficient delivery. But finally, his proximity with Capt Amarinder proved his undoing after Parkash Singh Badal became Chief Minister and replaced him with another IAS officer, DS Guru.

None in the State bureaucracy or political circles, barring a few close confidantes of Capt Amarinder, had expected that he would induct Suresh Kumar, a retired IAS officer, in the CMO in the rank of Cabinet Secretary, with two other good officers ÔÇö PS to the CM Tejveer Singh and Special PS to the CM Gurkirat Kripal Singh, and empower them to this extent. The CMO today is abuzz with activity and one can find these officers sitting till late hours in their offices, clearing files, and attending to politicians, people and the journalists.

Unfortunately, in this high stake political game, those who thought they would be able to ÔÇ£gain inroads in the CMÔÇÖs House and mix their politics with business, or make access to the CM their businessÔÇØ feel let down. They have realised by now that the only way for them is to dislodge or unsettle Kumar, who they see as a big stumbling block in their way, to achieve their goals. Needless to say, some of them, especially the MLAs who had ÔÇ£high expectationsÔÇØ from the new Government, are not happy with the ÔÇ£bureaucratic solutionsÔÇØ. The answer to most of their problems, in fact, lies in ÔÇ£political solutionsÔÇØ which are far beyond the bureaucrats and their rule books.

Some bureaucrats and people in the system, too, have not comfortable with the present arrangement and would have liked to flag up their dissent with the CM by getting the petition filed against Kumar.

History seems to be repeating itself. In the previous Capt Amarinder tenure, Congress MLAs led by Rajinder Kaur Bhattal had initially lodged complaints against the then Principal Secretary to the CM, Sanjit Sinha and later launched a dissident movement urging party high command to remove the CM. Capt AmarinderÔÇÖs opponents had then found SinhaÔÇÖs style of functioning as an excuse to attack him. But this time, not finding much fault with the functioning of the CMO, they have chosen to target Kumar for now.

Several times in the past, Punjab witnessed a similar tug of war between rival groups. During 2002-07, two warring factions in the Capt AmarinderÔÇÖs Government ÔÇö one led by senior IAS officer Sanjit Sinha and the other by Mukul Joshi would often take on each other. During 2007-17; it was between Chief Secretary Ramesh Inder Singh and the then Advocate General HS Mattewal, and in the previous Badal regime, the officers attached with the CM and Deputy CM offices always remained at loggerheads.

Fortunately for Capt Amarinder this time, he has in place his own feedback channels on the state of affairs and has been getting regular reports on his officers and issues concerning the State. It is clear to the new Government that despite a series of reforms and decisions taken by the State Cabinet to empower the system of governance, the bureaucracy down the line has not responded to the change with the expected vigour, and that, most of them still have a hangover induced by 10 years of the Badal rule.

So, itÔÇÖs high time Capt Amarinder made additional efforts to get the officialdom on board, opened his doors for the public and party MLAs and sent a clear message that it is he who is running the government, and not the bureaucrats.
The sooner he does the better.

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