Former bureaucrats are pushing politicians from key posts, feel party loyalists.
In a fresh round of changes announced for the governor's posts last week, former Central Bureau of Investigation director Ashwani Kumar joined a long line of retired babus to occupy a Raj Bhavan, fuelling widespread anger in the Congress. The party rank and file is understandably upset and agitated as it finds that former bureaucrats are increasingly pushing out politicians from key positions.
Governorships have traditionally been given as patronage to senior politicians or party loyalists, who could not be accommodated in the government or in Parliament. But, over the years, more and more former bureaucrats are being preferred for the job of the governor. There are a dozen governors today who are drawn from the ranks of retired babus, which includes Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service officers as well as former army generals. This does not include lieutenant governors of Union Territories like former IAS officer Tejinder Khanna (Delhi).
Although Congress leaders are not saying anything publicly, they cannot stop complaining about this new trend in private conversations. “Political workers could earlier hope to be accommodated somewhere or the other once the party came to power ....but no longer,” remarked a glum-faced senior party leader, adding that politicians are being systematically undermined and marginalised. All those in the Congress who had been waiting patiently in the wings are a particularly despondent lot as there is little hope of their rehabilitation now that the Lok Sabha elections are due next year.
Clearly, what was an exception in the past has become the rule during the regime of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Retired babus are the preferred choice of this dispensation. UPA insiders maintain that being a former bureaucrat Prime Minister Manmohan Singh relies heavily on officials and this has been evident over the past nine years that this government has been in power.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has largely been in agreement with the government’s choices. In fact, she has also been instrumental in pushing for the accommodation of retired officers who have been known for their loyalty to the family. For instance, former IPS officer Ashwani Kumar, who was appointed as the Nagaland governor last week, served in several sensitive posts but it was his stint as Rajiv Gandhi’s security in-charge which got him this prized job. Similarly, B V Wanchoo, currently occupying the Raj Bhavan in Goa, was in the elite Special Protection Group, entrusted with the security of the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi, and retired as its head. Uttar Pradesh governor B L Joshi became close to former PM Indira Gandhi during his tenure as a member of her security setup.
Again, West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan, a former IPS officer, was placed in the Prime Minister’s Office when the Congress-led UPA came to power in 2004 because of his longstanding proximity to Sonia Gandhi. Though instrumental in pushing through the Indo-US nuclear deal in his capacity as national security advisor, Narayanan was shunted out when he exceeded his brief and expanded his area of operations. Nevertheless, his old loyalty ensured that he was not completely ostracised but was suitably rehabilitated and ensconced in the West Bengal Raj Bhavan. Former IAS officer B P Singh is the governor of Sikkim.
The Centre has usually justified the appointment of former bureaucrats in the border states saying that their expertise was useful in these trouble spots. Consequently, governors of Jammu and Kashmir and governor of north-eastern states have largely been drawn from the ranks of retired officers. For instance, the Raj Bhavan in J&K was occupied by retired Lt Gen S K Sinha before the present incumbent N N Vohra took over. Vohra is a seasoned bureaucrat and has served as a home secretary and principal secretary during his long innings in the IAS.
Other retired officials who are currently serving as governors in these “sensitive” states include Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary (Meghalaya) and Gurbachan Jagat (Manipur). While former army chief J J Singh is presently serving as the Arunachal Pradesh governor, retired Lt Gen M M Lakhera is his counterpart in Mizoram and former Delhi police chief Nikhil Kumar was the Nagaland governor till he was shifted to Kerala last week and replaced by Ashwani Kumar.
However, with the passage of time, former officers are no longer confined to what are described in officialdom as “sensitive states” but have been rewarded with these plum posts in other states as well. Former IPS officer E S L Narasimhan , who was director of the Intelligence Bureau, was first appointed the governor of Chhattisgarh but was moved to Andhra Pradesh after the position fell vacant following the resignation of veteran Congress leader N D Tiwari. Former defence secretary Shekhar Dutt has succeeded him as the governor of Chhattisgarh.
There are issues of ethics and propriety involved in such appointments. Particularly, when Aswani Kumar got the post from the government after the retirement.
The question arises, inevitably, that what favours did they do for the government while in service to make them eligible for the big posts after retirement?
Image: Former CBI director Ashwani Kumar is the newly-appointed governor of Nagaland