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Modi, CMO and the so-called Tina factor

Hasmukh Adhia
On May 31, when I visited Gujarat Sachivalaya, the centre of Narendra Modi's powerdom, there was commotion among state IAS babus. While I met a dozen-odd IAS officials, including some of the senior-most, one of them looked rather annoyed, despite being known to be so close to the CM. He had been asked to reach the new CM office, built as a separate building, but didn't want to go. He told me, "Hell. They have put a jammer. No mobiles work. Its nauseating. I don't want to go there."
Yet, this babu was was as frank as ever. Offering me a cup of tea, he told me that while a "decision" had been taken to reemploy retiring K Kailashnathan (KK to his colleagues) for the same job - KK headed the CM office for seven years - it "merely awaited" Modi's "red pen sign". I asked him bluntly: "But I was told you were offered the post. So you wouldn't replace KK?" He smiled, looked around, and blurted out: "My dear friend, let me do my duty as an IAS official."
As I left this babu's chamber after chatting around on different other subjects, including a rally of farmers in North Gujarat against land acquisition for industrial purpose, I was left wondering: What did he mean? Wasn't KK acting as an IAS bureaucrat, in accordance with the rule book, to which he swore?I knew KK as a fine bureaucrat when he headed water resources and later urban development departments, though babus foundim "changed" after he joined the CMO, carrying out Modi's political agenda meticulously, the jobs which IAS babus wouldn't generally touch.
The IAS babu with whom I interacted, I was told later, was approached by a key Modi aide with a straight offer: Head the CMO and take over from KK, who was to retire on May 31. "He rejected the offer outright", this aide told me. "For God sake not me. Don't even suggest this to the CM. Do you think I am capable of doing things which KK does? I wouldn't like to get into all that", the aide quoted the IAS babu as saying. I was told, at least three IAS officials were approached with a similar offer. All of them turned it down saying they were happy doing their present job.
Come June 1, and a new post-retirement non-IAS post was created for KK - of chief principal secretary. An official communique declared that KK would continue doing the same job he was doing as IAS bureaucrat till his retirement, of heading the CMO. The order created more flutter. I decided to approach another Sachivalaya IAS babu, and this is what he told me one-to-one: "KK has virtually emerged as Gujarat's super chief secretary." He didn't stop at that. He compared KK's appointment with what Mayawati did as UP chief minister - of appointing Shashank Shekhar Singh to the newly-created post of cabinet secretary.
The appointment by Mayawati - which lasted for full five years - was variously described as "mockery of constitutional norms". Even the BJP said that Mayawati's decision to appoint Singh as cabinet secretary "found no mention in any rule book", that Singh was a "a non-civil servant" and the decision was not just unconstitutional but also amounted to "administrative anarchy", and that Singh wouldn't be accountable to anybody for official files where crucial policy decisions were taken.
The IAS babu whom I approached took a similar view: On retirement from IAS, KK ceased to remain in the cadre and was no more accountable to official decisions. Even then, the babu said, "What could Modi do? He had no choice, as no IAS official was ready to take over. Even I was sent feelers. But I remained quiet. This was taken as my outright No. Look at the civil list. Is there anyone senior enough capable of handling all that Modi does with such precision? None."
The babu didn't mind taking a snipe at present chief secretary Varesh Sinha, either. "Sinha's ways are very different. He is a typical IAS bureaucrat, who wouldn't be party to any of Modi's political propaganda. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't agree with Modi, at least on file." Insiders suggested, Sinha wasn't even aware of what decision Modi was likely to take on KK. Sinha was probably kept in dark. With KK's appointment, Sinha must be feeling sidelined.
Even if the so-called Tina (there is no alternative) factor may have been behind the re-employment of KK, the fact is, Modi has tried out with a couple of other IAS bureaucrats ahead of KK to head CMO, but none had been as "loyal", though all did toe, willy-nilly, the Modi line. The first one, PK Misra, was in the CMO during the 2002 riots. A babu with an academic bent of mind, I remember how - setting aside the suggestion that Ahmedabad was burning on the first day the riots, February 28, 2002 - he told me things in the city were "absolutely normal"!
When I was with Misra, I already knew that ex-Congress MP Ehsan Jafri had been killed in the riots during the infamous Gulbarg Society incident. Yet, Misra told me, "You can quote me, nothing of the sort has happened"! There was reason to believe: Misra wasn't performing his constitutional duty of advising Modi against giving free hand to the saffron brigade. Misra went to Delhi on deputation, and on retirement was rewarded: He became chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulation Commission.
The next IAS babu to head the CMO was Hasmukh Adhia, who would usually go by the rule. During my frequent interactions with him, he wouldn't utter a word except what was to be "officially conveyed". An ethnic Gujarati, one reason why Modi took his services, Adhia was architect of the now-flopped Karmayogi Maha-abhiyan, which was meant to train Gujarat babus at every level to be more dutiful. A string of RSS-style Chintan Shibirs were organized, and these were to be a regular affair.
Yet, Adhia would never speak the language of Modi. He would choose his words carefully. In internal meetings, he would meticulously avoid praising Modi, and would just kickstart his remarks quoting Modi with "the CM wants" or "the CM believes". Adhia was eased out, he went to Bangalore for two years to PhD in Yoga and Karmayoga. Today, he heads the state finance department.
Enter KK, and things began changing. Belonging to Tamil Nadu, his family had settled in Kerala, and this came handy for him to provide Modi the much-needed entry into South India. Thanks to KK, Modi established rapport with Amritanandamayi, a much-revered swamini from Parayakadavu, Kollam district, Kerala. Modi was the chief dignitary at the swamini's programme in Ahmedabad in March 2008. He invited her to establish her second "math" in Gujarat.
However, the first real success of KK was when through him Modi built bridges with retired Supreme Court judge VR Krishna Iyer, who headed the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal which inquired into the Gujarat riots of 2002. Modi was in Kerala to attend the wedding of KK's daughter in 2010, but managed to win praise from the veteran legal luminary, who reportedly called him "super-patriot" and even blessed him for all the "good work" he had done.
More recently, in April this year, Modi visited Kerala's Sivagiri Mutt, founded by saint and social reformer Narayana Guru and inaugurated its annual spiritual discourse. Even as the Left called the visit an effort to "Hinduise" Kerala politics, and Congress criticized the Mutt for inviting him, Modi addressed a jumbo gathering, where he said, "Although untouchability in social life has come down because of the untiring efforts of our saints, it is increasing in politics."
KK's efforts to go close to Modi acquired political dimensions last year, when, officials told me, ahead of the state assembly polls, he went out of his way to offer his services. KK not just approached district revenue and forest officials in order to "activate" them to distribute forest land among the tribals in order to garner support in in the eastern tribal belt. Every Saturday and Sunday he would personally visit some tribal area in order to organize land for the tribals.
In the beginning, during personal interactions, KK would open out. Ahead of the 2007 assembly polls, he gave me a Modi book, "Karmayoga", thinking I would write some good words on the CM. I wrote a piece, quoting Modi from the book, where he had said that the valmikis had spiritual experience while cleaning up others' dirt. KK was very angry, said I "misused" the book . Nearly 5,000 copies of the book were withdrawn. Thereafter, he would only talk development.


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