Skip to main content

What's behind rise and rise of Girish Chandra Murmu, Gujarat cadre IAS official

Girish Chandra Murmu. The very name amuses me. A 1985 batch Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat retiring next month, I still remember, during my interaction with him as the Times of India (TOI) man in Gandhinagar, his rather huge laughter (a loud “ha ha ha”) after he would frankly tell me what all was going on in the government. Now, the very same Murmu, 59, has been appointed the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
It has been widely reported, not once, but several times over, the role Murmu is said to have played as in the chief minister’s office (CMO) during Narendra Modi’s tenure in Gujarat – that his name came up during investigations into the 2002 riots and Ishrat Jahan encounter; and that he was "deputed” to tutor the witnesses who were to depose before Nanavati Commission in 2004, a charge leveled by RB Sreekumar, a 1971-cadre Gujarat cadre IPS officer.
But here I don’t want to talk about all this; nor is this about how Murmu – who looked after home affairs in Gujarat – continued to rise and rise after reaching Delhi when Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, though I was quite puzzled finding Murmu being appointed a joint secretary in the Department of Expenditure in 2015, following which was made special secretary in the Department of Revenue and secretary to the Department of Expenditure. Best of his top postings were in home, but never in finance in Gujarat.
Initially, when I first met Murmu, I found he would feel somewhat neglected. Many of his colleagues – both junior and senior – would joke on him as and when I would interact with them. I didn’t know what the reason was, but perhaps this had something to do with his humble background – he is a tribal from Odisha. In fact, looking back, I feel, he was more a victim of dominant sections in IAS. Many of them look down upon their "lower caste" colleagues, who belong to scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST).
Credit must go to Modi for spotting Murmu, a tribal, and allowing him to rise, albeit within the controversial framework as Gujarat chief minister
Seeking upward social mobility, I also found, there has been a tendency among some SC and ST IAS officials to hide their background. Some of them, for instance, never wanted to be addressed by their surname. One official, as collector in a North Gujarat district, even dropped his surname from his nameplate. When posted in Sachivalaya, he circulated a rather longish write-up in the Gujarat IAS email group explaining why he shouldn’t be called a Dalit.
Murmu, I feel, must be feeling a similar neglect, even as he may be seeking to climb up the social and bureaucratic ladder. Not without reason, a senior IAS official once quoted Murmu as wondering whether "these Brahminical IAS officials” would ever allow him to rise. “They wouldn’t allow me to go to Delhi in any case”, he said. Indeed, credit must go to Modi for spotting Murmu and allowing him to rise, albeit within his controversial framework as Gujarat chief minister.
Murmu, who told me once that he also held the red flag high during his student days, showed his mettle despite the fact that many of his colleagues would remind me that he wouldn’t be much of a success. In 2001, the year Modi took over, Murmu was relief commissioner, a post considered not so important among IAS officials. Thereafter he became commissioner, mines and minerals, where he held on to till 2003. Then, for less than six months, Murmu became managing-director, Gujarat Maritime Board, a relatively prestigious post.
This is the time Murmu left for a year-long foreign training. It is after his return in 2004 that Murmu’s real rise began, and has not stopped ever since. Murmu began looking after law and order in the home department, which was directly handled by Modi, who was in charge of home in the Cabinet, while Amit Shah was minister of state for home. In 2004, UPA came to power, defeating NDA, and it is during this period that he began handling riots-related cases in the home department, which he continued this till 2008, when he joined chief minister's office.
Murmu would handle particular care Amit Shah’s case papers files, going to Delhi whenever required for the fake encounter case
Between 204 and 2008, apart from remaining in home, Murmu took up every responsibility which Modi wanted him to take up, holding additional charge of posts considered unimportant. He took additional responsibility as registrar, cooperatives, and also managing-director, Gujarat Industrial Investment Corporation (GIIC), a defunct public sector undertaking. It was during this period, I believe, that Modi and Shah thought Murmu could be fully trusted.
Brought to CMO 2008, he continued handling home, a job he was already doing, and continued there till Modi left to Delhi as Prime Minister. All through, between 2008 and 2012, the period during which I interacted with him in CMO, I found him, as a “true” karmayogi, diligently doing all that Modi wanted him to do. If Modi did not want him to abroad for Vibrant Gujarat propaganda work, Mumru wouldn’t (he canceled his trip to Moscow, avoided going to US for a four months course), but promptly went to South Africa when Modi wanted him to.
It is during period that Murmu would handle particular care Amit Shah’s case papers files, going to Delhi whenever required, especially when the latter was in jail in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. When Shah applied for bail, Murmu is said to have done all the groundwork for Shah – something about which he made no secret while talking to his colleagues. He managed to see that Modi’s name is not dragged in at any point of time. In fact, Murmu’s ways pleased Modi and Shah so much that he was trusted more than the IAS officials who headed the home department.
His closeness to Modi and Shah was not of a typical bureaucrat, whose personal views would often differ from their public posture. I don’t want to name them, but many officials would praise Modi during interactions in the presence of a third person, but would go so far as to call Modi a “fascist” during one-to-one talk. Meeting me and other colleagues, Murmu, was, however, was clear in what he thought – that Modi should not be held directly responsible for Gujarat riots.
Murmu appeared to take the view which was controversially held a few weeks back by journalist Rajdeep Sardesai on Modi's alleged role in Gujarat riots
In fact, Murmu appeared to take the view which was controversially held a few weeks back by well-known journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. Even as refusing to agree or disagree to my query that Modi may have asked officials to allow people to vent their anger against Muslims following the Godhra train burning, in which 58 people were burnt alive, Murmu insisted, at that time Modi “lacked political acumen of an administrator”, as he had just taken over the reins of power. 
Murmu believed, Modi didn’t have administrative experience needed to direct officials what to do. In fact, Modi “didn’t know” whom he was dealing with, he felt. Insisting that, at that point of time, it was the duty of those who surrounding Modi to “tell the truth”, which they did not, Murmu told me, Modi may perhaps have been driven by the emotion of any Hindu leader in a given situation, when the train burning led to the death of kar sevaks in Godhra. 
Murmu didn’t blame Modi for having his constituency in mind – the Hindu voters. Instead, he blamed IPS and IAS officials for failing to advise Modi or acting the way they should have. As serving officials, they are supposed to act firmly when the situation demands them to, Murmu would assert, adding they should not be guided by the political thinking of their bosses. Yet, many officials acted as if they were never in the field, and refused to take firm decisions, evading tough decisions, for instance, when the Gulbarg Society was attacked, killing ex-Congress MP Ehsan Jaffri.
Blaming his IAS bosses who ruled the roost during the riots for acting in an “over-cautious manner, afraid of facing difficult situations”, Murmu pointed towards how one of them was “more busy” in analyzing Bhagwad Geeta than looking after the home department. With these types of officials, and crowds running amuck during riots, things were bound to happen as they had, he suggested.
What could Modi do, surrounded as he was by such officials?, I recall Murmu telling me. If Modi went wrong, what stopped these officials to act? It was a situation very similar to the 1984 Sikh riots. Rajiv Gandhi was a novice in handling administrative affairs, and the police officials in Delhi went indifferent, he seemed to think.

Comments

ALSO READ

Surprised? Communist candidate in Ahmedabad bypoll in a Hindutva bastion

On October 11, 2019 morning, as I was scanning through daily news online (I don’t read papers now), I found that both BJP and Congress candidates from Ahmedabad’s Amraiwadi assembly constituency, which fell vacant following the victory of its BJP MLA in the Lok Sabha polls, have been asked to explain as to why they had cash in hand for election campaign, and why they did not deposit their money in a bank account. Fighting the bypoll, BJP’s Jagdish Patel and Congress’ Dharmendra Patel had declared they possessed Rs 1.81 lakh and Rs 1.70 lakh as cash in hand, respectively, for election expenditure.
The Election Commission notice reportedly said it is mandated for candidates to first deposit their expenditure funds in a bank account and then spend from their bank account money for various purposes. Interesting, but who cares for Election Commission, which has no teeth now, I thought. As it was Amraiwadi, what interested me more was (surprise of surprises), CPI had put up a candidate in t…

A top Gujarat High Court lawyer who lived and worked for the underprivileged

When I came to Ahmedabad to join as assistant editor of the Times of India in 1993, I didn’t know Girish Patel was a senior advocate of the Gujarat High Court. Apart from assisting the then editor, Tushar Bhatt, my job was to specifically look after the editorial page, which also meant I should be selecting from among the letters to the editor that we would get, edit them appropriately, and put them in the Letters to the Editor column.
Apart from those who would genuinely write letters, reacting to, particularly disagreeing with, this or that story or comment that appeared in the paper, there were what I would then call “professional letter writers”, too. They would regularly write letters to the editor always profusely praising the paper, just to see their name appearing in the paper. I found this annoying, and the first thing that I did to give them regular space.
Among these regular letter writers was Girish Patel, too. Initially, I would looked at his letters skeptically, but I fou…

Just 7% poor Gujarat kids 'admitted' in private schools under RTE: Who all are left out?

The other day, I went to attend an NGO event in Ahmedabad. It was called "Policies of Inclusion: Education and Wealth". Organised at the Ahmedabad Management Association by an NGO which claims to be working with governments in 22 states, including that of Gujarat, I attended the event during the second half, and my job seemed limited to answering a couple of queries on the role of media in helping usher in inclusive policies though development journalism.