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Is Modi administration in grip of 'trusted' Gujarat cadre officials? Facts suggest otherwise

Modi with IAS officials during his Gujarat days
By Rajiv Shah
Recently, I was forwarded an article, published in “The Print” which, making the appointment of PD Vaghela, a 1986-batch Gujarat cadre IAS official, as chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as the peg, to suggest that, six years on, the Modi government in Delhi “is in the grip of IAS, IPS, IRS officers from Gujarat”. I don’t know much about IPS and IRS officials, but as for IAS bureaucrats, including Vaghela, with whom I used to interact during stint in Gandhinagar, suggests the article appears to have gone largely overboard. 
The article suggests that Vaghela, who is allegedly “a trusted hand of PM Modi, is known to have played a crucial role in the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2017, and also served as the commissioner of commercial tax in his home state.” He replaces RS Sharma, “who enjoyed a five-year tenure, and Nripendra Misra, who went on to become the Prime Minister’s closest and most trusted civil servant for five years from 2014 to 2019.”
Yet another example it gives is of GC Murmu, recently put as head of the government audit body, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India -- a position he can occupy till 2025. Previously with Modi in the Gujarat chief minister’s office, as Prime Minister Modi took Murmu to Delhi to be made secretary, department of expenditure, after which, on retirement, he was shifted as the first lieutenant governor of the newly-formed union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. 
Then, it says, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), another important regulatory body, is headed by a retired IAS bureaucrat from Gujarat, PK Pujari, who has held the post since 2018, adding, in 2019, Rita Teaotia, one more Gujarat-cadre officer (1981 batch), was appointed as chairperson of the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
As for these particular regulatory bodies, one can possibly agree with what the article states. However, when it comes to the Modi government as a whole, one wonders if the article shouldn’t stand scrutiny. As one senior IAS bureaucrat told me, “The person who wrote this it appears to have been briefed by a disgruntled official who is on deputation from another state”. Another insisted, “The percentage of Gujarat cadre IAS officials serving in the Central government is considerably low compared to several other key states.”
No doubt, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) does have a few Gujarat cadre officials. It is headed by PK Misra, a retired 1972-batch officer from the state, known to have served Modi faithfully ever since the 2002 Gujarat riots. Yet, the fact is, two of the Gujarat cadre IAS officials, who previously worked in PMO, have shifted out of PMO. Thus, Modi’s private secretary, Rajeev Topno (1996 batch), has gone to the World Bank, while another, AK Sharma (1988 batch), who served as additional secretary in PMO, was shifted in April as MSME secretary, surely not a “key” ministry.
No doubt, Hardik Shah, a promotee IAS official, who is known to have served Modi, and is rumoured to be the real author of a Modi book on environment, “Convenient Action” (2010), which critics said reads like a collection of Gujarat government pressnotes, is Modi’s new private secretary. Shah was secretary, Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), and went to Central deputation in 2017 as private secretary to the Union ministers of environment, forest and climate change.
However, when the article mentions the name of Sanjay Bhavsar as “Modi’s shadow” just because he serves as officer on special duty (OSD) since 2014, one wonders whether it is the reason enough to state that he is important for Modi. No doubt a trusted Modi man, ever since his Gujarat days,his job apparently continues to be the same: just to “fix” political appointments for Modi. He was recently promoted to IAS. Then there is Hiren Joshi, a non-IAS, who handles Modi's personal online communications, a job which he has doing since his Gujarat days.
As for postings outside the PMO, Gujarat cadre officials do not figure prominently in most of the major ministries – ranging from finance and home to home and defence, not excluding ministries which could be called key: health, commerce, environment, corporate affairs, agriculture, fertiliser, electronics and information and technology, water resources, shipping, and so on.
The only “important” postings occupied by Gujarat cadre officials include that of K Srinivas of the 1989 batch, who is secretary to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet, which decides the appointments to all the top posts in the Government of India; Anita Karwal, secretary, school education, in the ministry of education; RP Gupta, special secretary in the Niti Aayog; and Guruprasad Mahapatra, secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). All of them are talented administrators, and are in Delhi as part of his career requirement.
What appears necessary to investigate for those covering the Modi government's administration is, whether Modi’s (and RSS’) long-time dream, of seeking to undermine India’s IAS bureaucracy, is being implemented at all and how, if at all. When in Gujarat, Modi even appointed a one-person committee to find out whether this is possible under the chairmanship of VRS Cowlagi, who in his report suggested how this could be done. But is he successful, given the fact that you need administrative talent, which only IAS officials, as of today, possess?

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