Thursday, February 20, 2014

Known for impeccable reputation, Gujarat IAS babu SR Rao may join AAP, fight Lok Sabha polls from Surat

By Rajiv Shah
SR Rao, the 1978 batch Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat who retired from the service in January 2014, is being considered as the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) Lok Sabha poll candidate from Surat, where he shot into prominence after boldly cleaning the city of plague in mid-1990s. Known for his impeccable reputation, Rao once again gained confidence of the people of the South Gujarat city after he fought to clean up the city, engulfed in its worst-ever flood in 2006.
A top official in the chief minister’s office (CMO) told Counterview that in case Rao, who won Padma Shri for his Surat feat against plague, agrees to become the AAP’s candidate from Surat, he is “sure to win.” Considered a sure seat of the BJP, the official said, “Rao’s reputation in Surat is enough to defeat to the BJP in the city. Two decades later, Rao remains invincible in Surat.” Former principal secretary, urban development, Gujarat government, Rao retired as commerce secretary of the Government of India.
There is enough reason for the ruling BJP to worry. After he left Gujarat to serve the Government of India in 2008, efforts were made by powerful sections of the state bureaucracy, close to chief minister Narendra Modi, to implicate Rao in what many say was a “framed land scam”. Sachivalaya officials say, on one of Modi aide’s advice, the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) of the police was roped in to investigate into the non-existent land scam, “involving” Rao. 
The matter concerns Rao’s alleged role as chairman of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA), during his stint as principal secretary, urban development, in the sale of a piece of land to a party at lower-than-market rate. It is widely rumoured that Modi’s officials tried doing this at the behest of the chief minister, who never liked Rao’s critical views on developmental issues of Gujarat, which he expressed frankly in internal meetings.
Ever since efforts by the CM office to instruct the ACB to initiate an inquiry against Rao, the top bureaucrat kept himself away from most of his batchmates and colleagues with whom he was close. Retired, most of his colleagues told Counterview that they have “no knowledge” about what Rao has been doing, and what were his post-retirement plans. However, one of them revealed that senior AAP leaders -- seeking support from “clean” IAS officials -- are in “contact with Rao” and are seeking to rope him in to fight for the party from Surat.
One of the batchmates of Rao told Counterview, “It would be a difficult choice for Rao. He should know that he would not get any fund to fight polls from the AAP. On the other hand, if he fights polls on BJP ticket from Surat, he is sure to get enough funds and support. It goes without saying that he would win the poll in Surat.” Another bureaucrat added, “Rao is a difficult bureaucrat. Once he is convinced about something, he would go headlong.” 

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