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Race for Gujarat chief secretary: Nanda's Congress past is a hurdle for his claim to head administration

Varesh Sinha (right) at MoU signing with China in Ahmedabad on Sept 17
By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat government is learnt to have made an unlikely move – it has "approached" the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for finding out possibilities of a third extension for the incumbent chief secretary Varesh Sinha. Well-informed sources in the state bureaucracy have revealed that while the reason being offered for seeking Sinha’s third extension is the need of his “indispensable” services for the forthcoming Vibrant Gujarat investors’ world business meet, to take place in on January 11-12, 2015. “Sinha is already deep into preparations. His services have become necessary for the next summit”, a top Sachivalaya source said, quoting officials close to Sinha.
The extension is being sought, according to sources, despite the fact that the rule book does not allow the chief secretary to serve for more than six months post-retirement. Retired in April 2014, his first extension was from May to July 2014, and the second began in August and will end on October 31, 2014. “The Prime Minister can always make an exception to the rule, and the state government is sure he will”, the sources pointed out, adding, “Sinha, who once was a known critic of chief minister Anandiben Patel, has been able to move closer to her, and she has supported the view that he should be allowed another three months.”
Meanwhile, expecting Modi to go by the rule book, a section of the state babudom believe he will reject the chief minister’s suggestion for extending Sinha’s term citing the Vibrant Gujarat summit. Three senior bureaucrats are in the race for the top administrative post – additional chief secretary (home) SK Nanda, additional chief secretary (industries) D Jagatheesa Pandian, and additional chief secretary (finance) Hasmukh Adhia. “In case the state government decides to go by bureaucratic hierarchy, the post should go to SK Nanda. However, so far, there is no indication that the chief minister will do that”, an official said.
Nanda at Sabarmati
riverfront during Chinese
president's Ahmedabad
visit on Sept 17  
Nanda is clearly the senior-most senior IAS bureaucrat, next only to Sinha (1977 batch). Yet, the state government refused to allow to make it to the top post – first on May 1, when Sinha was given the first extension to “prepare” for a full-fledged budget session in July, following the Lok Sabha polls, and then on August 1, when the state government did not give any reason but simply extended Sinha’s term. Nanda, say officials, was “quite puzzled”, and did not know why the chief minister was acting this way. A senior official said, “Sinha has already suffered for six months, one can hope the chief minister will act in the right spirit, appointing the senior-most person as the next chief secretary”.
Reasons for not allowing Nanda as chief secretary are a matter of speculation. They range from Nanda remaining chief secretary till February 2, 1016, a rather long period, to his closeness to Delhi’s senior Congress leaders, which has allegedly remained intact for decades. A student leader in Delhi University, he was reportedly close to the Congress coterie under Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency (1975-77). He was also acting president of the Youth Congress-backed Delhi University Students Union, when senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley headed the ABVP.
The view is that if Nanda is made chief secretary, his immedaite competitor Pandian is sure to lose his chance, as the latter retires in May 2015. As for Adhia, the other competitor, he would still have two-and-a-half years to be Gujarat chief secretary if Nanda is made chief secretary. Adhia retires from IAS in November 2018, and has a better chance than Pandian: Known to be close to Modi, he was principal secretary in the chief minister’s office between 2004 and 2006, following which he went to do PhD on Modi’s karmayogi maha abhiyan programme – a campaign to educate Gujarat babus in good governance – in Bangalore.
Heading state industries department, Pandian is currently handling preparations for the Vibrant Gujarat summit. There is a strong view that his chances to be made the next chief secretary have “lately diminished”, as he does not enjoy the same support from the chief minister like earlier. Anandiben Patel was particularly unhappy with him for not remaining alert enough while releasing a map to media during the Chinese president’s visit to Ahmedabad, which showed Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as disputed territories. A top aide of the chief minister said, the CM called him and “fired” him for the mess, with the Congress making political capital out of it.
Meanwhile, officials say, it would be wrong to believe that the Gujarat government would completely rule out the possibility that several of the IAS bureaucrats, who remain on deputation outside Gujarat, to take over as chief secretary. They are senior to both Pandian and Adhia, but junior to Nanda. The names include Rajiv Takru (of 1979 IAS batch, retiring in September 2015), Guari Kumar (of 1979 IAS batch, retiring in August 2015), PK Pujari (of 1981 IAS batch, retiring in June 2017), and Rita Teotia (of 1981 IAS batch, retiring in July 2018). Anything can happen, as the going says.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Your column ought to have captured the role played by SK Nanda for disaster handling, tribal welfare and communication with multiple agencies for the sake of state, instead of mentioning student phase, which is not really true. This should have given right portrait description in your story.
Anonymous said…
Pre & Post Godhra Riots - 2002: Any one can say his+++ role on his conscience as a IAS Officer for the experience witnessed by State/ India of debacle of administration cadres, along with judiciary and police administration???

No, answers, only events are categorically by few activists, besides philosopher, economist and later by Apex Court after a lapse of 10 years.

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