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Gujarat's "turnaround man" blames IAS colleagues for failing to act by constitution during 2002 riots

By Rajiv Shah
A Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat with impeccable reputation, Alexander K Luke -- termed “turnaround man” by captains of industry across India in mid-2000s for pushing top public sector undertaking (PSU) Gujarat State Fertlizers and Chemicals (GSFC) from the red -- has held the state’s “top administrative level” responsible for failing to act impartially during the “2002 Gujarat bloodbath.”
In a just-released book he has authored, Luke has said, had the police and IAS officials “held firm and did what they were required to do by the constitution”, a collapse of the administration “could have been avoided.” Luke headed GSFC from 2003 to 2006.
Luke was forced to resign from the IAS two years before he was to retire (2008) after he refused to follow an order to allow concession to a contractor. He recalls in the book how he was humiliated in an official report, and how the then chief minister Narendra Modi accepted his resignation without waiting three-day he had offered him him to “rethink.”
The resignation came despite the fact he was compared by a top industrialist with Lee Iacocca, who had turned around Chrysler. Luke won accolades from Industrial Development Bank of India and Reliance Mutual Fund for his GSFC turnaround, and the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad took up a case study on how he saved GSFC.
In a first-ever account by an IAS bureaucrat of the state officialdom’s behaviour during those tumultuous days, Luke in his autobiographical book, “Passport to Gujarat: Hazardous Journeys”, has recalled how three days after the riots hit Gujarat, February 28, 2002, he approached the then Gujarat chief secretary G Subbarao, offering his services for the relief camps which were being set-up for the victims of violence.”
Wali Gujarati
Rejecting the proposal, Subbarao “looked mildly amused”, said Luke. He seemed to scoff at Luke’s “naiveté”, giving the impression that “running relief camps was not a high priority for the government.”
The book runs in 365 pages, and is dotted with anecdotes about his personal experiences during the years he was in Gujarat as IAS bureaucrat.
In a second instance, Luke said, on his way back to his residence in Shahibaugh in Ahmedabad from Gandhinagar, he saw the shrine dedicated to the memory of great poet Vali Gujarati had been destroyed.
But what shocked him was, “within a week of this act of vandalism, the municipality paved over this area wiping out any traces of the original shrine.” Comments Luke, “This second act of desecration was probably worse than the first which had been carried out by murderous mobs", adding, at that time, the municipal commissioner was P Panneervel, "a pleasant and jovial IAS officer.”
In a third instance, Luke said, his IAS colleagues were “scared" to even talk about a letter he had written to the IAS Association denouncing the 2002 violence and “the need for officers to make a statement reiterating determination to take strong steps to bring back peace, protect the innocent and punish the guilty.”
Calling upon IAS officials for a meeting of the Association, the letter, he said, especially stressed that the officials should “follow only those orders which were lawful.” He added, he had “faxed” the letter with his signature and after two days he enquired of the IAS Association head as to “what was planned.”
Not only officials were afraid of discussing the letter, he suspects, “My letter could not have remained a secret to the excellent intelligence agencies operating in the state. I continued denouncing the violence to whoever would listen.”
“A politician’s instruction or lack of it cannot ride roughshod over our constitutional duties. Too many officers forgot this as they lost their nerve. The politicians themselves may later blame you for not doing what should have been done regardless of the public mood and their own murderous rhetoric of the moment”, Luke says in the book.
Luke says, Gujarat bloodbath of 2002 “could have been blunted if the top authorities in the government had taken matters into their own hands and re-established law and order without listening to those who were emotionally unbalanced at that time”.
“If they were prevented from doing so by intimidation, they could have threatened to resign. If the Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, DGP and others had done this, then the rightful authority of the state would have been quickly re-established”, he said.
According to Luke, “No chief minister of a state, no matter how angry, would be happy to see murderous disorder on the streets particularly when he had just taken over. Many party functionaries descended to the level of those who had set the train on fire. But that was no reason for the State apparatus to have stood paralysed.”

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