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Shivraj’s retinue

Every Chief Minister today has a set of favourite bureaucrats who deliver according to his or her wishes without batting an eyelid. This coterie of bureaucrats not only becomes the eyes and ears of the Chief Minister, but also creates a wall around him or her. So strong is this wall that it is difficult for any civil servant outside this hallowed circle, or any new idea, for that matter, to breach it. The scenario in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh is a case in point. Chouhan has his favourite bureaucrats and it is unsurprising that they hold the most powerful posts in the state. Rakesh Dixit reports.

Shivraj Chouhan (left) has retained many officers who were with Digvijay Singh

ADMITTEDLY, it isn’t too difficult to figure out the 10 favourite bureaucrats of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister. All the key IAS officers in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), the Indore Collector, the Excise Commissioner, the Commissioner, Public Relations and, of course, the Chief Secretary, are easily counted as the favourite ones. Regardless of the change in the government-from Congress to BJP-this trend has continued.

For observers of Madhya Pradesh politics, it is also not difficult to name the most powerful bureaucrat in Bhopal. It is none other than SK Mishra, Principal Secretary in the CMO, who has held this enviable post for the last seven years. It is, however, difficult to rank the other favourite bureaucrats of the Chief Minister on a scale of two to 10. But it doesn’t come as a surprise that most of the favourites of the present Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, were favourites of his predecessor, Digvijay Singh, too. A chief minister, whatever the colour of his or her party, always wants to be surrounded by bureaucrats who are efficient, who can ideate, who can bend, digest dark secrets and have little qualms about dancing to the tune of the political master.

img-jun15-6An interesting episode during Uma Bharti’s brief chief ministership amply illustrates this point. In her initial enthusiasm for systemic change in the bureaucracy after trouncing Digvijay in 2003, the sadhvi appointed redoubtable former chief secretary Nirmala Buch as her adviser. The chief minister asked the adviser to prepare a list of efficient bureaucrats for key postings. Mrs Buch, after due diligence, prepared a list and submitted it to Bharti. When the chief minister saw the list, she was astounded. “But these officers are all upright and would not listen to me. I would rather have officers in key posts who used to listen to Digvijay Singh,” She reportedly remarked and rejected the list. Mrs Buch immediately resigned from the post of adviser.

When Shivraj became Chief Minister in November 2005, he had no such lofty ideas. Shivraj was a complete novice in administration but he had a roadmap for his future ready in mind. Within a month of taking charge, the chief minister removed the upright and efficient Chief Secretary, Vijay Singh.

In his place Rakesh Sahni, a pliable manipulator with a dubious reputation, was brought in at the helm of the bureaucracy. Sahni showed the chief minister the nuances of the carrot-and-stick policy of running the administration. The fast learner that he is, Shivraj learnt the art of governance soon enough. His bureaucratic set-up did not take much time to acquire an uncanny resemblance to the one that Digvijay had presided over.

However, there is one difference. Digvijay used to keep bureaucrats on a tight leash; Shivraj’s hold on the bureaucracy is comparatively lax.

Here are the 10 most powerful bureaucrats in Madhya Pradesh:

img-jun15-7Antony De Sa, Chief Secretary

The first Christian Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh, Antony De Sa took over the office on October 1, 2013, eight days ahead of his 58th birthday. His selection had raised many an eyebrow in bureaucratic-political circles, primarily for two reasons. One, his being a Christian and, two, he was considered close to the then Union minister, Kamal Nath. Barely a fortnight before De Sa’s appointment as chief secretary, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) had discussed the possibility of a Christian being appointed head of the bureaucracy in a BJP-ruled state. The RSS congregation at Bhopal on September 21 had discussed the issue of the next chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh amid a debate on religious conversions.

It was speculated that the Sangh was plumping for another senior IAS officer, Indranil Dani, for the chief secretary’s post. But the chief minister opted for De Sa and ignored the RSS objection. De Sa succeeded R Parashuram in the post. The chief secretary has measured up to the chief minister’s expectations. He has remained apolitical and focused on the task entrusted to him.

Born on October 9, 1956 at Bhusawal in Maharashtra, De Sa was educated in Mumbai University and obtained a master’s degree from Harvard University, US. Before becoming the chief secretary, the 1980-batch IAS officer was additional chief secretary of important departments like food, civil supplies and consumer protection and transport.

As collector in Chhindwara and Jabalpur between 1986 and 1990, De Sa became close to senior Congress leader, Kamal Nath. When Nath became Union Environment Minister in the Narasimha Rao government, he appointed De Sa as deputy secretary in the ministry. In his second stint as Union minister in the commerce ministry under Dr Manmohan Singh, Kamal Nath brought in De Sa as joint secretary and made him his personal secretary. De Sa was also posted at the United Nations Organisation for five years.

Soft-spoken, unassuming and suave, the chief secretary assiduously avoids controversies. Although he enjoys the full confidence of the chief minister, the chief secretary does not meddle in politically sensitive issues in the government. As a dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat, he lets the chief minister’s office (CMO) handle political administration.

img-jun15-8Iqbal Singh Bains, Principal Secretary in CMO

The Principal Secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), Iqbal Singh Bains has the unique distinction of working together with his son, Amanveer Singh, under the same government. Amanveer, a graduate from IIT Roorkee, secured 45th rank in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination in 2014 and was allotted the Madhya Pradesh cadre as an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. There have been many instances of both father and son serving the administration in the past in Madhya Pradesh when sons joined the IAS only after their fathers retired but in Amanveer’s case, his father is still in service.

Bains, a low-profile and extremely hard-working Punjabi, is pivotal in the CMO. He too, like the chief secretary, avoids meddling in politics. Shivraj had developed a great liking for Bains when the latter was Sehore Collector in 1993-95. Shivraj was the Lok Sabha member from Vidisha of which Sehore is a part. Two years later, Bains was appointed Bhopal collector.

The chief minister’s fondness for Bains can be gauged from two instances. Soon after assuming office as chief minister in November 2005, the first secretary Shivraj appointed in his office was Bains. He was in the office till 2010. The second time, when Bains’ return from a five-year deputation in Delhi was due, the chief minister held up the administrative reshuffle till the 1985-batch IAS officer reported his joining in Bhopal.

With the reshuffle on August 15, 2014, an official holiday, Bains was back in the CMO with greater assurance of the boss’s confidence. He was on central deputation as joint secretary in the overseas Indians affairs ministry in New Delhi. An electronics engineer by training, the 53-year-old Bains has played a key role in efficient digitisation of governance along with another IAS officer in the CMO, Hari Ranjan Rao. Bains is assertive but not in an officious way. He avoids attending parties and sticks to a rigorous work schedule. He is a quintessential family man, a trait that is evident in his son securing 45th position in the IAS. His vast experience from finance to tourism to civil aviation to commercial tax has stood Bains in good stead as a key player in the CMO.

img-jun15-10Vivek Aggrawal Secretary to the Chief Minister

A 1994-batch IAS officer, Vivek Aggrawal is secretary in the CMO since June 13, 2011. The 44-year-old officer has been additional deputy and then deputy commissioner, revenue administration, in Bathinda and Kapurthala (Punjab) during the Akali Dal-BJP coalition government from 1999 to 2001 on deputation. He hails from an influential Aggrawal family associated with the RSS in Haryana. During his Punjab stint, Aggrawal struck a good equation with Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal. The relationship proved useful in getting him into the good books of Shivraj too. When Shivraj assumed the office in November 2005, Aggrawal was Indore Collector. The chief minister gave him key assignments – managing directorship of Mandi Board and MP Road Development Corporation before finally taking him in his office.

As Indore Collector and in subsequent postings too, Aggrawal has faced allegations of corruption. Complaints were lodged against him with the Lokayukta also. But his RSS background and connection with the Punjab chief minister have ensured that he remains a powerful bureaucrat in the CMO. He mainly deals with land-related work in the CMO and tries to keep away from intrigue in the office. A few years ago, he was embroiled in a controversy about land encroachment in his native state. In Killianwali town in Muktsar district, his kin had allegedly encroached on a plot belonging to the ‘Jumla Mushtar Kamalkana’. Aggrawal, of course, denied the allegations. He claimed that the land had belonged to him for the past 40 years and shops had been constructed on that piece of land.

A graduate in law and commerce, Aggrawal is reputed to be an expert in land revenue management and agriculture marketing. He is not averse to dealing with politicians of the ruling party, particularly of Indore and Ujjain where he has been collector. However, because of his image problem, the chief minister is cautious about giving Aggrawal much leeway in policy execution.

img-jun15-9Manoj Kumar Shrivastava Principal Secretary, Culture

Manoj Kumar Shrivastava, 54, is the lone RSS ideologue in the chief minister’s close-knit team. Both Shrivastava and Shivraj studied in Hamidia College, Bhopal, in the early 1980s. The 1987-batch IAS officer had written the UPSC examination in Hindi. He is a Hindi writer, poet, critic and thinker whose right-wing ideology is unmistakable in his writings. He has authored many books, including poetry and critiques on religious texts such as Durga Shapsadi and Sundar Kand. A postgraduate in Hindi literature, Shrivastava is a voracious reader and top idea man of the chief minister. Notwithstanding his right-wing leaning, Shrivastava was the blue-eyed boy of Digvijay too. But in the Shivraj’s government, his ideation on cultural matters has found ample resonance in policies and programmes. Although a little narcissistic, Shrivastava has great public relation skills. Soon after assuming the office, Shivraj appointed Shrivastava as the top interface between him and the media. As Commissioner, Public Relations, between 2006 and 2010, Shrivastava played a key role in shaping the chief minister’s image as a humble farmer’s son. He held dual charge of Secretary to the Chief Minister in this period. When he was removed from the post, speculations were rife about his fall from grace but Shrivastava bounced back. He was re-inducted in the CMO as principal secretary where he remained till last year. Currently, he is principal secretary, commercial tax and culture.

Being a son of Bhopal and college buddy of the chief minister, Shrivastava has developed a bonding across the political spectrum in the state capital. His erudition has also earned him a special place in the intelligentsia though left-wing writers are critical of him. As principal secretary in the culture department, Shrivastava adequately takes care of the RSS agenda. However, unlike a typical dogmatic RSS ideologue, the officer-poet has sought to nurture eclectic cultural tastes in Bharat Bhavan, the multi-art complex under the culture department-be it poetry, plays, concerts or any other cultural programme. Shrivastava’s catholicity has safeguarded the chief minister from allegations of pursuing an RSS agenda in culture.

img-jun15-11SR Mohanty Additional Chief Secretary, School Education

A 1982-batch IAS officer, Sudhi Ranjan Mohanty, 56, was one of the prime targets of the BJP during the assembly election campaign in 2003 because of his proximity to the then chief minister, Digvijay. The inter-corporate deposit (ICD) scam was a potent election plank. As Managing Director of the MP Industrial Development Corporation, Mohanty had allegedly distributed unrecoverable loans to a large number of industrialists without any safeguards. As a result, the government suffered a loss of around `500 crore. Barely a week in office, Shivraj learnt that the then chief secretary, Vijay Singh, defended Mohanty in the MP High Court by filing an affidavit on behalf of the state government in the ICD scam.

An infuriated Shivraj removed Vijay from the post. It looked as though Mohanty might land in jail soon because the newly sworn-in chief minister had vowed to punish the guilty of the ICD scam. For three years, Mohanty was in the doghouse as Managing Director of the MP Scheduled Caste Finance Corporation. For the officers close to the CM, the disgraced colleague had become a pariah.

But the alumni of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, Mayo College, Ajmer, and St Stephen’s, New Delhi, quietly managed to mould the opinion of the chief minister in his favour with sheer hard work and innovative ideas. He redeemed his position soon. Delay in his promotion was rectified and now he is additional chief secretary, heading two important departments-school education and renewable energy resources.

Today, he is a happy man. Of course, his flamboyance is far more subdued than it used to be during the Digvijay period. In those days, top businessmen, wheeler-dealers and politicians in the state would flock to Mohanty’s chamber. In the BJP rule, he is still regarded with suspicion as Digvijay’s man. Nonetheless, the management expert has carved a place in the Chief Minister’s heart. At least, Shivraj does not seem to have any grudge against Mohanty. Moreover, his successful initiatives for expanding the share of the renewable energy resources in the state’s power generation have gone down well with the chief minister.

The turnaround in Mohanty’s career began in Shivraj’s second term. The IAS officer, who had earned fame and awards as Indore Collector in healthcare innovation, impressed the Chief Minister as secretary in the health department between 2009 and 2011.

img-jun15-12Akash Tripathi Indore Collector

Indore Collector Akash Tripathi’s closeness to the chief minister can be gauged from the fact that despite having been elevated to the secretary grade a year ago, he continues in the post. The Indore Collector’s post is viewed as far more important than even a principal secretary in the Madhya Pradesh government. A technocrat by qualification (he is a graduate in electronics), Tripthi has the distinction of being collector for 10 years at a stretch. Initially, he was mentored by the then Chief Secretary, Rakesh Sahni.

Tripathi’s father-in-law BK Tiwari, was a senior IAS officer of the UP cadre and batchmate of Sahni. Through Sahni, Tripathi became close to the chief minister.

There has been only one brief interregnum when he was additional secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office (October 2011 to July 2012). Otherwise, the 40-year-old IAS officer has been collector since 2004. Before that, the 1998-batch IAS officer was Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) Commissioner, another key post as far as fund management is concerned.

img-jun15-13Rakesh Shrivastava Excise Commissioner

Excise commissioner Rakesh Shrivastava, 58, got into the Indian Administrative Service from the industry department in 1999. An engineering graduate from Raipur, Shrivastava was initially close to former Chhattisgarh chief minister and retired IAS officer Ajit Jogi who was collector of the city. Later Shrivastava switched loyalty to Digvijay whose government inducted him into the IAS. Shivraj recognised Shrivastava’s administrative acumen and his ability to organise funding. He made him Indore Collector in 2008. During his tenure as Collector, Indore witnessed a horrendous communal riot in which a dozen Muslims were killed. The Congress led by Digvijay launched an agitation to get Shrivastava removed as collector. The Congress accused the Collector of dancing to the tune of the BJP leaders and letting the Hindutva goons kill innocent Muslims. But the chief minister rewarded Shrivastava for his role as Collector with the posting of Commissioner, Public Relations. He was also given additional charge as Managing Director, MP Agriculture Development Corporation.

Last year, the chief minister acceded to Shrivastava’s request to make him Excise Commissioner and posted him in Gwalior. Excise is one of the main sources of revenue of the government and allegedly fund collection for the ruling party.

Shrivastava is non-confrontationist. He believes in maintaining good relations across the political spectrum. His gregarious nature has earned him a legion of well-wishers wherever he was posted-whether on-field or off-field.

img-jun15-14SK Mishra, Principal Secretary, CMO

Commissioner, Public Relations and Principal Secretary in the CMO, SK Mishra is indisputably the most powerful bureaucrat in Madhya Pradesh. He is the only IAS officer credited with having access to the chief minister’s kitchen. He is known to be as loyal, if not more, to Shivraj as to the chief minister’s wife, Sadhna Singh. Mishra is widely believed to be privy to all dealings in the chief minister’s house.

Before being inducted into the IAS in 1991, the 58-year-old Man Friday of the chief minister was an officer in the industry department. He had allegedly amassed enough wealth to ascend his way to the IAS even as a large number of aspiring officers of the state administrative service (SAS) were left high and dry.

During the Congress era, Mishra’s political clout stemmed from the fact that he is the brother-in-law of senior Congress leader and former minister Mukesh Nayak. Through Nayak, the officer got close to the then Chief Minister, Digvijay Singh, as well as the then Speaker, Sriniwas Tiwari. Mishra’s alacrity in bowing to the political masters’ wishes had impressed the former speaker enough to get him appointed Collector of Rewa months ahead of the assembly election in 2003. Rewa, during the Congress rule, was known as Sriniwas Tiwari’s personal fiefdom.

His pliable nature won him the favour of Shivraj too. Months before Shivraj was due to contest the by-election from Budni assembly seat to enter the assembly in 2005, he brought Mishra as collector of Sehore of which Budni is a part.

A photograph showing Mishra kneeling before the Chief Minister on a dais was flashed by a newspaper. That irked the Election Commission. Mishra was shifted from Sehore amid electioneering for Budni. When the election was over, the chief minister rewarded Mishra with the collectorship of Bhopal. A year later, Mishra was posted in the CMO. In the last seven years, he continues to be in the CMO with two promotions. Last year, he was also made Commissioner, Public Relations. Soft-spoken and extrovert, Mishra is said to enjoy the blind trust of the chief minister.

img-jun15-15Hari Ranjan Rao, Secretary to the Chief Minister

Hari Ranjan Rao, 1994-batch IAS officer, is the information technology (IT) whizkid of the chief minister besides being a secretary in the CMO. Rao has handled various assignments as collector, project director in the urban administration department, managing director of MP Tourism Development Corporation and Commissioner, Tourism. He is also the secretary in the departments of information technology and public service management of the state, managing director of MP State Electronics Development Corporation and Chief Executive Officer of Madhya Pradesh Agency for Promotion of Information Technology (MAP-IT). He is the chairman of MPOnline Limited, a joint venture company between the Government of Madhya Pradesh and TCS, and a member on the Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Information Technology, Design and Manufacturing (IIITDM) Jabalpur, and Institute of Information Technology and Management (IIITM), Gwalior. An engineer (electronics) by qualification, he keeps himself abreast with the latest technology updates. His contributions in the areas of IT applications in government have been widely appreciated and have won several national and international awards for the state of Madhya Pradesh.

His work as managing director of MP State Tourism Development Corporation caught the attention of the chief minister as the state found a noticeable place on the country’s tourism map.

Within a year, the chief minister included the suave Kannadiga in his core team as prime mover of IT-related matters. His reputation is by and large clean. He doesn’t believe in stepping out of the brief and, as such, remains focused on the tasks, mainly information technology-related, assigned to him by Principal Secretary Bains.

img-jun15-16Nishant Warwade, Bhopal Collector

Bhopal Collector Nishant Warwade, 39, is the youngest IAS officer in the top 10 of the chief minister’s favourites. He completes two years in the post in May this year. Being the state capital, Bhopal poses a variety of political, social and administrative challenges for the collector. Local politicians are always ready to breathe down the neck of the collector. The 2003-batch IAS officer has earned the advantage of directly approaching the chief minister whenever complex issues confront him. Proximity to the chief minister has safeguarded him against local political pressures. Reassured of the CM’s blessings, Warwade has been handling the politicians and bureaucrats with aplomb. The fact that he is a Dalit has also worked to his advantage. Another advantage is that he studied in Bhopal’s Central School and did his postgraduation in electronics from the prestigious Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology. He is also a good sportsman, a feat that further endeared him to the sports-lover in Shivraj.

The chief minister was quite impressed with Warwade’s works as Hoshangabad Collector, especially in the field of healthcare. On the occasion of Madhya Pradesh Foundation Day on November 1, 2014, the chief minister honoured Warwade with an award for his work in Hoshangabad. The collector is fairly knowledgeable about who is close to the chief minister in Bhopal’s political, social and business circles. He deals with them accordingly. It is widely believed in bureaucratic circles that it is only a matter of time before the young officer will enter the CMO.

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