Former IAS officers in the Cabinet: Is it a u-turn?


We can all conjecture why the PM chose to use Parliament as the platform to convey his dismay towards the IAS.

Former IAS officers in the Cabinet: Is it a u-turn?
The dropping of the likes of Prakash Javadekar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ramesh Pokhriyal and Harsh Vardhan in the recent restructuring of the recent Cabinet came a surprise to many. There are huge speculations about why it happened. This will be debated and discussed by the political pundits for a while. In view of my limited understanding of the politics behind this development, I am refraining from commenting on this aspect of the Cabinet expansion. What is being discussed here is a surprising inclusion of as many as 5 former IAS officers in the Cabinet. In the wake of the following comment made by the Prime Minister in the Parliament not very long ago about the IAS, was this a U-turn?
““Sab kuch babu hi karenege. IAS ban gaye matlab woh fertilizer ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega. Yeh kaun si badi takat bana kar rakh di humne? Babuon ke haath mein desh de karke hum kya karne waale hain?”
Having pilloried the IAS through use of pejorative term, “Babu” why did the PM consider it necessary to induct an unprecedented number of former IAS officers as Ministers?
After the Cabinet expansion I had Tweeted,” There is something seriously amiss here. What will the country achieve by handing over Railways, Housing, Energy, Steel, Foreign Affairs, Petroleum, IT and Communication to Babus?”
This was in jest (a privilege that I now enjoy not being a part of the government) and in the context of the aforementioned statement made by the PM in the Parliament. Not long after this tweet, I tweeted, “The Prime Minister needs to be complimented for picking up IAS officers in his Cabinet. All these have excelled as officers. There is no doubt that they will do well as Ministers as well”
The two tweets perhaps created some confusion. One senior journalist for whom I have great regard questioned whether it was a U-turn on my part. There were some others who had a similar impression. Was it a U-turn on my part or by the PM? It wasn’t either.
As mentioned earlier, my first tweet was in response to what the PM had said in the Parliament because that statement came as a surprise to everyone. The question was why was he choosing these IAS officers whom he pejoratively referred to as Babus? And, why did he choose Parliament as the platform to convey his angst? Many of us were surprised at this comment but more at the platform he chose to air these views about the IAS. Some would not be conversant with the process of appointment of officers to the senior positions (Joint Secretaries and above) in the government. No such appointment can be made without the express approval of the Prime Minister who heads the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. As he was himself responsible for posting them to “fertilizer ka karkhana” (Though this too is factually incorrect as no IAS officer heads a fertilizer plant at the Centre. Perhaps he was recalling such appointments made by him in Gujarat when he was the Chief Minister), why would he make such a statement? Hence, my first tweet was in response to his choosing so many officers to join his Cabinet. The following tweet was to compliment the PM for having recognized the capabilities of these officers by inducting them in the Cabinet. There is no contradiction between the two. There was, thus, no U-turn on my part.
Now, was there was a U-turn on the part of the PM? It does appear that what he said in the Parliament was perhaps to convey a message to those IAS officer that were not performing. As an accomplished leader which he indeed is, he could have perhaps chosen a different platform to air his views.
Recognizing the professional capabilities of these former IAS officers, he picked up some to be part of the Cabinet. Each of these officers have the credentials for being where they are and enjoyed reputation as efficient officers. Having seen some of them work as officers, I have no doubt that they will do well as Ministers as well. R K Singh has already proved his worth in his tenure as Energy Minister of State (Independent Charge) and now gets a well-deserved promotion as Cabinet Minister. R C P Singh was one of the finest officers from UP cadre where I also spent a long time, belonging to the same cadre. A lot has already been written about Ashwini Vaishnaw on how he has excelled both in the public and private domains.
We can all conjecture why the PM chose to use Parliament as the platform to convey his dismay towards the IAS. However, the fact that he continues to depend upon IAS officers for running the show clearly proves that there was no U-turn on his part too when he chose some former officers to be a part of the Cabinet. Most of the advisors, including one who heads the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the rank of Cabinet Minister, are from the IAS. In fact, PMO is considered to be so powerful that it is treated it as a reference point by all. Even after the statement in the Parliament, the PM continues to appoint IAS officers to key positions. Ironically, IAS officers have been even chosen to head some private entities, like the ICICI Bank, by the PM himself. I have had the occasion to listen to and interact with him on a number of occasions as Secretary, Government of India and he was, more often than not, appreciative of the contribution being made by the civil servants, including the IAS. Hence, the surprise was more on account of his statement in the Parliament than in the context of former IAS officers being inducted into the Cabinet.
The new Cabinet does reflect the desire of the government to get things moving. Persons with proven professional credentials and accomplished administrators have been included. For the sake of argument, even if it is considered to be a U-turn, it is well worth it.
— Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book 'Not Just A Civil Servant'. The views expressed are personal