Back in the days when both Vilasrao Deshmukh and Datta Meghe had been ministers in Sharad Pawar’s cabinet, Meghe had complained to his chief minister that his secretary was not acting on any of the decisions he wanted implemented as food and civil supplies minister. He was really at his wit’s end. Deshmukh had then smiled smugly and said, “You should know how to get work out of them without having to crack the whip. It is an art and skill that comes with practice.”
Pawar had said nothing because this rather puckish bureaucrat, now retired, had stymied Pawar, in a Sir-Humphrey-Appleby (of ‘Yes Minister’ fame) style, in his bid to sign away large areas of government land to a capitalist crony. Pawar’s Sir Humphrey had tied him up in knots about the non-feasibility of those sanctions and the possible legal consequences that, he said, would be eventually very damaging to Pawar’s interests; the Maratha warlord was so confused he gave up the project altogether.
Yet, there was a lot of love lost between this officer and Pawar – when he landed at one of Pawar’s meetings to have some papers signed, Pawar publicly had some top-ranking ministers vacate their seats for him and his assistants. When Pawar split from the Congress in 1999 and this bureaucrat was sent to a far off state as the returning officer for elections that year, his concentration was entirely on Maharashtra and, more specifically, on Pawar – this officer called me several times to ask how Pawar was faring. He and many of his contemporaries wanted a return of Pawar as the chief minister and were greatly disappointed when he didn’t.
Later, when I asked Deshmukh, who had then taken over as CM, if he would be reshuffling the bouquet of bureaucrats he had inherited from the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, he said emphatically, “Most certainly not!” Asked if he was not wary that they may not work to his desire, he said “You have to know how to play them as well as they play you. A good minister knows how to get work out of every bureaucrat without having to crack the whip.”
I noted that Deshmukh proved a better Jim Hacker to his Sir Humphreys and found no difficulty in implementing his schemes - many of which at the time were novel and path-breaking.
I mention all this now because, in an unprecedented move, the likes of which I have not heard of in my long career as a journalist, the current chief secretary has written admonishing letters to his top officers asking them to waste no time in implementing decisions of the current government – bureaucrats are not cooperating with CM Devendra Fadnavis’s government (including mixing up his appointments with high profile personalities, not likely that such errors were inadvertent) and none of the cabinet decisions taken in the past months have found their way to fruition.
In fact, Fadnavis has been publicly cribbing for months about this lack of cooperation. However, clearly, he seems as clueless as Meghe was about getting work out of the bureaucrats without admonishing them in public, as Narayan Rane had once done as revenue minister in the Sena-BJP government leading a senior bureaucrat to put in his papers rather than put up with the daily humiliation. It is no wonder that the bureaucrats had largely hated Rane’s stint as chief minister and worked to sabotage his interests every time it seemed he would return to the office with another political party.
However, Fadnavis is a gentleman and has been unable to say or do much about his officers but this non-cooperation is causing severe damage to his image and his government’s – though, I must admit, the non-cooperation is not limited to officers. He gets little help from his ministers -all of whom resent him for having got the job without even anp iota of experience at governance- who are busy working towards proving him a failure. The disappointment with Fadnavis now runs deep among large sections including investors and businessmen, social scientists and also political critics generally not known to be inimical to his government.
There were at least some delightful occasions when Jim Hacker got the better of Sir Humphrey Appleby. Fadnavis needs to find many such of his own.