The race to form the next government at the Centre might be in its last lap but the dash for India’s top bureaucratic posts is just heating up.
More than half-a-dozen key positions — down the bureaucratic hierarchy beginning with the cabinet secretary — are set to fall vacant over the next couple of months, leaving the field open for babus to make their pitch.Cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth’s extended term ends on 13 June. Telecom secretary MF Farooqi retires a few weeks later and urban development (UD) secretary Sudhir Krishna’s stint is also expected to be completed by July-end. The powerful post of national security advisor (NSA) and important posts in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) — including a new principal secretary for the next PM — are also up for grabs.
The immediate challenge before the next government would be to find a new cabinet secretary. Heavy industry secretary Sutanu Behuria tops the list of eligible officers for the job in terms of seniority, though there are several others in the race. If the BJP is within striking distance of power in Delhi, the 1976 batch Himachal-Pradesh-cadre officer has the advantage of being familiar with Modi from the latter’s days in the BJP and the RSS.
The list — from which the next PM will select one name —is expected to include the names of secretaries Alok Rawat (water resources), Naved Masood (corporate affairs), Sudhir Krishna (UD), Sangita Gairola (ex-servicemen) and could cover Vishwapati Trivedi (shipping) and Pradeep Kumar Sinha (power) as well. The rule book says the cabinet secretary has to be picked from a list of the senior-most officers but doesn’t specify how long the list has to be.
The change in guard at the PMO would also mean a new NSA.
The names being tossed around in the corridors of powers include former foreign secretaries Kanwal Sibal and Shyam Saran, Indian ambassador to the United States S Jaishankar, former representative to the UN Hardeep Puri, and former chief of external spy agency Sanjeev Tripathi. Former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval’s name is also doing the rounds.
The PMO itself could be heading for a complete overhaul if the BJP-led NDA comes to power.
The new government would have the task of filling several important posts in the PMO, including that of the principal secretary to the PM.
Among the probables for the job is former agriculture secretary PK Misra, a 1972-batch IAS officer, who served as principal secretary to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi from 2002 to 2004. After Mishra’s retirement in 2008, he was appointed as head of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission.
Other officials tipped for big roles in the PMO include 1979-batch officer and Modi’s chief principal secretary K Kailashnathan, popularly known as KK, and Gujarat government’s resident commissioner in Delhi Bharat Lal, an Indian Forest Service official.