Retired IAS officer Uttam Khobragade, who recently led an emotional campaign in support of his diplomat daughter Devyani, is now ready to step into a politician’s role in an equally charged manner.
Through his colourful career since 1984, the bureaucrat has swung between accusations of mistreatment by his former employees and the adulation showered upon him by people affiliated to Dalit political parties, who were the ones who thronged the domestic airport to welcome the father-daughter duo on Tuesday and had staged demonstrations with him outside the US consulate in Mumbai.
Khobragade has helmed many departments through his tenure, and as many controversies, which include being restrained by the high court from exercising his administrative and quasi-judicial powers. An inspector of the Colaba police station had even reported to his seniors that Khobragade had fabricated complaints against some employees of Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport when he was its general manager. He was also accused of recruiting colour blind drivers in BEST.
The bureaucrat had been harbouring political ambitions long before this latest overture, and was ready to seek early retirement if given a ticket by the Congress.
Khobragde is now exploring prospects with Dalit parties, of whom he was a sympathiser while serving in the state administration.
Though the bureaucrat stayed in the good books of the chief ministers of his time, including the late Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushilkumar Shinde, he has had a fair share of run-ins with his administrative and political bosses. He was transferred six times in three years since 2000.
His longest tenure was at the most sought-after Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada), where he was posted twice, a feat no other babu has achieved so far.
His tenures in Mhada, the Food and Drugs Department and the state road transport corporation MSRTC, however, came to be known for decisions the courts later set aside.
Some of Khobragade’s actions related to selling BEST depot plots to private builders — his name has cropped up in the Adarsh housing society scam — had come under the state legislature’s scrutiny. Then CM Deshmukh had assured an inquiry, but the matter has remained on the backburner.
Khobragade said his decisions were criticised because they were bold and taken in the interest of people. “Only one decision of mine was set aside by the high court, which was later upheld by the apex court. I have never appeared before any court.”