It's all work, no holiday for babus in Modi govt

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 10, 2015 10:54 IST

Foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has installed an unlikely piece of furniture in one corner of his office in Delhi’s stately South Block: a divan.

It’s not an indulgence, or a vanity. The divan doubles up as a bed when Jaishankar has to catch some shuteye, because his schedule sometimes doesn’t allow him to go home: the country’s top foreign service officer has to be on tap for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and this means late nights at work, as well as Sundays.

Welcome to life in the Modi administration. Since the workaholic Prime Minister came to power a year ago, key bureaucrats and some ministers have started putting in extra hours and sacrificing their weekends in a bid to keep up with their “top boss”.

Modi, who sleeps only four to five hours a day, doesn’t go slow on weekends. “He keeps mostly political engagements on Sundays. Official meetings also take place, as and when necessary,” said a PMO source.

With Modi in the office, his core team, too, works during the entire weekend. “Officers of the rank of director and above in the PMO remain available to work on Sundays. The PM’s principal secretary Nripendra Mishra, additional principal secretary PK Mishra and public relations officer of the PMO Jagdish Thakkar have not had a single Sunday off since they joined the highest executive office,” added another source.

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu comes to office on some Sundays and keeps official engagements even on non-working days. On some Sundays, the chairman and other members of the railway board are asked to attend office. The new culture of being always switched on is yet to hit all sections of the government.

Parliamentary affairs and urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu, defence minister Manohar Parrikar and defence secretary RK Mathur usually do not work on Sundays. Top human resource development ministry officials, too, prefer to enjoy a weekend break.

Jaishankar’s superior, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, prefers to remain behind the scenes and away from the glare of media, but she’s taken to the new way of working effortlessly.

“On addressing consular issues, she is 24/7. Indian missions can get instructions anytime from her, including on Sundays, to help an Indian in distress,” said an official.

And her ministry’s new spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, has been thrown in at the deep end.

Just before taking over, he travelled to Turkmenistan with Swaraj. He didn’t go home from the airport when he landed in Delhi; instead, he went with Modi on his trip to Germany, France and Canada. Once back from the trip, he started his new job and then he was off to Indonesia. On his return from that trip, he was driven straight back to South Block for a Nepal crisis management group meeting.

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