From self-effacing bureaucrat to ‘Super CM’, Suresh Kumar wielded unbridled power
As the top aide of Capt Amarinder Singh, Kumar, a retired IAS officer, was not just running the administration and making bureaucratic appointments, but also virtually controlling access to him.punjab Updated: Jan 18, 2018 09:14 IST
Chief principal secretary to chief minister, Suresh Kumar, was riding high from the day he got the coveted assignment last year.
As the top aide of Capt Amarinder Singh, Kumar, a retired IAS officer, was not just running the administration and making bureaucratic appointments, but also virtually controlling access to him. Be it ministers, MLAs or officers, all had to queue up in his office with requests. Fast-forward to January 17: Kumar is out, as the Punjab and Haryana high court has set aside his appointment, calling it ultra vires of the Constitution.
The 1983 batch IAS officer relinquished charge immediately after the high court pronounced the order. “I am not going to come back. Let the government find an alternative,” he said before heading for Japan.
When his appointment was challenged in the court in August 2017, he promptly offered to resign and left office, refusing to attend meetings. There was talk that a powerful lobby in government was working against him. The Capt had to persuade his top aide to resume work.
Though his post-retirement stint in the chief minister’s office (CMO) lasted just 10 months, few officers, if any, have enjoyed the kind of confidence of any CM and, consequently, the power in the state as he did, earning him the sobriquets of ‘Super CM’ and the ‘de facto CM’ in bureaucratic circles.
With his ‘favourites’ occupying key positions in important departments and an unobtrusive chief secretary, he became a pivotal player in the power game on the second floor of the state civil secretariat that houses the CMO. A workaholic, he maintained a firm grip on the administration, regularly reviewing the working of different departments.
As a self-anointed in charge of media outreach on government policies and programmes, Kumar also remained well-informed and accessible to one and all. While his clout caused considerable heartburn among the ministers and MLAs, he ruffled the feathers of non-officials appointed as advisers in the CMO by capping their salary at a piddly sum. “The CM had to step in,” said one of them.
Known for his clean image, Kumar, who hails from Sonepat in Haryana, has had a distinguished career. He was principal secretary to chief minister for more than three years during the Capt’s first term as the chief minister from 2002 to 2007. His proximity to Amarinder cost him during the Akali regime, though. “Before his retirement in April 2016, he wanted to go to the Centre on deputation to join the NHAI as chairman, but the then government did not make things easy,” said a person privy to the matter.
Another move to appoint him as the chairman of Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission (PSERC) also got scuttled at that time. Unlike most of his bureaucratic colleagues who landed sinecures, Kumar did not get one during the SAD-BJP regime and everyone thought he would be winding down.
However, he made a comeback at the helm, with unbridled powers, with the return of Capt Amarinder Singh as the chief minister. Though Kumar says he would not rejoin, the CM has asked the state advocate general to suggest legal remedies. There is talk in the corridors of power that if nothing else works out, he may be brought back as adviser.