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New work culture: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a ring of power

Tuesday, 3 June 2014 - 7:05am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

It is not only the transition in work culture in the corridors of power since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office last week, but an iron ring has been created around cabinet ministers to keep tabs on them through private secretaries and the ministers of state to make them accountable. The arrangement has been made to avoid recurrence of incidents of previous UPA ministers like A Raja and Pawan Bansal, whose private secretaries RK Chandolia and Rahul Bhandrai respectively were accused of pay-offs, thereby ending a source of disgrace for the entire government.

In its first order, the Modi government had barred ministers from handpicking "personal staff", including personal secretaries to ensure that none of his ministers fancy a "hidden agenda". Though guidelines have always been in place, these have been regularly flouted by ministers, who would appoint their trusted persons, including political workers on their personal staff for their "under-the-table" dealings.

Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, who re-circulated these guidelines to ministers, was reportedly told to make a pool of staff that included personal secretaries upto the level of deputy secretaries to be sent to work with ministers as their personal staff. "Any central government official upto the rank of joint secretary will not be allowed to work in the ministerial staff," say the guidelines.

Prime Minister Modi has carefully chosen the ministers of state to share the workload of senior cabinet ministers and also be a part of a ring to prevent wheeling dealing in the ministry. A flamboyant Naga leader, Kiran Rijiju, has been entrusted to help Rajnath Singh in the ministry of home affairs, so is former army chief and anti-corruption crusader General VK Singh to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. As MoS external affairs minister, Singh will also be responsible for negotiations in defence purchases abroad. Faridabad MP and earlier minister of transport in Haryana, Krishan Pal Gujjar, has been entrusted to work under former BJP president Nitin Gadkari to take care of lucrative road, transport, highway and shipping ministry. Three-time BJP MP, GM Siddeshwara will assist the TDP MP and cabinet minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju in civil aviation. Another BJP leader and Modi confidante P. Radhakrishnan from Andhra Pradesh will work under Shiv Sena leader Ananth Geete in the ministry of heavy industries and public enterprises. Muzaffarnagar MP Sanjeev Kumar Balyab, an accused in the riots, is minister of state under two ministers — Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur in food processing and also under Bihar BJP man Radha Mohan Singh, the cabinet minister for agriculture. Similarly, a technocrat alumni of prestigious IIT has been entrusted the portfolio of railways under senior minister DV Sadananda Gowda. Both are from the BJP.

Experts believe that this is a unique arrangement for the Prime Minister to keep tabs on important ministries. Knowing fully well that perception is vital in influencing the public mood, the arrangement is also aimed at at preventing ministers falling into any trap that can later embarrass the entire government.

Within a week of taking charge at the Centre, the new government has already abolished ministerial groups, often cited as a reason for indecision and policy paralysis in the previous government's tenure. Since his joining, Modi has been following a rigorous schedule, starting his day at 6am and ending it past midnight. When a newspaper reported about his personal life being made part of a curriculum in some states, even before officials and ministers could have woken up, he tweeted at 7am expressing his displeasure at being made a role model for young minds.

These days, a normal day in the central secretariat starts at 8.30am. More so because, just a few days ago Modi reached his South Block office at 8.45am and found that many rooms were locked.

Bureaucrats, who usually go on vacation in the summers don't want to leave their chairs vacant for this reason. Speculation that the government is collecting data on officers frequenting golf courses and clubs has also raised hackles within the bureaucracy. "Even with all this fear, we have been asked to take decisions freely without any fear or favour," a senior official told dna on condition of anonymity.

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