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Pulok Chatterjee: Bureaucrat in the eye of the storm

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 - 6:09am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Bureaucrats are supposed to be faceless, anonymous.

Pulok Chatterjee might not have bargained for the arc lights that turned on him because of Sanjaya Baru, a former colleague in the PMO, who said in his book Chatterjee was a sort of 10 Janpath mole at 7 Race Course Road and in South Block.

Those who know Chatterjee say he is an officer and a gentleman and he is not the brusque and arrogant bureaucrat who used his key position to either throw his weight around or do mishcief of any kind on behalf of his benefactors.

Benefactors he had, and it was no less than Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. He was the district magistrate at Sultanpur during the 1984 Lok Sabha elections and it was from this time that Rajiv Gandhi noticed him, and he became close to the family.

In the last 20 years, Chatterjee has served as director of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation for six years, and as secretary to Sonia Gandhi between 1998 and 2004 when she was leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. And between 2004 and 2009, as a trusted aide of Sonia Gandhi in the PMO and then again from 2010 onwards. So, much of his official career was spent in the Nehru-Gandhi orbit.

According to a senior bureaucrat, who too is very close to the Gandhis, Chatterjee was a mere messenger between the PMO and the Congress president, and he did not ever misuse his position. It was true that Chatterjee would brief Gandhi on many of the issues but there's nothing wrong about it, the retired senior officer said.

It is being claimed that when Singh asked Chatterjee to return to the PMO at the end of his stint with the World Bank, then principal secretary TK Nair did not issue the orders.

Then BVR Subramaniam, another former member of the PMO, asked Baru to intervene and he did. The orders were issued this time, but the post was not specified. Chatterjee refused to join unless he was named principal secretary. It is said that this is for the first time that two administrative orders were issued for the same post.

Also, Chatterjee delayed his return after getting the orders. He gave the lame pretext that he wanted to see the finance minister's visit through before returning. The real reason was that it was during this period that Sonia Gandhi underwent surgery in New York.

Baru saw it as a hostile act: "Pulok, who was inducted into the Manmohan Singh PMO at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, had regular, almost daily, meetings with Sonia at which he was said to brief her on the key policy issues of the day and seek her instructions on important files to be cleared by the PM. Indeed, Pulok was the single most important point of regular contact between the PM and Sonia. He was also the PMO's main point of contact with the National Advisory Council (NAC), a high-profile advisory body chaired by Sonia Gandhi,with social activists as members. It was sometimes dubbed the Shadow Cabinet."

Baru took a dig at Chatterjee's gentlemanly Leftist leanings: "During my time in the PMO, the only occasion on which I found him keen on accompanying the PM was when Dr Singh went to Cuba. With Leftist leanings, Pulok was never too enthusiastic about Dr Singh's focus on improving relations with the US."

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