Over the years, the “transfer-posting industry” had spawned formidable lobbies in various sectors, including the media and private business. The thumb rule was that those overtly or tangentially marked as the preceding government’s favourites had to be banished. Come a new chief minister and his information secretariat issued a voluminous handout each day of transfers and postings, with vested interests making a killing when their recommendations were accepted.
“Our government’s in no hurry to remove officers who were close to the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party or both. There’s no bias. We will observe and give everyone an opportunity,” said Sunil Bansal, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s UP general secretary, counted among the dispensation’s go-to men.
Sulkhan Singh, the newly appointed director-general of police, told this newspaper: “The CM’s directive to us is, nobody should be transferred on the suspicion that the previous government might have protected him. Cases will be considered on merit.”
However, 135 IAS and provincial civil service officers were shuffled around after Adityanath took over; nine have been kept without work. “The choice was deliberate; such persons are not role models in any administration,” says a BJP official. That list has former CM Akhilesh Yadav’s movers and shakers, such as his principal secretary, Anita Singh, and Navneet Sehgal, seen as his handyman. The BJP has construed the “punishment” to the nine as a warning to the bureaucracy that recalcitrance and shifty loyalties will not be countenanced.
That the commandments to officialdom were issued by a BJP functionary and not a minister is a reflection of the Yogi government’s work style. Fashioned not so much by the saffron-robed CM as the BJP, functioning as a parallel and equally forceful apparatus.
Irrigation minister Dharampal Singh underlined the party’s place in the government’s scheme, saying, “Do district officers ever listen to farmers and other aggrieved sections? Never. That’s why we have asked a BJP functionary and a senior minister to spend two hours by turn at the party headquarters daily, to hear people.” Additionally, every minister has been tasked to mind one or more districts, and monitor the working of welfare schemes through local party representatives. And, if necessary, tick off defaulting officers, even on peril of breaching protocol.
Yogi’s nascent regime has tried to message that it meant business in capital letters in other ways, too. Dinesh Sharma, the deputy CM in charge of secondary and higher education, said on the day he took the oath of office, six million students wrote the 12th class exam and 10,000 were caught cheating. A former university professor, he says: “The offenders are chiefly private schools, run by bureaucrats and politicians through their proxies. The management committee members, in conjunction with the police, abet cheating to get good results. I video-conferenced with 20 district magistrates (DMs) and senior police superintendents, ordered them to install CCTVs in the exam centres and see that no management committee member was present within 200 metres. A couple of such members were arrested. From the fourth day of the exams, copying complaints ceased,” he claimed.
When a scam where petrol stations were found using electronic chips to short-change consumers was unearthed, the owners threatened to strike. Health minister and government spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh told this newspaper: “We were determined not to relent. A delegation met us a day before the threatened strike. We said, either go back and open your pumps or face arrest because the CM will invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act. They fell in line.”
However, Lucknow’s establishment has not picked up the “signals” in the way Yogi had intended. A senior bureaucrat’s take was, “If Akhilesh was a non-starter from the word go because his father had packed the CM’s office with his persons, Yogi’s hands are also tied by the PMO (prime minister’s office).” He claimed P K Mishra, additional principal secretary in the PMO had tapped officers hailing from UP in his parent Gujarat cadre, asking if they would want to be deputed to Lucknow.
That Yogi couldn’t have his way was evident when Avinish Awasthi did not become the chief secretary as he had hoped. As the DM of Gorakhpur, Awasthi had impressed the CM.
Yogi did the next best thing, appointing Awasthi principal secretary, vesting in him the mandate Sehgal had. “He wanted to convey that Awasthi, like Sehgal, is a power centre,” a bureaucrat said. Rahul Bhatnagar, a hangover from the Akhilesh era, continues as chief secretary.
After two months into his tenure as CM, Yogi on Friday (on May 19) finally got a principal secretary. Shashi Prakash Goyal, who was repatriated to UP from the Centre, has been appointed principal secretary to the CM. Goyal, an IAS topper of the 1989 batch, served as an understudy to Mayawati’s Cabinet secretary, Shashank Shekhar Singh, from 2007 to 2012. In all 74 transfers were carried out on Friday night, taking the number of reshuffles to 209.
To date, Yogi has not constituted his CMO, an exercise his predecessors accomplished within a week of taking over. Apparently, the Centre has shortlisted eight UP cadre officers, including Sanjay Bhoosreddy and Alok Tandon, to be sent “any day” to Lucknow and fill slots in the CMO.
As incumbents in the police and administration mill around the DGP’s headquarters and Lucknow’s Sachivalaya every day, wanting to know their next destination, a police officer says, “There’s tremendous confusion. When the Yogi government came in, all of us had packed our bags. Now, we are in a state of flux and if postings are inordinately delayed, there could be policy paralysis.”
A bureaucrat was a tad harsher and said, contrary to expectations, Yogi failed to “instil fear” down the administrative line. “This government’s ‘iqbal’ (integrity) was compromised the day a BJP MP (Saharanpur’s Raghav Lakhanpal) broke into the home of a senior police officer and threatened his family, the day a Gorakhpur MLA (Radha Mohan Das Aggrawal) publicly rebuked a young policewoman. When Mayawati was the CM, a minister, Jamuna Prasad Nishad, and his goons had attacked a police station in Maharajganj. Mayawati instantly sacked him and there was no such incident in the rest of her tenure. But, no action has been taken against the Saharanpur legislator and MP. The first political direction from the top has not been good,” he said.
A recent migrant to the BJP, who went on to become a cabinet minister under Yogi, concedes a “shaky, if not hostile” bureaucracy has impeded his functioning. “The bureaucracy is reluctant to share information with me. I never get the files I summon. I have had to set up my independent research apparatus to get on with my job,” the minister said.
Another government official says the nub of the politician-bureaucrat dialectic was the BJP’s return to power after 15 long years. “Nobody bothered to cultivate the RSS or the BJP. A generation of bureaucrats don’t know what they are about. Their committed officers have retired. So, the BJP is finding it hard to pick its people,” he says.
The whir in the secretariat is that rather than work on upper caste officials, the BJP is “looking closely” at Dalit bureaucrats to build a loyal following. Over the decades, the Dalits have emerged as a pillar in holding up UP’s officialdom. “With mentor Mayawati down and out, they are looking for a patron in the BJP,” a bureaucrat said.
As the BJP’s search for its faithful in the system begins, the line between politics and governance, always fuzzy in UP, might stay that way in the new order.
Challenges before the UP government
Crop loan waiver
At the first Cabinet meeting convened by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, he decided to waive off crop loans of Rs 1 lakh each for 860,000 farmers and write off bad loans of another 700,000. The cumulative cost to the state was put at Rs 36,359 crore — possibly more, says Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi. Adds Rajesh Agarwal, finance minister: “Much thought went into it. It was a pre-poll promise that had to be redeemed.” How will the government handle its fiscal situation after absorbing such a huge amount? “We will contain leakages and stop corruption,” said Singh. Deputy CM Dinesh Sharma’s response: “We hope to double productivity with neem-coated urea, crop insurance and higher rates for produce.” A bureaucrat close to the CM said “unnecessary expenses” would be curtailed.
Agriculture Minister Shahi said he was “dismayed” that under the earlier Samajwadi Party (SP) government, farmers’ incomes barely grew. Their purchase target, he said, was four million tonnes (mt) of wheat a year but only 1.2 mt was taken in 2016 (the annual output is 25-27 mt). The new government proposes buying eight mt this year, after having raised the purchase rate from Rs 1,200-1,300 a quintal to Rs 1,700-1,800 a quintal. Potatoes, another UP staple, sold for Rs 280-300 a quintal, got a leg-up when the government bought 100,000 tonnes at Rs 487 a quintal, pushing the market price to Rs 550 a quintal. “These are small measures but the cumulative effect will be significant,” says Shahi.
Adityanath’s slogan is to create a ‘Vibrant UP’ a la Gujarat and, therefore, although the BJP had rapped Akhilesh Yadav’s investment summits as “photo sessions”, this government plans to host one in October or November. Satish Mahana, industrial development minister, is fine-tuning a “new” policy. The promised highlights are no crony capitalism (that has allegedly run the sugar industry to the ground), a separate police to protect industrial estates and clusters, 24x7 power supply, time-bound clearances and streamlined procedures. Mahana says average investment was stuck at Rs 4,000 crore annually for the past 15 years, except in 2013 when sugar mills and state units were divested.
Once a money spinner, sand mining scares the government because it brought disrepute to the earlier BSP and SP administrations, for alleged patronising of criminal syndicates. Sand used to sell for Rs 2,000 a sq ft and is now Rs 20,000 a sq ft after the high court banned mining and sale. Although the HC cleared the Yogi government’s new policy, the government has not issued a notification so far. Truckers have refused to transport sand for fear of the police, the construction business is depressed and daily hands are out of a job.
Suresh Rana, the minister of state (independent charge) for cane development and sugar mills, sounds at ease with figures. He said 85 per cent of the payment arrears of mills to farmers have been cleared by the government. How did he coerce the private and cooperative mills? “Everyone listens to us, nobody dares say no.” He claims cane growers of western UP have promised to raise an additional 200,000 hectares this year on land that was used for growing fodder.