Prime minister Narendra Modi is a man of innovative ideas, as his decisions bear out. His three-hour-long meeting with all the secretaries to the government of India on Wednesday was aimed at ushering in a responsive and interactive bureaucracy. The last time such a meeting was held was about eight years ago. The meeting would have helped him to establish a rapport with the secretaries, who have been invited to approach him directly over email if they had any difficulties in the discharge of their duties. It is significant that he met them independently of the ministers to whom they would be reporting in the normal course. His idea is to establish a new line of communication with the bureaucracy.
The meeting should be seen as a warning to his ministerial colleagues that they should not treat their portfolios as their fiefdom and the secretaries as their vassals. Under the UPA government, the cabinet ministers had become all-powerful with none of them ready to consult the prime minister, let alone seek his guidance. As a result, there were many scams for which Manmohan Singh received a bad name, though he was personally incorruptible. Modi does not want a repeat of the past, as he wants to keep tabs on everything under his care, which is what the nation expects from a responsible prime minister.
With Wednesday’s meeting, Modi has also been able to address a major concern of the bureaucracy. The secretaries are afraid of sticking to rules and principles, as they are often forced to toe the line of their ministers. They also know that the government would not defend them if they land in trouble. In such a scenario, it is the unscrupulous among them who thrive by cultivating their political bosses. The honest officials are in most cases forced to sulk on the sidelines of the bureaucracy. The prime minister has given them a carte blanche to stick to the rules of governance and not bother about consequences. It is now the turn of the bureaucrats to deliver.