Pinched by Babus Joining Politics, UPA Government Says Cool it
By Cithara Paul - NEW DELHI
Published: 16th Feb 2014 09:47:42 AM
Feeling the heat of “popular’’ and “top gun” bureaucrats joining or being wooed by opposition parties—mainly the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—the government is dusting off the once rejected idea of imposing compulsory “cooling-off” period for bureaucrats joining politics.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is learnt to have given go-ahead to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) earlier this week to seek the possibility of such a ban with relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Law & Justice. Significantly, this move has come at a time when PMO had in January opposed the DoPT proposal to increase the cooling-off period for retiring bureaucrats for joining corporate houses from the existing one year to two years.
“The views of Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG), the cadre controlling authority for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS); MHA which controls the Indian Police Service (IPS); and Ministry of External Affairs would be crucial in this regard,’’ said a source. The government has also taken up the matter with the Attorney General and the Election Commission once again.
What has apparently prompted the government for this “knee-jerk reaction” is the looming possibility of a good number of “popular” IAS officers joining various political parties. And it goes without saying that BJP and AAP are the major attractions for the bureaucrats.
AAP is looking for “crusader” IAS faces like Ashok Khemka who exposed the alleged land scam involving Robert Vadra, Durga Shakti Nagpal who battled against the sand mafia and was suspended by the Uttar Pradesh government and former CAG Vinod Rai who exposed the of 2G spectrum scam. It is also trying to bring on board former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi and former MEA Secretary K C Singh. However, most of them have expressed their disinclination.
Even former health secretary and grandson of former President Dr S Radhakrishnan, Keshav Desiraju, who was unceremoniously shunted out following differences with Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad over “ethical issues”, and Urban Development Secretary Sudhir Krishna who has filed a complaint against Finance Minister P Chidambaram for humiliating him in a meeting are being rumoured to have been approached by AAP. It is another matter that none of the above has made any public commitments so far.
However, a core committee member of AAP said that “a large number” of officials who are fed up with the corruption in the system and are known faces in states will be joining the party soon. “These popular officials would be the face of AAP in states,’’ he said, adding that Arvind Kejriwal’s bureaucratic background is an “added advantage” when it comes to winning over exasperated officials. On the other hand, BJP already has its hands full with a number of top-notch civil servants joining the party, including former home secretary R K Singh and former permanent representative to UN, Hardeep Puri. Other senior officers who have already joined it include former petroleum secretary R S Pande, former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh, former additional chief secretary of West Bengal Radha Kanta Tripathy, former CBI joint director Sujit Ghosh and West Bengal state chief electoral officer S K Magan. It is learnt that former IAS officer Alphons Kannanthanam who is now in the inner circle of BJP is acting as the connecting link between the party and the officials.
All these developments are apparently pinching the government, and it would like to have a “cooling-off period” for officials who include those from the IAS, IPS and other Class ‘A’ services—between leaving the government job and joining a political party.
“If the government finally decides to go ahead with the cooling-off period, then it may go for an amendment in the service rules—All India Service (Death-Cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958—rather than going for a change in Election Rules,” the source said. But there seems to be difference of opinion within the Government with senior ministers like A K Antony and Sharad Pawar opposing this. Their opposition, it is learnt, is not about the matter of the proposal but the timing as election is just around the corner. “They also feel that the fact that PMO has last month rejected a similar plea to increase the cooling-off period for babus taking up corporate jobs immediately after their retirement would be read along with this and that would do no good for the party,’’ said the source.