There is a deafening silence on Raisina Hill, where babus in South Block and North Block are going about their work at a snail’s pace anticipating a change of guard at the Centre after May 16, when the Lok Sabha election results will be out.
As the Lok Sabha polls are underway and all the top ministers are out campaigning in their states and constituencies, not much official work has been going on in South Block and North Block which house the top six ministries.
Except for usually internal communications and files pertaining to the vote-on-account passed by the 15th Lok Sabha in February are doing the rounds of the central secretariat’s corridors, according to bureaucrats.
“The ministries are preparing for a change in the government and are busy preparing the briefings for the new ministers, who may get sworn in after the May 16 results,” a senior bureaucrat said.
Congress leader A K Antony has already made up his mind that his tenure as the longest-serving Defence Minister will be over in May after a new government is voted in. In preparation for the end to his seven-year tenure, he has left all work at his office on the first floor of South Block pending.
As he was busy campaigning for party candidates in Kerala, no file that required his approval has moved an inch, according to senior officers in the Ministry of Defence.
Even the file on the appointment of the next Navy chief, in place of Admiral D K Joshi who quit on February 26 after a series of warship accidents, had been pending due to the government machinery grinding to a standstill, as the key ministers, who are part of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, are out of town and busy in election work.
The Centre appointed Admiral Rabindra Kumar Dhowan as the next Navy chief, 50 days after Joshi had resigned. The ministry file for naming Dhowan the Navy chief had gone to the Prime Minister’s Office in the second week of March, but took about a month to return to the ministry for a formal announcement.
The appointment of several Army’s Majors General and Lieutenants General too is pending now. Similar promotions and appointments are also pending in the Air Force and Navy in equivalent ranks. One such important appointment is that of the Deputy Chief of Air Staff. The officer tipped to be appointed to the post is waiting for clearance, despite his promotion to the rank of an Air Marshal being okayed. The flip side is that such waiting officers may miss out on seniority if their appointment gets further delayed.
“Though the ministry’s recommendations on who should be appointed the next Navy chief went to the PMO a month ago, the file is pending approval, as the ministers are part of the ACC -- Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Antony -- are away campaigning. The Defence Minister has just returned to Delhi from poll campaigning,” another bureaucrat said.
While South Block houses the Prime Minister’s Office, External Affairs Ministry and the Defence Ministry, North Block has the Ministry of Finance, Home Ministry and the Ministry of Personnel.
In the Ministry of Defence, only the work related to military operations is going on unhindered. The Indian Air Force had its commanders conference last week, while the Army is preparing to hold its commanders conference -- both are biannual events -- for five days beginning April 21.
Similarly, in North Block, the home ministry officials are waiting for the Home Minister to return after polls in his Solapur constituency are over on Thursday.
And Finance Minister P Chidambaram is busy campaigning in Tamil Nadu, particularly in his Sivaganga constituency, where his son Karti Chidambaram is contesting this time.