Babu juggling Modi wants jab record, Didi flops in Mumbai

The authorities are also scratching their heads trying to figure the sudden fall in the vaccination pace.

Published: 05th December 2021 07:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th December 2021 07:36 AM   |  A+A-

TMC chief and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee

TMC chief and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (Photo | PTI)

Kill Third Wave For BJP Wave in Polls
Monster Omicron is stalking the corridors of power. From PMO to CMOs, the ivory tower cabins of senior civil servants, medical experts, law enforcement and hospital administrators, it is spreading panic faster than you can yell ‘Covaxin!’ Until now, they were celebrating the near death of Covid-19 in India since new cases are down to less than one per cent with over 98 per cent recovery. Elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa are in March next year, among which BJP holds power in three. Even a micro misstep in Omicron handling could be politically fatal.

The authorities are also scratching their heads trying to figure the sudden fall in the vaccination pace. By December, 100 per cent of Indian adults were to have their shot. So far, only 75 per cent of ‘Jab We Met Target’ can be claimed, of which just 33 per cent is fully vaccinated. The situation looked rosy for India which set a daily record of touching 2.25 crore jabs on September 17, Narendra Modi’s birthday. Now the daily average has slid to about 80 lakh jabs. To cover the entire population, it would take over 1.25 crore shots a day. The BJP is betting on the well-tested slogan, “Modi hai to Mumkin hai” to get voted back as the Virusasura Slayer. Health Ministry apparatchiks are Power Pointing their way to set another single-day vaccination record. 3.75 crore doses are given on daily basis worldwide, including in India. Modi could soon fix a target of 2.75 crore jabs over just four days in December.

Officials have started working backwards. Instructions would soon go out to members of both private and public institutions like school teachers, revenue officials and PSU staff to pressure their friends and relatives to get inoculated and make home visits to remote areas. Soon, private or government employees may not get entry at office unless they are vaccinated. As stocks of unused vaccines pile up, No Vaccine, No Work and NO Subsidy will be the new norm. Modi’s record breaking work ethic is going viral, and inept officialdom is diving for cover.

Unending Saga of Unending Extensions and Appointments
Evolution by revolution through devolution is the coding for Modi’s India, if you consider Minimum Government and Maximum Governance. His promise for responsive government was interpreted as downsizing administration to ensure movement of files is restricted to fewer tables. However, during the past seven years, the girth of the bloated bureaucracy has expanded more with an uptick in senior-level positions. Extension and retention of about-to-retire civil servants is the new trick in the rulebook. Like many Union Ministers holding multiple portfolios, babus too are loaded with additional departments. Last week, Mines Secretary Alok Tandon was given additional charge as secretary of Petroleum & Natural Gas till further orders. Why a better replacement could not be found for Tarun Kapoor, who retired on November 30, is anyone’s guess.

It was an evening of surprises that day. After Tandon’s additional responsibility, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar got back the Department of Defence Production because the Centre in its sudden and inexplicable wisdom prematurely repatriated the incumbent secretary Raj Kumar (1987 batch IAS) to his home state, Gujarat. About half a dozen secretary-level officers are likely to hang up their boots by January end and the selection process of replacements is nowhere in sight. Government insiders hint at a longer delay, since it takes two to tango — both PM Modi and Home Minister Shah, who are the only members of the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet, will be on electioneering overdrive.

Hola. Lucky and trusted, tested and connected babus could get extensions or be given additional charges. The grapevine mutters about an acute shortage of IAS officers at the Centre since many states aren’t willing to send their officers on central deputation. With the civil services being highly polarised, even the most deserving officials are awaiting their turn in Delhi hoping to make it to Cabinet Secretary or at least Secretary one day. Until last year, only half of the 1,150-odd posts meant for central deputation from the states were filled. If the trend continues, India will indeed have minimised government by accident, and not by design.

Puri Gets an Evergreen Watcher
While numerous serving and retied babus are knocking at sundry doors to grab a part-time assignment or a job which ensures a bungalow and office with perks, there are always some who infiltrate the system through invisible doors. Early last month, the government promulgated a special ordinance to give yet another extension to Sanjay Mishra, Director of the dreaded, omniscient and omnipotent Enforcement Directorate. Recently, various agency chiefs were given extensions. But Ratan Watal falls in a category of his own. A former private secretary to Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, he has always landed influential postings throughout his career. The discreet Watal is perhaps the only IAS officer without a Wikipedia profile. He lives in a Type VII bungalow in New Moti Bagh.

During the UPA regime, he was inducted in the Finance Ministry from where he retired as finance secretary in 2016, a few months before demonetisation. He was perhaps the only finance secretary who was given additional charge of Home Ministry when the incumbent went on temporary leave. Watal was also given the special assignment of handling J&K development projects. Soon after retirement, he became a member-secretary of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. A former student of economics, Watal’s extraordinary contribution hasn’t been recorded on any of the websites except that he was the Chairman of the Committee on Digital Payments.

Though he was dropped from the EAC-PM when it was reconstituted in October, Watal was back again in a few weeks with a bigger mandate — heading the five-member Central Vista Oversight Committee for the next two years. It was under Union urban development minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s purview so far. As Puri is busy indulging in energy diplomacy abroad as petroleum minister and domestic politics as state election in charge, Modi chose Watal, previously junior to him in official hierarchy, to assist the mandarin-turned-mantri. The government has till now spent only Rs 1,800 crore of the total Rs 18,000 crore likely to be incurred during the next three years. Watal will not only do a proper screening of tenders but also ensure their completion on time so that Modi can move into his fancy new home before the elections are called in 2024. However, Watal’s furious plea for the demolition of a temple near his residence is being royally ignored by the government. Ironically, God has also flourished alongside Watal in the locality.  

PS: Early last week, Mamata Banerjee landed in Mumbai to connect with glitterati, literati and political chatteratti. As part of her mission to acquire national status, she met the usual suspects Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena scion Aaditya Thackeray and some known and unknown social influencers. But her maiden visit didn’t set the megapolis of the rich and famous on fire; most of them either ignored her or weren’t bothered to sit up. She couldn’t meet Uddhav Thackeray either, who was recuperating in a hospital — not even a ‘get well soon’ visit happened. Normally, Didi’s state visits are preceded by a phalanx of Congressmen and some paper tigers joining TMC. Nothing like that happened in Mumbai. After she flew out of Mumbai, a Congress leader quipped: “Mamata came, she met and mingled but failed to conquer.” She did visit the famous Siddhivinayak Temple though. Is the Lord of Removing Obstacles listening? 

Prabhu Chawla

Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla


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