Home / Politics / Policy /  Cabinet reshuffle sees four former bureaucrats added to Team Modi

New Delhi: Sunday was a good day to be a former bureaucrat. Two former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers, a former diplomat and a former top cop were among nine people who were inducted in the cabinet reshuffle.

Making it as ministers were two men from the IAS—K.J. Alphons, dubbed the ‘Demolition Man’ during his stint as commissioner, Delhi Development Authority, in the 1990s, and former home secretary Raj Kumar Singh.

The Indian Foreign Service was represented by Hardeep Singh Puri, former Indian permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. And for the Indian Police Force, it was ex-Mumbai police commissioner Satya Pal Singh.

Bureaucrats joining politics and going onto serve as minister, either after resigning from the services or retirement, is not a new trend in Indian politics. From Yashwant Sinha to Meira Kumar, Pawan Verma to Ajit Jogi, there are many examples. Even in Modi’s government two former army officers, general V.K. Singh and colonel Rajyavardhan Rathore hold ministerial berths.

Service conduct rules forbid civil servants from joining a private company for at least a year after their government service is complete but there are no guidelines laid down for a career in politics. The Election Commission has been asking for some sort of a cooling-off period between an individual retiring from the bureaucracy and joining a political party.

It was an issue that came up a few times before the 2014 general elections but the law ministry under the United Progressive Alliance felt such a step may not be feasible. Two of the inductees in this cabinet, Raj Kumar Singh and Satya Pal Singh contested the elections in 2014 and won from their respective constituencies.

Raj Kumar, who retired in 2013 as home secretary, represents Arrah in Bihar. Satya Pal took voluntary retirement from the police force while serving as Mumbai police commissioner in 2014 to join the BJP and represents Baghpat in UP.

Individually, each of the four men has had an exemplary career, rising to the top of their chosen career. But does success in bureaucracy and government office automatically vest a candidate to be a good politician and minister?

“It is the prime minister’s prerogative to select. These are people who know and understand administration and they should be an asset. I see it as a positive development," says former bureaucrat N.C. Saxena, who served as a member of Planning Commission. He sees the Election Commission’s point of view of insisting on a cooling off period since it is already there for private business concerns. “Fears are always there, that you will help businesses you may be inclined towards etc. Maybe a similar rule can be considered for politics also but the development today is a good one," he said.

Asked about their decision to enter politics at the time they did, all four men had said it was out of a desire to serve the country better. And while that can be a noble enough intention, their inclusion also points to another trend—how governance has been evolving in India under the National Democratic Alliance. “The appointment of individuals should be responsible and accountable to the democratic process. What is of more interest in this cabinet reshuffle is that the government is becoming more and more like an executive that carries out the orders of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). The structure is becoming more like a pyramid where power and orders flow from the top and are carried out by middle management executives. This will have negative consequences," says P.K. Datta, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The jury is out on if the four freshmen of politics will do as well in their new assignments as they did as civil servants.

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