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Babu, Modi is your go-to guy if minister differs

New Delhi, June 4: Narendra Modi’s first meeting with central government secretaries has set off a buzz. Whether his “CEO” template of functioning would shake the establishment out of the semi-stupor that officials admitted had settled over them during the UPA’s second term.

An official release said the Prime Minister told the officials he would “always be ready to give an account of the work done by him”.

“The senior bureaucrats echoed this sentiment and welcomed a similar standard of accountability,” it said.

Modi met around 50 secretaries at his Race Course Road residence for two-and-a-half hours. From the driblets of information seeping through, it is learnt that the Prime Minister’s message was that in case of a “conflict” between the top bureaucrat of a ministry and the minister the official reported to, the matter should be brought to Modi’s notice immediately for a “resolution”.

He reportedly stressed that trouble should not be allowed to tip over into the public domain or hamper a ministry’s working. “It shows he is ready to fix accountability on himself and not pass the buck down the line,” a source said.

The official release claimed that a meeting like this has taken place after eight years. Those associated with Manmohan Singh recalled that the former Prime Minister met officials just once “informally” over tea and snacks on the lawns of his residence unlike Modi’s “corporate-like” drill.

Among the takeaways from Modi’s interaction were:

Simplify and streamline administrative rules and procedures to make them “people-friendly”;

He encouraged officials to take decisions, with the assurance that he would stand by them;

In the process of governance, ideas should be converted into institutions because “institutions last longer than individuals”;

Clean up offices and improve the workplace for a better work culture; and

Information technology for better convergence among departments, collective action and faster results.

Bureaucrats who have done long stints outside Delhi said such meetings were quite common in state capitals to “ease” the “pace” of decision-making.

An official who has worked in Gujarat said Modi, as chief minister, was perhaps “impatient” with the presence of too many procedures that tied up bureaucrats. “So he began to meet the official concerned directly, often in the absence of the departmental minister. In the beginning, it seemed as though the chief minister had assumed over-arching powers, as if his cabinet didn’t matter. But later we began to appreciate the rationale of his methodology because decisions were taken fast, implemented swiftly and delivered the desired results more often than not.”

Indeed, the official statement said Modi would be “accessible to all the officers” and added that he encouraged them to approach him with their inputs and ideas. It said the Prime Minister “empathised” with the officials when they said they were not being able to “realise their true potential because of circumstances”.

Another official, who has done stints in Uttar Pradesh, said the “long-drawn” process of decision-making through a whole hierarchy from the chief minister downwards “ended up confusing everyone”.

“Is it not a done thing in corporate offices for the CEO to email his employees at all levels every once in a while so that the same message reached everyone without distortions and multiple interpretations?”

There was another reason why Delhi’s babus thought Modi’s idea was “bright”.

“Under the UPA, our morale was broken because the executive had lost its primacy. The Prime Minister is trying to restore that because the executive is elected to deliver on its election manifesto and cannot have the judiciary, civil society, etc., dictating to it. These elements had breathed down the UPA’s neck because the Prime Minister’s hands were seemingly tied. Therefore, there is merit in what he did today,” a source said.