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Modi’s command model
- Ministers lose say in appointments as PMO tries to regain primacy

New Delhi, June 19: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh will in tandem have the last word on key appointments in every ministry, according to a template announced today and described by a veteran bureaucrat as “Modiji’s unified command model”.

The reconstituted appointments committee does not include the minister concerned unlike the practice during the term of the UPA that had to keep allies in good humour.

The appointments committee fills the posts that run the day-to-day affairs of the country.

The posts include secretaries, additional secretaries, joint secretaries, the chiefs of the army staff, the navy and the air force, top officers in the central police organisations such as the CRPF and the Shastra Seva Bal, officers of the rank of major-general in the defence forces or its equivalent in the central police organisations.

The committee also appoints the RBI’s governor and deputy governors, the solicitor-general and additional solicitor-general and the Railway Board chairman.

The government today recast six cabinet panels, including those on economic affairs, parliamentary affairs, political affairs, security and accommodation.

A senior bureaucrat who has served from Rajiv Gandhi’s time said: “It is clear that Modiji has a unified command model before him.”

The official, who had also worked in an insurgency-prone northeastern state, said: “At the peak of armed rebellion, the army reported to the chief secretary who headed the command. Once things were under control, the arrangement was dismantled. I guess that things went so downhill for the past 10 years that Modiji has had to resort to such a template.”

The other reason for the broad-based decision-making lay in the coalition politics that prevailed for the past few decades. It was “not possible” to ignore the allies of the main party even while appointing junior-level officers. (The appointments committee also nominates private secretaries to ministers and officers on special duty)

“I remember that in 1984, such powers were concentrated in the hands of the PM (Rajiv Gandhi). The bureaucrats had virtually nothing to do with their ministers, they could oppose the ministers and get away because the PMO was weighty. Decisions such as these mark Modiji’s objective to restore the PMO’s primacy in letter and spirit.”

The appointments panel is also empowered to decide tenure extensions, post-retirement re-employment, lateral movement of officers on central deputation and inter-cadre transfers.

The practice that existed till now was enshrined by an executive order under the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961. The order stated that appointments of the scientific adviser to the defence minister; director-general, armed forces medical services; and director-general, ordnance factories, were related to the defence ministry. Likewise, the appointment of the RBI governor and deputy governors came under the finance ministry.

Henceforth, these ministers will not have a mandatory say in the selection and appointment of these officers.

As against the 10 cabinet committees the UPA had, Modi will work with six. The four remnants of the Manmohan Singh era Modi dispensed are the panels on prices, WTO matters, infrastructure and the issues related to the Unique Identification Authority of India.

Infrastructure has merged into the committee on economic affairs as was evident in the composition.

Apart from Modi, Rajnath, Arun Jaitley (finance and defence) and Sushma Swaraj (external affairs), the economic affairs panel has M. Venkaiah Naidu (urban development), Nitin Gadkari (road transport and highways, shipping and rural development), D.V. Sadananda Gowda (railways), Ravi Shankar Prasad (communications and information technology), Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati (civil aviation), Harsimrat Kaur Badal (food processing industries) and Radha Mohan Singh (agriculture).

That infrastructure would be a key component of economic affairs was manifest in the inclusion of the trio of Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Nirmala Sitharam as special invitees. They are ministers of state with independent charge of petroleum and natural gas, power and coal and commerce and industry. Pradhan, Goyal and Sitharaman are believed to be the principal executors of the “economic-recovery” agenda of the Prime Minister and Jaitley.

There were other pointers to the changing power dynamics within the BJP. The panel on parliamentary affairs has HRD minister Smriti Irani as a special invitee.

The cabinet committee on security features Modi, Rajnath, Sushma and Jaitley while that on political affairs had one representative each from the major NDA constituents Ram Vilasa Paswan, Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Akali Dal), Raju Pusapati (Telugu Desam Party) and Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) apart from six of the BJP.

The committee is mandated to deal with Centre-state relations, assess economic and political issues in a “wider perspective” and handle foreign policy subjects that do not impinge directly on internal or external security.


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