The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bureaucrats in spot over Uma invite

Bhopal, Oct. 4: To go or not to go is the question. Hundreds of IAS and IPS officers in Madhya Pradesh face a litmus test on a Monday dinner invitation extended by the BJP chief ministerial aspirant, Uma Bharti.

With Assembly polls round the corner, the dinner has placed many bureaucrats in the spot fearing that their decision to break bread with the sadhvi in saffron would not go down well with the current leadership. On the other hand, a no-show could annoy Bharti.

It is well known that the Madhya Pradesh bureaucracy is sharply divided on political lines. Ten years of uninterrupted rule of Digvijay Singh has seen the emergence of a powerful lobby of IAS and IPS officers who are viewed as loyal to the chief minister.

Post-retirement, some of them went on to join the Congress. As if matching political affiliations, some who did not get along with the establishment, left the bureaucracy recently to join the opposite camp — the BJP.

Bharti’s dinner has been ostensibly called to “celebrate the festival of victory of truth and piousness with bureaucrats” on the occasion of Dusshera.

But her choice of a politically loaded remark in the invitation has given a spin forcing many “neutral” bureaucrats to have a rethink.

The invitation said that in the time to come, “your administrative and my political responsibilities are going to increase”. Some bureaucrats view it as Bharti’s way of subtly reminding them that she would become their political master, an interpretation that has been stoutly denied by Bharti’s camp.

A close associate of Bharti said state chief secretary A.V. Singh and director-general of police (DGP) Dinesh Jugran were sounded before the invitation was extended.

He said many bureaucrats had privately expressed desire to call on Bharti but they were scared of getting “identified” by the state intelligence.

Thus, the idea of dinner was born for an informal interaction with the BJP’s chief ministerial nominee.

“The idea was also to reach out to the bureaucracy. As Assembly polls are round the corner we want to just check it out if the BJP cadres are not posing any problem to bureaucrats,” a Bharti supporter said, clarifying that there is no politics or trial of strength.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh has also made it clear that he has nothing against those attending the dinner.

But many bureaucrats are not taking this statement at face value fearing their participation would be viewed as a sign of their political affiliation.

The state IAS and IPS officers associations are sitting tight making it clear it was up to the individual officers to decide on attending the dinner.

Some fence sitters have hit upon a novel method of touring outside Bhopal on Monday.

They plan to send a polite note to “Umaji” thanking her for the invitation and “profoundly regretting their inability to attend dinner” due to “preoccupation and professional commitments”.

Some said they were not eager on dinner as it would mainly consist of “unappetising vegetables and bland dal-chawal.”

Whatever be the case, the number game has become crucial for the Monday meal.

A good turnout could signal Bharti’s likely entry to Vallabh Bhawan (state secretariat) as bureaucrats are said to be excellent weathercocks.

A poor attendance could mean Bharti was on a slippery wicket or Digvijay’s iron grip over bureaucracy.

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