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Appointments: September 2014

1. The Patterns in the New Government's Choice of Legal and Administrative Officials

North Block New Delhi

The BJP's promise of a more efficient, effective administration was one of its key selling points in the 2014 general elections. Since then there has been a lot of media coverage of cleaning of offices, officers reaching work on time, and claims of close supervision of Ministers' clothing and meetings.

But the key administrative interventions of the new government have not been on these issues, but - as with any new government - in the appointment of staff, officials and key personnel. This too has been covered, but not comprehensively.

In this thematic briefing, the India Study Group attempts a mapping of key appointments and power centres in the new government. What we found has disturbing implications for the future functioning of the administration.

 

Among the crucial appointments in any government are the legal officers - those who represent the government in courts. These include the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, the Additional Solicitors General and the standing counsels. These lawyers are important as their advice is taken as the final interpretation of the law within the government, and they are also treated with considerable respect by the courts.

The population of the Senior Advocates in the Supreme Court is generally representative of all states and regions of India. However, very few of these senior counsels moved to Delhi of their own without a government post. Most of them moved with a post as a Law Officer, and after a stint or two as a law officer, stayed on in Delhi in private practice. Over the years such appointments have brought some of India’s biggest lawyers to the Supreme Court from their home High Courts. K.K.Venugopal, K Parasaran, Fali S Nariman, Soli J Sorabjee, and N. Santosh Hegde all moved to Delhi and set up their practices here through this route. Government posts also bring other attendant benefits, such as assured payment of very high fees, elite housing, provision of cars and so on.

Legal officers usually change upon a change of government. These have always been political appointments and made by the government of the day, but yet they are usually from all over the country as different power centres within the party and the wishes of different regional leaders of the parties are obviously accommodated. For example, in 1996 (when P.V Narasimha Rao was in power) Milon Banerjee was the Attorney General and he was from Allahabad, and his Solicitor General was Dipankar Gupta from Calcutta. The first Additional Solicitor General was V.R. Reddy from Hyderabad, the next Solicitor General was K.T.S.Tulsi from Chandigarh, and the next additional Solicitor General was A.N.Jayaram from Bangalore. Even during V.P.Singh’s tenure, when the government was formed with the support of both the BJP and the Left, Soli Sorabjee (from Mumbai) was the Attorney General, Ashok Desai (also from Mumbai) was the Solicitor General, and N Santosh Hegde (Bengaluru), Arun Jaitley (Delhi), Kapil Sibal (Chandigarh / Delhi) and Prashanth Goswami (Guwahati) were Additional Solicitor Generals. The BJP in 1999 brought in Kirit N.Raval from Gujarat as Additional Solicitor General, and R.N.Trivedi (Lucknow) and L.Nageshwara Rao (who originally hailed from Andhra Pradesh) as Additional Solicitor Generals. This reflected the fact that different leaders even from within the BJP, who came from different parts of India, had a say in appointments to these posts.

There is, however, something very different with the present government's law officers. With the exception of three Additional Solicitor Generals, namely L Nageswara Rao (who was their choice in their earlier stint as well), P.S Narasimha and P. S. Patwalia, the remainder, that is Mukul Rohatgi (Attorney General), Ranjit Kumar (Solicitor General), Maninder Singh (Additional Solicitor General) Neeraj Kishan Kaul (Additional Solicitor General) and Pinky Anand (Additional Solicitor General) are all from Delhi and are extremely close to Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley. Mr. Mukul Rohtagi is his closest friend and one of India’s most successful lawyers. Mr. Ranjit Kumar is his next door neighbour, friend and walking buddy. Mr. Maninder Singh has been Mr. Jaitley’s chamber junior since at least 1992, and has fought hundreds of cases with Mr. Jaitley leading him as a Senior over the last two decades, until Mr. Maninder Singh himself became a Senior Counsel. Mr. Neeraj Kaul is also very close to Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Jaitley’s son worked in his chambers after graduating from law school. The Times of India carried a photograph of Jaitley, Rohtagi and Kumar having tea in Lodi Garden after their morning walk. The other lone appointment which stands out is Mr. Tushar Mehta who was the former Additional Advocate General of Gujarat during Mr. Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and who fought all the important cases on behalf of the State of Gujarat as the Additional Advocate General. He also instructed Mr. Ranjit Kumar and Mr Mukul Rohatgi on behalf of the state (then in their avatars as Senior Advocates in private practice) in the Supreme Court. The cases he handled included encounter killings that the State’s officers were accused of carrying out. He was the Gujarat Government's legal trouble shooter, and his appointment to a post like this was a foregone conclusion once this government came to power.

In short, it clearly appears that most of the appointments of law officers were made based on the views of Mr. Jaitley and the Prime Minister, and have no connection with the law minister’s office. This is unusual and indicates a degree of centralisation of power that is unprecedented.

1.2. The Office of the Prime Minister

This has received considerable media coverage. The backgrounds of some of the key officials are as follows:

  • Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor: Part of the Vivekananda International Foundation since retiring from government service.
  • Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary: Served as principal secretary to Mr. Modi in Gujarat from 2001-2004. In an unprecedented move, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act - which barred former chairpersons of the TRAI from being given other posts, in order to prevent them from being influenced - was amended by an ordinance to allow Mr Mishra's appointment.
  • PK Mishra, Additional Principal Secretary: A former IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre.
  • AK Sharma, Joint Secretary: Also of the Gujarat cadre, and had been in charge of the Vibrant Gujarat summits.
  • Jagdish Thakker, Public Relations Officer: Served in the same position to Mr. Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, as well as to previous Chief Ministers. Appointed despite being over 70 and retiring a decade ago.
  • Hiren Joshi: Handling Modi's social media presence from 2008.

Ajit Doval, Nripendra Misra and PK Mishra are all associated with the Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation, which in turn is afflilated to the RSS-created Vivekanand Kendra.

1.3. Constitutional and Statutory Bodies

Appointments that require the presence of the Leader of the Opposition (in order to make the selection balanced) are now reportedly going to be made without the LoP. These include the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the chair of the National Human Rights Commission, and the anti-corruption Lokpal (ombudsperson).

1.4. Inside the Ministries

Additional Prinicpal Secretaries (APS): A number of individuals from the corporate sector or from outside the bureaucracy have been appointed as additional principal secretaries in the ministries. For instance, the ministry of finance has an APS who served in the BJP's election campaign. Similarly the Human Resources and Development (HRD) ministry has an APS who was earlier based at Stanford university and was considered close to Hindutva circles.

Low level personnel: These are mostly appointed by contract and are not covered by government rules that bar members of the RSS and other political organisations from appointment. It is reported by sources within the government and the BJP that, in seven Ministries (including the Ministry of Human Resources Development), close to 400 people with affiliations with the RSS and its affiliates are the informal suppliers of such lower level non permanent tenure staff. The parallel purpose of the low level staff is to keep a ground level check on the Ministry’s inner functioning and goings on and who is saying what, which file is moving, who the minister is seeing outside the ministry and reporting this to their parent organisations.

1.5. Governors

Perhaps the best known controversy around the new government has been around the attempts to force earlier Governors to resign. Several of them did so, and have now been replaced by people close to the Sangh Parivar. These include Balramji Das Tandon, one of the founder members of the Jan Sangh (an earlier avatar of the BJP), and Kalyan Singh, who was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh at the time of the Babri Masjid demolition.

1.6. Educational and Cultural Bodies

Recent appointments to educational bodies have also been disturbing. These include the appointment of Y. Sudarshan Rao and Dina Nath Batra, both referred to in our general briefing.

1.7. Public Relations Bodies

The rules were once again changed in order to allow for the transfer of Neelam Kapur, Principal Director General of the Press Information Bureau, to the directorate of field publicity. The additional director general of Doordarshan, India's public broadcaster, has been put on "compulsory wait", while the head of All India Radio was given charge of Doordarshan.

1.8. Removal of Police Investigating Cases Against Prime Minister and BJP President, Bailing Out of Gujarat Officials Accused of  Killings

The police officers who investigated the high profile Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Sheikh cases - in both of which the investigations concluded that the killings were fake murders staged by the police for public relations purposes - have been moved out of their posts. Both have been moved to remote locations far from Gujarat, one to Jharkhand and the other to Meghalaya. Both have also been removed from police duties and instead made "vigilance officers" at government companies.

Meanwhile, two major leaders who were under arrest for killings and massacres were granted bail:

GP Singhal, an IPS officer accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake killing case, was reinstated by the Gujarat government on May 28th.

Meanwhile, Indian Administrative Service officer Pradeep Sharma, who had earlier revealed a set of tape recordings that allegedly implied Narendra Modi (then Chief Minister of Gujarat) was using the state surveillance machinery to follow a woman, was arrested in a 2004 corruption case on September 30th.

Central Secretariat

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