The importance of being Pulok Chatterjee

The man slated to become the Union cabinet secretary draws his powers straight from 10 Janpath


Ajay Singh | July 23, 2010

Pulok Chattejee
Pulok Chattejee

“Show me the face, I will show you the rule.” This popular bureaucratic adage proved to be prescient for a 1974 UP cadre IAS officer Pulok Chatterjee who is tipped to be the next cabinet secretary. Decks are virtually cleared for Chatterjee to get an unhindered four-year term as the Union cabinet secretary when the present incumbent retires next year.

Chatterjee’s appointment to the top bureaucratic post is a foregone conclusion simply because he is seen as close to 10 Janpath. Believed to be a soft-spoken and unassuming officer in Uttar Pradesh, he had left UP to join the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) in the early 1990s.

That was a time when Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was not kindly disposed towards Sonia Gandhi who was maintaining a low-profile. Chatterjee stood by her in her capacity as head of the RGF. In 1995, Sonia Gandhi addressed her first rally in Amethi on a non-political pretext by using RGF as the front. However, the rally assumed political significance when she launched a veiled attack on the Rao government for ignoring the “ideals of Rajiv Gandhi”. This was in the post-Babri mosque demolition phase and Rao was gradually losing support.

Chatterjee was believed to be the brains behind the Amethi show. Though in background, his shadow loomed large on much of the strategic moves from 10 Janpath. Sonia Gandhi retained him as her secretary when she was the leader of Opposition during the NDA regime. He was later drafted in the PMO as secretary when Manmohan Singh took over as the PM. Subsequently he was sent on the most sought-after bureaucratic assignment as executive director of the World Bank.

In fact, Chatterjee’s rise in his career was directly linked to the fall and rise of the Nehru-Gandhi family. His was a classic case of a “committed bureaucrat” being rewarded by political masters after throwing all norms to the wind. The manner in which his path was cleared by the political executive is unparalleled in more ways than one. The present incumbent KM Chandrashekhar was given two successive extensions to block the possibility of new claimants for the cabinet secretary’s post.

Chandrashekhar’s term is set to come to an end in June 2011 which will significantly coincide with return of Chatterjee from his World Bank posting abroad. If everything goes as per plan, Chatterjee will get full four years as mandated by the new cabinet decision. Ironically, this posting is in sharp contrast to the rules framed by the PMO which stipulated that no IAS or IPS officer would be allowed to remain out of his / her cadre posting after a stipulated period of six years. Characteristically, perhaps, the cabinet approved this decision without any demur.



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