Here’s Why ‘Vajpayee Didn’t Like Me’: Ex-IAS Officer Naresh Saxena

(The following excerpt has been taken, with permission, from Chapter 2 — ‘Tussle for Power: Bureaucrats Versus Politicians’ of the book ‘What Ails the IAS and Why it Fails to Deliver: An Insider's View’ — written by Former Secretary, Planning Commission, Naresh Chandra Saxena. Published by SAGE Select (SAGE Publications India), the paperback is 272 pages long and priced at Rs 595.)

(The sub-headings are not part of the book, and have been added by The Quint.)

Let me cite another instance of my tussle with politicians. Luckily in this case I succeeded in preventing misuse of government funds which the minister wanted to pass on as a ‘grant’ to a semi-political outfit.

In 1998, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power and I was Secretary, Rural Development, my minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was very keen to give a huge government grant to an RSS-based organization.

In those days, the minister was the chairman of the executive committee of CAPART, a government parastatal under the ministry, which had a substantial budget for giving grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

‘My BJP Minister Wanted to Give a Big Govt Grant to an RSS Organisation’

His note to the Director General (DG), CAPART, is produced as follows:

“This is in continuation of the discussion that has taken place on 21.10.1998 in my Chamber in the presence of Secretary (RD), DG, CAPART and Smt. Rita Verma, MP and Convenor, Swadeshi Mela. After careful examination of the enclosed brief note received from the organisers of Swadeshi Mela, I am of the view that CAPART should be the co-organiser of the proposed Swadeshi Mela. The objectives and highlights of the Mela are very relevant to our ministry, and also it will be in consonance with the objectives of CAPART.”

“Since the matter is of sufficient importance and urgency, in exercise of the power under Rule 38(a)(i) of the Rules & Regulations of CAPART and in relaxation of conditions of grant to a voluntary organisation, I approve the proposal received for Swadeshi Mela and participation of CAPART as co-organiser. Therefore, we may release 4 crores in a phased manner as per the requirements, and one DDG be nominated to coordinate and work out the modalities. The matter be placed before the next meeting of the Executive Committee.”

Also Read: As a Free Citizen, I Have a Right to Question Govt: Ex-IAS Officer

‘Can Finance Ministry Release Funds to a Political Organisation?’

This note was not endorsed to me, but to the DG, CAPART, who marked it to the DDG, Ashok Thakur, a very upright, bold and no-nonsense officer.

He wrote a long note to the DG as to why this order cannot be complied with. The DG marked the file to me, and I sent the DDG’s note to the minister on 5 November 1998 with the following advice: “MOS(IC) has already decided that this important matter should first be cleared by the Executive Committee. In the meantime, we will ascertain from the Home Ministry, whether Swadeshi Jagran Foundation can be dubbed as a political organisation, and then from the Finance Ministry whether funds can be released to a political organisation.”

Also Read: Why Modi Govt 2.0 Should Focus On Fixing Indian Bureaucracy & IAS 

‘How I Highlighted that Govt Policy Was Only to Fund Non-Political Orgs’

The minister overruled me as he did not want the matter to be referred to the home or finance ministry. Somehow there was a news item about the whole controversy, and taking advantage of the newspaper coverage, I again sent the file to the minister on 13 November 1998, with the following note:

“MOS(IC), RA&E may like to see the newspaper cutting placed below, which alleges that Swadeshi Jagran Foundation is not a non-political organisation. The Government policy has, so far, been only to fund nonpolitical organisations.”

“If the facts stated in the newspaper cutting are correct, giving a grant of ‘4 crores’ to Swadeshi Jagran Foundation or to the Centre for Bhartiya Marketing Development, would mean a major departure from previous policies, and will require approval of the Cabinet.”

“The main file, in which the application from the Centre for Bhartiya Marketing Development was processed, was submitted to the minister on 21.10.1998. The file has still not come back. I spoke to Shri Madan Gopal, PS to Minister, about the file and requested him to return the file so that further enquiries about the Centre for Bhartiya Marketing Development may be made. I also spoke to Secretary (Expenditure), who advised that grants out of public funds to such organisations should be avoided. (MOS(IC), RA&E may like to re-consider his orders dated 5 November 1998, on pre-page.”

Also Read: ‘Hate is Splitting India’: Ex-Bureaucrats Warn PM of ‘Dark Times’

‘PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee Was Keen to Punish Me’

Interestingly, within half an hour of my sending the file to the MOS, I got a call from the Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, enquiring about the details. It was obvious that he had read my note, though his office was about a kilometre away from mine! It appears that the minister was in touch with him, and on more than one occasion had complained to him and to Prime Minister Vajpayee, about my rigid and uncompromising posture.

I do not know how I survived in that job for another three months, but was finally shunted out in late February 1999 to the Planning Commission.

Later, I learnt that the prime minister was keen to punish me and revert me back to UP, but the Cabinet Secretary was able to persuade him to keep me in Delhi, but dump me to an innocuous post. Any job which requires thinking and reflecting is considered a punishment post in the IAS, but I thoroughly enjoyed being in the moribund Planning Commission for the next three years. Thank you, Prabhat!

‘Many of My Findings Were Critical of the Govt’

I faced the prime minister’s wrath again in September 2000, when I presented to him the mid-term appraisal of the Ninth Plan (MTA 2000), of which I had myself written six or seven chapters. Cabinet Secretary Prabhat, and Finance Secretary Mankad, were also present.

The practice was to present the appraisal to a full meeting of the Planning Commission with the prime minister in the chair (and a few other central ministers), before it was put up to the larger National Development Council (NDC), in which all CMs are members.

Many of my findings were extremely critical of the government.

The prime minister just closed his eyes and said nothing, as I went on making the PowerPoint presentation. The prime minister’s secretary NK. Singh realised that the prime minister was upset. After a while, NK said: “This meeting is over.”

‘Yaar, Naresh, PM Vajpayee is Very Angry With Your Report’

In the afternoon, NK rang and said: “Yaar Naresh, the PM is very angry and unhappy about your report. He cannot approve such a critical report.” My response was, “Okay, say so in the minutes. We will revise the report.” NK said, “How can we do that? The PM’s disapproval will invite adverse publicity and the report would be all over the media headlines tomorrow.”

So, being the quintessential bureaucrat, I gave him the way out. I told him to write in the minutes that the prime minister was present, but not to say whether he approved or disapproved. Say that the report would be presented before the NDC. So we did not change a word in our report, and it was presented to the NDC, which approved it. No one reads these papers, really.

. Read more on Books by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsLast Minute Alliances, Seat Sharing: Maha Prepares For Polls 2019 . Read more on Books by The Quint.