The removal of Article 370 by the Modi sarkar is being felt intensely by the ministry of external affairs. With Indian diplomats busy dealing with the aftermath, the ministry has reportedly cancelled its annual conference of heads of missions slated to be held next week in Gujarat.
The decision to call off the meeting was reportedly taken a couple of weeks after Article 370 was nullified. Since then, MEA mandarins have their hands full, explaining India’s decision on the article to the rest of the world. Almost all ambassadors and high commissioners are at present involved in an intense diplomatic outreach in various bilateral and multilateral forums on the issue. Also, it said that minister of external affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was to inaugurate the conference, will be travelling at the time. It is not clear yet whether the conference will be rescheduled for a later date or has been cancelled altogether.
Mystery about tenure
The recent high-level appointments of a new cabinet secretary, defence secretary, secretary for defence production and secretary to the Lokpal have set off speculation in the corridors of power. The notification on the appointment of 1982-batch IAS officer and home secretary Rajiv Gauba as the new cabinet secretary mentions a two-year tenure but is silent on the tenure of appointments of the defence secretary, defence production secretary and secretary to the Lokpal. Babu watchers are wondering if there is any significance in it. Mr Gauba’s appointment, observers say, was expected and is seen by some as a reward for executing the government’s plans on Article 370 flawlessly. The new defence secretary Ajay Kumar’s appointment seems to be along the lines of his predecessor.
Sanjay Mitra too was given a fixed two years’ term as defence secretary but it did not help him much in terms of the retirement-tenure gap. However, Mr Kumar is due to retire only in October 2022. Babus wonder whether he will remain defence secretary for more than three years, until his retirement.
By not defining the tenure of these officials, the government has given room to speculation. Subhash Chandra, who is the new secretary, department of defence production, is just four months away from retirement. Here too, babus are puzzled whether the government will keep him on reappointment basis beyond December 2019?
The abrupt and unceremonious transfer of Southern Railways’ chief mechanical engineer Shubhranshu to Bihar is probably the outcome of the babu earning the ire of his superiors for acting “independently” on an administrative issue. Before the transfer, Mr Shubhranshu was lauded as the man behind the design and development of “Train 18”, India’s first semi-high-speed train, later rechristened Vande Bharat Express. But when he ordered the suspension of onboard housekeeping services in several trains due to lack of funds, it did not go down well with the authorities.
Sources say that though highlighting the lack of funds to pay rail contractors did push the rail ministry to release some funds immediately, the negative publicity was counter-productive for the babu. Interestingly, Mr Shubhranshu’s stance was also backed by the Southern Railways general manager Rahul Jain, who not only sent an SOS to the ministry but even warned that passenger amenities may have to be withdrawn if adequate funds were not allotted on time. Observers also point out that the sanction of funds and Mr Shubhranshu’s transfer order came almost immediately!