Reviving Work Culture

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In the 5-member State Administrative Council (SAC), the only person who is new to Kashmir is the Chief Secretary. Masood Hussain attempts a profile of BVR Subrahmanyam, the man who is tasked to deliver good governance to the turmoil-hit state

Chief Secretary , BVR Subramanyam with advisor BB Vyas.

It was a teleconference with the police and civil administration heads of the south Kashmir range and the subject matter was the smooth conduct of the ongoing Amarnath yatra. An officer while briefing about the security arrangements stated that they had a contingency plan in place as well, in case the pilgrims were attacked.

“Wait, wait, please repeat what you are saying,” Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam interrupted. As the officer repeated the sentence, promptly came the reply: “If the yatra was attacked, your role ends there and then. It will be my role that will take over and within next 15 minutes, I will sign your dismissal order.”

This voice that orders, interrupts and asks uncomfortable questions is the newest one echoing in the corridors of powers in Jammu and Kashmir, now-a-days. In the new dispensation that N N Vohra as state’s longest-serving governor is heading – after the fall of the BJPDP government, it is BVR, who is new to the state.

Vohra’s “cabinet” (called State Administrative Council) has three advisers in addition to the Chief Secretary – a total of five men, who are running one of the most sensitive states. Khursheed A Ganai resigned as state’s Information Commissioner to be the adviser, is a local. K Vijay Kumar, the killer of Sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, is another adviser and he has served as head of the Border Security Force (BSF) in Kashmir between 1998 and 2001 before he became the head of CRPF. He knows Kashmir completely and thoroughly.

Vohra’s third adviser is Bharat Bhushan Vyas, an IAS officer from J&K cadre, who was serving as the Chief Secretary when the government crumbled under its own weight. Vyas had reached superannuation on May 31, 2018, but the Government of India amended the service rulers, perhaps for the first time in history, to give him an extension of one year as the top babu in the state. Soon after creating this historic precedence, the government’s fall led to his elevation as an adviser as BVR replaced him.

A 1987 Chhattisgarh officer, BVR, whom his peers call Subbu, was the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) of the Naxal inflicted state when his services were placed before the Jammu and Kashmir government, almost the same night the BJP withdrew from the coalition. Insiders said the process of creating the SAC had started almost three days before Kashmir observed Eid.

Termed to be one of the finest IAS officers, BVR as the head of J&K’s bureaucracy is said to be the personal choice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Before taking off for Srinagar for apparently the most challenging assignment of his career, BVR had a meeting with the Prime Minister. In his first meeting with the officers in Srinagar, he indicated the brief with which he flew to Srinagar: ‘good governance’.

The 55-year old bureaucrat, hailing from Andhra Pradesh, has spent a decade in the Prime minister’s Office (PMO). He was Dr Manmohan Singh’s Private Secretary and one of the most powerful officers in the Congress PMO.

In 2008, BVR went on deputation to the World Bank for three years (June 2008 and September 2011) as a senior adviser. He joined his services back in the PMO in March 2012. It was the time when his state sought him back.

In 2012, journalist P R Ramesh reported in Open magazine, when

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh sought BVR back to the state insisting that since the state was created in 2000, he had never worked in the state, Manmohan Singh had written in response: “I need an officer who has the experience and the exposure in handling sensitive matters. The officer also needs to be someone who enjoys my trust and confidence. Due to these reasons, I have selected BVR Subrahmanyam…”

As Joint Secretary, BVR was in PMO when Narendra Modi took over in May 2014. He stayed there till March 2015 and then moved to Chhattisgarh. Three years later, he is holding the most sensitive posting of his career in a state which is now being remotely ruled by Delhi as the assembly is in suspended animation.

A trained engineer with an MBA from London School of Economics, BVR is considered to be an expert in internal security matters. Perhaps that is why he has all the eras in South Block, India’s top decision-making office.

“Subrahmanyam’s move to the militancy-hit state clearly signals a return to an aggressive muscular policy in J&K,” Maneesh Chhibber reported in news website The Print. “As additional chief secretary (home) in Naxalism-hit Chhattisgarh, Subrahmanyam is credited with charting and overseeing the state police’s ongoing “toughest war against” the Maoist insurgency. He has worked in Manmohan Singh’s as well as Narendra Modi’s PMO, and is seen as a tough taskmaster.”

There is nothing much on record about his contributions in the Naxal-hit state. One report said that he oversaw laying of almost 700 km of roads in the seven Naxal-infested Bastar districts. He is credited for ensuring a balance between development and anti-Naxal operations.

In Kashmir seemingly the entire focus is on the yatra to conclude peacefully. But BVR has adequately indicated to the bureaucracy in Jammu and Kashmir how they are supposed to deliver. “He is a completely different person who is a strict disciplinarian and is completely dedicated to the task he has,” one senior officer said. “He does not believe in academic discussions. He seeks progress and delivery, in plain statistical terms.”

Chief Secretary, BVR Subramanyam chairs an official meeting in Srinagar.

In the first week itself, a series of small events revealed the bigger story: a top officer being reprimanded for a few minutes delay to his meeting; another officer being sent back from his chambers for uninvited entry; a clear no to routine courtesy calls. The civil secretariat literally devoid of the janta, a natural impact of the fall of the political government, is rife with stories of “discipline” of the “hard taskmaster”. Though the biometric systems were installed across the government, BVR on the very first day made it mandatory. This is the key reason why the secretariat and most offices operating in and around Srinagar are open at sharp 10 am and there are more jams and frantic honking between 9 am and 9:30 am.

“He does not want to see anybody whom he has not called and would never permit an attendance by proxy,” another senior officer said. “In all these days, we have not seen him taking No as a response.” He, the officer said, talks in plain bullet-points. “I think, he is the first chief secretary after Ashok Jaitely who works like this,” the officer added.

What surprises many people is that he is well briefed about people. One story that has spread in the civil secretariat like wild fire is that when he shifted one officer recently, he advised him to stay away from cash! In one meeting, he clearly hinted at “corruption in high places”.

Without making any noise, the entire middle rung management in state police’s various verticals were changed.

“The Chief Secretary is workaholic,” an officer said. “Last week, after the meeting at the Raj Bhawan was over, he decided to have a review meeting in Baramulla and it was already 5 pm. He drove to the district, reviewed the working of the district administration for many hours and drove back home in Srinagar at around 11 pm, despite being advised against the odd hour travel.”

A political worker who knew the officer from his PMO stint said BVR is no stranger to Kashmir. “During Manmohan Singh’s era he did handle Kashmir and was actively involved,” the politician said. “It was he who organised most of the Round Table Conferences.” Though not knowing him directly, he insisted that BVR will be encouraging the local officers because it is they who actually are linked to the society and can deliver the services fast.

So in the 5-member “government”, two are Naxal specialists and Vohra is expected to call it a day, sooner than later. Now, it remains to be seen how Left Wing Extremism (LWE) can have a common minimum management with that of Kashmir militancy that is political in nature and not rooted in economic deprivation.

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