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Who’s the most influential official in UP? Meet the key players in revamped Team Yogi

Focus of CM Adityanath's second term is on achieving 'double engine growth' through welfare measures & tough policing. A look at some of the top officers who form his core team.

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Lucknow: Having borrowed PM Narendra Modi’s expression of ‘double engine sarkar’, used for governments led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been repeating this phrase since 2021.

Seven months into its second term, the Yogi government claims that it is moving towards the goal of achieving double engine growth in India’s most populous state through welfare projects like Amrit Yojana to achieve ‘ease of living’, as well as by taking measures such as aggressive policing and bulldozer drives to ensure law and order, and higher education in Hindi.

To reach the goal of double engine growth, Yogi has made changes in the state’s bureaucratic leadership to bring in IAS and IPS officers who share his vision.

On 31 August, the tenure of the then additional chief secretary (home) Awanish Awasthi — considered the most powerful bureaucrat in UP — came to an end. It was followed by a major reshuffle in the state bureaucracy the next day.

Former additional chief secretary (information) Navneet Sehgal, who enjoyed the trust of successive CMs from Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav to Yogi Adityanath, was divested of the charge of important departments — including information and public relations, MSME and export promotion — and instead given the charge of the relatively low-key sports department.

While Awasthi was back in an advisory role 15 days after his retirement, there have been some changes in Team Yogi. ThePrint takes a look at half-a-dozen officers who are part of this core team.

Shashi Prakash Goyal, additional chief secretary to CM

Before he arrived in Lucknow, Goyal, a 1989-batch IAS officer, was serving as joint secretary in the Department of Higher Education in the Union government. On 19 May 2017, Goyal was appointed principal secretary to the chief minister, and was also given charge of civil aviation, and the estate and protocol departments.

“Goyal has always been one of the most influential bureaucrats in UP. While other bureaucrats built an image of being close to the CM and being influential, the fact that he remained low profile helped him throughout [his career]. The reality is that all important files pass through Goyal. He is undisputedly the most powerful bureaucrat in UP today who enjoys proximity to the top echelons,” a senior IAS officer serving in the state government told ThePrint.

Goyal is also handling the charge of additional resident commissioner, the state government website mentions.

Goyal was among 21 senior IAS officers who were promoted to the additional chief secretary (ACS)-rank in 2020 after the UP government created these posts that year. He is now designated as the additional chief secretary to CM.

Sanjay Prasad, principal secretary to CM

A 1995-batch IAS officer, Prasad is serving as principal secretary to the CM and is in charge of key departments — including home, confidential, and visa and passport — most of which were held by Awasthi before his retirement, barring information and PR, which were with Sehgal.

Prasad has previously served as district magistrate of Prayagraj and of Maharajganj, which adjoins Yogi’s constituency of Gorakhpur, and also as divisional commissioner of Ayodhya.

After spending almost four years on central deputation from June 2015 to March 2019, he returned to Uttar Pradesh in March 2019, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Prasad, who was appointed secretary to the CM on 2 September 2019, continues to serve in the CMO.


Also Read: Why UP deputy CM Maurya’s ‘party greater than govt’ comment is making his BJP colleagues curious


Awanish Awasthi, advisor to CM

A “temporary” post of “advisor to CM” was created for Awasthi on 16 September, a role that will see him in action till 28 February next year.

That he remains a key player in Yogi’s scheme of things is highlighted by his and principal secretary (tourism and culture) Mukesh Kumar Meshram’s visit to Ayodhya last Tuesday to take stock of preparations for the city’s Diwali celebration, Deepotsav, which hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time Sunday.

Once seen as the most powerful bureaucrat in UP, the 1987-batch IAS officer was entrusted with important portfolios including home, confidential, visa and passport, jail administration, vigilance, and energy till he retired on 31 August.

During his tenure as additional chief secretary (home), Awasthi oversaw the crackdown on anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters in 2020 and the deployment of bulldozers against those accused of encroachment and of the violence in Prayagraj that took place in June.

“Awasthi continues to enjoy the CM’s confidence and oversees some special projects and activities as and when desired by the CM. The power concentration is, however, elsewhere but the shift is gradual,” a senior IAS officer told ThePrint.

Durga Shankar Mishra, chief secretary

Mishra was appointed UP chief secretary after the Union personnel ministry handed him a one-year extension on 29 December last year — two days before he was set to retire.

“There are many IAS officers who have got extension in service, but very rarely for one year for such a post,” said a UP government officer.

Widely considered the Union government’s point person in UP, the 1984-batch IAS officer was also made UP’s chief resident commissioner in July. But despite Mishra holding the top post, officers say it’s those in the CMO who handle key projects.

“His appointment seemed to have the PMO’s backing given the fact that he is viewed as among the trusted bureaucrats of Modi and was given a one-year service extension only for his appointment as UP chief secretary. More important files go directly to the office of S. P. Goyal. The chief secretary holds meetings every Tuesday with officials. While the files that are supposed to go to him by virtue of his post do go to him, the key projects are being overseen by those in the CMO,” a senior IAS officer told ThePrint.

Mishra is known for his motivational talks in meetings, especially with district magistrates and other officials.

“He is a dynamic officer who was expected to be more influential than his predecessor R. K. Tiwari as he seemed to have got the Centre’s stamp, but he is limited to holding meetings. In most briefings where the CM is present, it is the CM and his trusted aides who take forward conversations and not him,” added the officer quoted above.

A retired IAS officer who served in the UP government told ThePrint that the power dynamics in UP have changed. “It is clear that loyalty and proximity to the CM clearly supersede any other trait that an officer may have. The fact that Mishra has the Delhi stamp makes his position uncomfortable,” he said.

D.S. Chauhan, acting DGP

Even as the state government and the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) are working to identify the next director general of police, acting police chief Devendra Singh Chauhan remains Yogi’s choice for the post of the top cop. He also has the charge of director general of intelligence and headquarters, and of director, vigilance.

The 1988-batch IPS officer assumed charge as the acting DGP on 13 May, two days after his predecessor Mukul Goel was removed due to alleged “disregard of government duty,” and “lack of interest in departmental work”.

“The matter is in limbo but Chauhan is likely to continue till he retires in March 2023 if the UPSC does not send a recommendation till then. By virtue of being the acting DGP and because he is the government’s choice for the post, Chauhan is an important figure who commands the three lakh-strong police force,” a senior UP officer told ThePrint.

Prashant Kumar, ADG (law and order)

Known for 24×7 monitoring of the UP Police’s response to crime, Kumar — while only 27th on the IPS gradation list — is one of the most influential police officers in the state after Chauhan. The 1990-batch IPS officer from Bihar was initially selected for the Tamil Nadu cadre but later opted for the UP cadre in 1994.

Kumar’s three-year tenure as ADG (Meerut) coincided with the UP Police’s image makeover as a force with “zero tolerance” for crime. He was appointed ADG (law and order) in May 2020.

The officer with the handlebar moustache hit the headlines in October 2020 when he said the victim in the Hathras gangrape and murder case wasn’t raped, citing a forensic report.

Later, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a charge sheet invoking Indian Penal Code sections for gangrape and murder along with other charges under the SC/ ST Act against four accused. It found lapses on the part of the UP Police, including delays in recording the victim’s statement as well as her medical examination.

(Edited by Tony Rai)


Also Read: Hours after Yogi confidant retires, ‘troubleshooter’ IAS officer ‘close’ to UP CM transferred


 

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