New Delhi: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s decision to appoint a Dalit IAS officer as chief secretary by superseding 10 of his seniors has stoked a controversy, with some civil servants seeing it as an attempt to reap political dividends out of the highest bureaucratic appointment in the state.
Gehlot appointed Niranjan Kumar Arya, a 1989-batch IAS officer, as chief secretary through a midnight order passed 1 November. Arya, who hails from the Dholi or drummer community of Pali district, will hold the post for 15 months. He succeeds Rajeeva Swaroop, who assumed the post in July and retired on 31 October.
Soon after his appointment, posters emerged all over Jaipur hailing Gehlot’s decision to appoint the “first-ever Dalit chief secretary in the history of the state”, though it is not known who put up the posters.
Subsequently, it was learnt that 10 retired IAS and IPS officers, most of whom are believed to have been close to Gehlot, sent a handwritten note to the CM congratulating him on the appointment of a Dalit to the post.
In response to the note, the CM had written: “… You all have expressed your gratitude to me for appointing Niranjan Kumar Arya as the chief secretary … In the letter, you have called this decision a crucial step in enforcing the ideals espoused by B.R. Ambedkar during the constituent assembly debates. Thank you for this.” Gehlot’s letter was circulated among social media groups of civil servants.
Some senior officers in the state have taken exception to what they describe as an open acknowledgment of caste considerations playing a role in Arya’s appointment. However, many civil servants defend the appointment, saying it is a welcome step amid the “rampant casteism” in the Indian bureaucracy, even as they decry the apparent “politicisation” of the decision.
ThePrint contacted Arya’s office for comment through phone calls, but the calls went unanswered till the time of publishing this report.
‘Damaging for the system’
According to a retired secretary from the Government of India who wished to remain anonymous, “caste has off and on been a consideration in senior appointments, but it is perhaps the first time that the chief minister has publicly acknowledged that the appointment is not on merit but on caste considerations”.
“This is extremely damaging for the system and will set a terrible precedent resulting in civil services being fractured on caste lines,” the retired officer added. Asked if the decision could be viewed as a case of positive discrimination, the officer said, “It is still wrong because senior appointments should never be on caste considerations especially when they involve superseding senior meritorious officers.”
Another officer from the state who didn’t wish to be named said, “The CM wants all the general category officers to quit the service, it seems … It has never happened that 10 officers have been superseded in the state to appoint someone.”
However, K.M. Chandrashekhar, former Cabinet Secretary to Government of India, said “supersessions in states are the norm, and not the exception”.
“How can one say that he has been appointed only because of his caste if supersessions happen everywhere?” he said. Even so, he described the act of putting up posters hailing the move as “silly” and “undesirable”.
T.R. Raghunandan, a retired IAS officer and author of Everything You Wanted To Know About The Bureaucracy But Were Afraid to Ask, said there is nothing wrong with superseding 10 officers to appoint a Dalit given the rampant casteism in the Indian bureaucracy, which “impedes Dalits from reaching the highest positions”.
“It is an insult to call his appointment a Dalit appointment for political capital. Where does that leave the question of his merit?” he said. However, the “attempt to politicise the issue” by putting up posters across the city is “most unwelcome”, he added.
According to officers in the state, in his previous stints as CM, Gehlot had also appointed Salahuddin Ahmed as the first Muslim chief secretary and Kushal Singh as the first woman chief secretary.
Arya’s appointment came after the central government did not process the request for a three-month extension for his predecessor. This, sources in the Rajasthan government said, was because it was during Swaroop’s tenure as home secretary of the state that orders were allegedly issued to tap the phones of BJP leaders earlier this year, during the political crisis triggered by Sachin Pilot’s rebellion against the Congress.