Strife in Kashmir Bureaucracy

The Chief Secretary Iqbal Khandey’s decision to apply for the voluntary retirement has heaved a big rock into the already choppy waters of Kashmir bureaucracy. It has come as the biggest proof so far that all is not well with the state government’s relations with its bureaucracy, lending weight to the rumours already circulating in this regard.

Ever since the PDP-BJP coalition took over in March, Khandey had struggled to build a rapport with it. And which was suprising, considering that Khandey was believed to be very close to Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed. In his 2002-05 term as the Chief Minister, Mufti had made Khandey as his Principal Secretary. Subsequently Khandey went through a rough patch following his arrest in the Srinagar sex abuse scam in 2006. But his subsequent acquittal by the court cleared the decks for his takeover as the J&K Chief Secretary. It was a tough call though for the NC-Congress coalition in 2013 to make him the Chief Secretary despite his seniority. Though known for his competence and the integrity, Khandey’s personality had acquired deep shades of grey to be an easy choice for the Chief Secretary for any state government.

There is no easy explanation for his problems with the PDP-BJP coalition. Insiders would tell you that from the day one, Mufti and Khandey couldn’t hit it up right. And the many fresh timers in the new dispensation only made it worse, overlooking Khandey in the administrative and the policy decisions. This in his own reported words to the cabinet sometime ago had reduced the Chief Secretary to a steno, “writing the dictations” of his political masters.

Khandey is reported to have been passed over in the cabinet transfers of the senior bureaucrats in March and then again three months later when most of the previous orders were reversed. In the reshuffle, many senior and the competent bureaucrats were dumped in the insignificant positions. This has created a deep strife in the top rung of the bureaucracy, beginning with Khandey himself.  

Khandey’s voluntary retirement may make it even worse. That is, if the government doesn’t get its house in order and ensures that the bureaucracy is not only made to deliver but the top bureaucrats are also afforded their due space in the decision making.

The jockeying for the appointment to the new Chief Secretary’s post has already begun.  Though The Financial Commissioner Planning B R Sharma is widely tipped to take over as the new Chief Secretary, he is not the senior-most bureaucrat but is junior to four others – Financial Commissioner Revenue Arun Kumar, his wife, the Chairman of the Special Tribunal Sonali Kumar, Financial Commissioner Industries Khurshid Ganaie and A K Angurana, who is on the deputation in the centre.

However, three among Sharma’s seniors Sonali, Ganie and Angurana have five to six months before their retirement. Only Arun Kumar has around one and a half year to go before his retirement. But what might come in the way of Kumar succeeding Khandey is his Amarnath baggage. In public perception in Valley, he is deemed to have been responsible for provoking the 2008 Amarnath land row. It was Kumar who at a press conference had confirmed that the forest land had indeed been handed permanently and for a price to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for constructing huts and lavatories etc for the pilgrims. This triggered a widespread unrest in Valley which later expanded to Jammu as well, pitting the two regions against each other.  

Sharma, on the other hand, has all the stars aligned in his favour. He has four more years to go, has no baggage and he is from Jammu, something that makes him the darling of BJP. But his elevation will not be possible without some backlash from the four senior bureaucrats, some of whom have privately threatened to step down.

However, whatever the decision the government takes, the urgent need is to address the ongoing strife in the bureaucracy and rally it around to push forward the coalition’s otherwise struggling development agenda.

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