BJP chief Amit Shah and outgoing Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh campaigned for political debut of O.P Choudhary, the Raipur district collector who quit in August.
New Delhi: In a 13-year-stint with the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), former Raipur collector O.P. Choudhary had earned a reputation of being a simple, hard-working and dynamic civil servant.
But in August, Choudhary, a 2005-batch Chhattisgarh cadre IAS officer, quit the service and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The officer had been inducted into the party at the behest of former chief minister Raman Singh and was even tipped to be a minister if the BJP had won.
The BJP in Chhattisgarh fielded Choudhary, who hails from Bayana village in the state’s Raigarh district, from the Kharsia assembly seat, a Congress stronghold.
For a political novice, his campaign was high-profile from the word go. His was among the over 25 public events that BJP president Amit Shah attended in the state in the run-up to the elections last month, while Singh too campaigned for him.
Choudhary’s political career, however, has got off to the worst possible start — he lost to the Congress’ Umesh Patel by nearly 17,000 votes. And to add insult to injury, the BJP, which had been in power in Chhattisgarh for 15 years, was routed by the Congress. The saffron party managed to win just 15 of the 90 seats, while the Congress won 68.
No regrets, here to stay, says Choudhary
Speaking to ThePrint, Choudhary said that he had no regrets. “I was mentally prepared that the result may go either way. I took the plunge fully aware of the ups and downs in politics,” he said. “But I am here to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I was not looking for short-term gains.”
On his immediate future, Choudhary said that he will take up whatever role the party assigns him. “Now that I have committed myself to politics, I will give my 100 per cent to the job. I am not leaving politics,” he said.
He further said that he had decided to join politics as his stint in the IAS made him realise the “limitations” of the job. “I come from a very humble background. I struggled hard to get myself educated and qualify the IAS. I know what poverty means,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference but realised that IAS has limitations. As a politician, I can always lead from the front and make things work on the ground.”
A resignation that raised eyebrows
Choudhary’s resignation had raised eyebrows among his colleagues in August.
“It happened very fast,” said a Chhattisgarh cadre bureaucrat who did not want to be named. “His resignation was accepted in two days. A bureaucrat’s resignation takes time to get accepted.”
Choudhary’s former colleagues also said he was very well known in the establishment circles.
“He has just lost the immediate battle. You can call it bad luck or a miscalculation. But he is young and has time on his side,” said another former colleague who did not want to be named. “He did not resign from the service for immediate gains. He is fully aware of the risk he has taken.”
Most of his colleagues that ThePrint spoke to were unanimous about the fact that Choudhary was one of the most dynamic civil servants around.
“His decision to join politics was not sudden. He thought it through and used to discuss with us,” said Amit Kataria, a Chhattisgarh cadre IAS officer and Choudhary’s close friend. “He knew as a newcomer, he will have to struggle and he was ready for it.”
Kataria, now on deputation in Delhi, said that it was Choudhary’s work in Dantewada that got him noticed by the former state chief minister Raman Singh. “He was approached by the CM to join politics solely on the basis of the work he did,” Kataria said.
Choudhary was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration for the year 2011-12 for his contribution to the development of Naxal-affected regions.
Not the first bureaucrat to join politics
Choudhary isn’t the first bureaucrat to join politics. In November, Aparajita Sarangi, a senior Odisha-cadre civil servant who had taken voluntary retirement in September, joined the BJP.
There are many more including at least four — Hardeep Singh Puri, K.J. Alphons, R.K. Singh and Satya Pal Singh — in the Modi cabinet.
The report has been updated with Choudhary’s response as well as inputs about the former civil servant.