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‘Modi’s trust’, showpiece Sardar Sarovar project, common thread linking Bhupendra Patel’s advisors

While this is K. Kailashnathan's 9th extension in the role of principal chief advisor to Gujarat CM, chief advisor Hasmukh Adhia & advisor S. S. Rathore are fresh appointments.

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New Delhi: Just over two weeks after Bhupendra Patel took oath as Gujarat Chief Minister for the second time, on 12 December, the state government issued a notice, revamping the CM’s team of advisors. The names picked for the jobs included those of K. Kailashnathan as principal chief advisor to the Chief Minister, Hasmukh Adhia as chief advisor and S. S. Rathore as advisor. While this is Kailashnathan’s ninth extension, the other two are fresh appointments. All three are being seen as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pick, cementing the PM’s connection to and helping him oversee governance in his home state.

The Gujarat CM’s three advisors — Kailashnathan, Adhia and Rathore — also share a past connection. All three retired bureaucrats were part of Modi’s showpiece projects as Gujarat CM, the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam project. Modi served as Chief Minister of Gujarat between 2001 and 2014, when he stepped down to take oath as the PM.

While the foundation stone of the Sardar Sarovar Dam was laid by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961, the project soon ran into controversies over water distribution and environmental, social and funding issues. Foremost among agitations against the dam was the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by activist Medha Patkar.

The project was finally revived, following a Supreme Court order, during Modi’s tenure as Gujarat CM and the completed dam inaugurated by him as PM in 2017. The dam is now called the “lifeline” of Gujrat as it brings water for irrigation in and around the Saurashtra region.

Kailashnathan, Adhia and Rathore all worked on the project in different capacities between 2001 and 2006, though Rathore continued to be a part of it for longer.

According to a senior IAS officer serving in the state, those who worked on this project facing resistance by activists and other obstructions are closest to PM Modi. “This is PM’s Sardar Sarovar team in the CMO,” he added, referring to Patel’s three advisors.

Still, Kailashnathan’s ninth extension in the role since 2013 (each for a one-year term) came as a surprise to many. Some have voiced concern over the trend of political appointments of bureaucrats post retirement may “impact their integrity as civil servants”.

While Kailashnathan’s reappointment was the first to be announced, the names of the other two advisors were announced four days later, Tuesday.

Adhia had retired as union finance secretary in 2018 and held some post-retirement positions, while Rathore, an officer of Gujarat Engineering Service, had retired as the additional chief secretary of state in 2014 and is currently holding charge of MD, Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation limited.

Also read: 3 Patidars, more OBCs, 6 new faces — who’s in, who’s out of Gujarat’s new Bhupendra Patel cabinet

The thread that binds the three

While Kailashnathan had previously served as secretary, water resources (Narmada), Adhia had been director, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, and Rathore, CMD of the project. The construction of the dam was completed during his tenure as CMD.

“The Sardar Sarovar Dam project has always been very close to PM Modi’s heart. He supervised every bit of it. Officers who worked on this project, tirelessly braving the resistance and the Narmada (Bachao) movement have a special place in his life.They are seen as Modi’s trusted men. These three belong to that group,” said the senior IAS officer quoted above.

Senior serving and retired IAS officers ThePrint spoke to claimed Kailashnathan was not the only one who had got multiple extensions in the same position.

‘Eyes and ears of the PM’

A 1979 batch IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, 69-year-old Kailashnathan is seen today as the most powerful bureaucrat in Gujarat, who has served as the principal chief advisor to the Gujarat CM since 2013. Popularly called ‘KK’, he is also seen as the “eyes and ears” of PM Modi, said senior officers in the state government.

Leaders of the ruling BJP and opposition Congress in the state claimed that KK was the man running the state as almost a de facto Chief Minister. While Gujarat has had three Chief Ministers since Modi stepped down in 2014 — Anandiben Patel, Vijay Rupani and Bhupendra Patel, all from the BJP — the chief principal advisor never changed.

Retired IAS officers, who served with Kailashnathan, called him an efficient officer and a Modi loyalist.

According to the executive record (ER) sheet of IAS officers, Kailashnathan never served on central deputation. The officer always stuck to the Gujarat government and served in the chief minister’s office for seven years, between 2006 and 2013, until his retirement.

Post retirement, he was appointed principal chief advisor to the CM, and continues to hold the position.

Even though PM Modi brought some of his trusted IAS officers, like P.K. Mishra, Adhia and Rajeev Topno, from Gujarat to the Union government and Prime Minister’s office after becoming PM, Kailashnathan remained in the high and coveted post in the Gujarat chief ministerial office.

“After retirement, these positions are about political preferences of the ruling party. Kailashnath is seen as PM Modi’s man in the state. No one, not even the ministers, can talk him down,” said a second senior IAS officer serving in Gujarat.

According to a retired officer of the 1980 batch of AGMUT cadre, the position of chief advisor or chief principal advisor to a state Chief Minister has now become the most coveted post for the retired officers.

“Any officer who is close to the Chief Minister of a state or the Prime Minister, will always aim for the position. Even though this is a position with a political choice, this affects a civil service officer’s integrity,” he said.

The retired officer added: “Not only in Gujarat, but in other states (too), this tradition of awarding retired IAS or IPS officers with a plum posting is flourishing. In some states, the governments create positions to accommodate them. They get cabinet ranks, and perks of a cabinet position even after a decade of their retirement.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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