Monday, 28 November, 2022
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Home Minister Amit Shah — ‘tough taskmaster with eerie gaze and unnerving face’

Amit Shah’s one-on-one interactions with civil servants have not only increased under Modi 2.0, but are the talk of the town in New Delhi’s corridors of power.

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New Delhi: In a Monday afternoon meeting sometime last year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah asked a civil servant working on a technical project about its progress.

The official enthusiastically spelt out what all he had done, and told Shah that he would love to show him the progress soon, whenever he has the time.

Pat came the reply. “Why ‘soon’? Let’s do it tomorrow… I have all the time in the world,” Shah said, according to officials present at the meeting.

What followed was sheer panic: The official was not yet ready with the project and had not expected such a prompt response from the home minister.

Officials say this anecdote best sums up Amit Shah’s tenure so far as home minister. IAS and IPS officers are now more regular and more careful about reading up their files, and keeping themselves updated with facts.

Unlike the past, when civil servants wanted to be close to the home minister, they now prefer to maintain a distance. It’s not because Shah has shouted at them or humiliated them — not at all. But the officials say many of them are unnerved by his “eerie gaze, stony eyes and dead face”.

“The way he looks at you while you are giving a presentation is enough to get you nervous. Sitting in his chair — leaning towards his left, his face downwards, eyes up and left hand on the chin. That is his trademark,” an official told ThePrint.

Shah has emerged as the most powerful man in Narendra Modi’s second government, the go-to man for all major decisions, and one who heads several groups of ministers (GoMs). As a result, his one-on-one interactions with civil servants have not only increased, but are the most talked-about in New Delhi’s corridors of power.

ThePrint spoke to a number of senior civil servants to find out how they perceive Shah, and what their personal experience of working with him has been like.


Also read: Amit Shah’s performance as minister will now determine the success of Modi-Shah power pair


The ‘dead stare’

The key reason civil servants get nervous in front of Shah is his “dead stare”.

“He, most definitely, is intimidating,” an official said. “If you are not well-versed with facts, or have proper answers to his questions, he will give you the stare, which is chilling enough to make you shudder.”

A second official concurred. “He will sit on his chair and look at you with cold eyes, without blinking. It is an eerie gaze. At that point, you know that he is not very pleased and you need to pull up your socks,” this official said, adding that there is no scope for “fooling around” as he goes directly to facts, and if one is not prepared, he simply walks away.

“He has excellent knowledge of how the police department works. As a youth leader, he has visited all these police stations and worked with people on the ground, so he is not disconnected from the ground, like other ministers or senior bureaucrats. This is why it is hard to fool him,” another official said.


Also read: Amit Shah repenting BJP speeches in Delhi election shouldn’t be taken as a course correction


Great eye for detail

Before any presentation or meeting, civil servants are now reading files carefully, as they never know which question could be thrown at them.

“He has a great eye for detail and often asks penetrating questions,” an official said. “Sometimes senior bureaucrats, who are often disconnected from the ground, draw a blank and are taken aback by his basic questions, and that is what scares them the most. You never know what he will ask.”

Once, in a meeting, an official gave a presentation which ran into 50 slides. Shah sat in his signature pose looking at them. As the official started explaining, Shah cut him short and said “next”. When the officer skipped to the next slide, even before he could start explaining, Shah said, “next”.

“He was in that pose, only his lips moving. He made the official flip 25-26 slides like that. On one slide, the official did not stop… may be he wanted to skip that one. But Shah told him ‘go back, now tell me about this’. It made the official stutter,” another official said.

One cannot throw “random concepts at him and get away”, said yet another official. “If you are saying something, you have to be utterly sure. If he asks you something and then you are blank, you get that stare everyone dreads.”

This official shared another anecdote. Once, during a presentation, Shah asked a senior civil servant a policy question, which the official did not have a clear answer to. While he was attempting to answer, Shah said: “Aap rehne dein. Jisko facts pata hai, usko bolo aake baat kare (You leave it, tell someone who knows the facts to come and speak to me).”

The official added: “There was a weird silence on the floor. He (Shah) then stood up and walked out.”

Another official said that Shah always insists on the “practical aspects”, and often asks questions on how a policy or step will directly benefit the public.

“Even for the smallest of decisions, Shah wants to know how will it affect the general public… If it will benefit the masses, and how. He also wants to know if there is a possibility of any backlash, any resistance from people, how that move will be in the larger interests of the nation,” this official said. “This is why everyone now comes prepared to answer all sorts of questions at the presentations.”


Also read: A Sachin Tendulkar lesson for Amit Shah that can sharpen his election strategy


Very pushy, a tough taskmaster

According to one official, Shah is a “tough taskmaster and very pushy”.

“For him, if something has to be done, it should be done in the given time and way. He is a tough taskmaster when it comes to deadlines. He never forgets what he has asked for and makes sure that he asks for an update. So, there is no escape,” the official said.

“Shah always tells his bureaucrats that he does not want to know about their achievements or accomplishments. He says he is like a troubleshooter and wants them to tell them their problems, weaknesses and challenges. He always asks, ‘Why is this work stuck? You need my approval, PM’s approval? Tell me and I will do it’,” the official said.

This official added that Shah doesn’t leave any scope for civil servants to slack off.

“He hates the concept of files moving from one place to another, and seeks immediate solutions to problems. If a comment has been sought on something, it has to come instantly,” he said.

Shah, the official said, is one of those rare ministers who are in the ministry until 10 pm.

A source in the home ministry said Shah comes to office four days a week (when Parliament is not in session), and on other days, he operates from the office at his residence. He makes sure that he does not take any work file home.

At home, he just concentrates on his engagements as a BJP leader.

“No work file or bureaucrat comes home. The administrative work is all done at the office in North Block. He is in office till 10 pm and has over 30 engagements in a single day,” the source said. “Every day, a list of his engagements is made, which usually runs into five or six pages. He then goes through the list and cuts it to one page. Even then, it comes to over 30 engagements in a day.”

Another official said Shah never takes “no” for an answer. “Not that anyone has the guts to say no to him,” the officer quipped. “But, he is always encourages his team, pushes them hard to perform better.”

Asked if officials are allowed to question him, the official said: “Who will question him? No one does. But to his credit, he does ask us for our comments on his ideas in an ongoing meeting or presentation, and says that he is open to all kinds of feedback.

“Most times, if an officer has a feedback, he or she writes it down on a paper and passes it on to the Home Secretary, who then mentions if he wishes to.”


Also read: JP Nadda must undo Congressisation of BJP under Amit Shah but shows no fire in the belly


Always available

Shah may be intimidating for most officials, but one thing that almost all of them appreciate is being “available” at all times.

“He is always ready and willing to discuss new concepts. If someone has an idea or a project that he has been working on, Shah is always available to go see it for himself,” an official said, adding that this is precisely the reason why one cannot faff or lie to please him.

“If, in a meeting, he asks an officer what new thing he is doing, and the officer lies about working on something big, Shah will instantly say ‘Mujhe dikhaiye kitna kaam ho gaya (Show me the progress)’. Now if the officer says that he would love to invite Shah when he has the time, he would instantly say, ‘Mere pass time hi time hai. Kal aa jaun?’ (I have all the time in the world. Shall I come tomorrow?),” the official said.

“Where is the scope to lie? You will tell him you are working on something and he would ask you the progress and will be willing to come and see it for himself. Where will you run then? So, open your mouth only when you are certain that you have something to show,” the official added with a laugh.


Also read: Amit Shah loyalists keep fingers crossed as BJP readies for changes under new chief Nadda


 

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31 COMMENTS

  1. Impressed with the style of functioning of Home Minister(HM)….. One can imagine the kind of homework the HM does before meetings and asks important and pertinent questions to the bureaucrats ,which is not easy! With people like him, the civil servants will be extra careful with their facts and figures and project updates . Home other leaders also emulate him

  2. Very good Exercise to hv One to one Interaction with top Beuarocrat
    Should be on Quarterly Basis till Next Election.

  3. With all worlds time at his disposal he did not stop the genocide in Dehli Neither speak a word , All his decisions are international used and the world is critical about that this much knowledge and experience has landed the image of the country in trouble.

  4. This shows the extent and depth of the old entrenched eco-system in our bueruecracy. Very hard to move bureaucrats are becoming answerable. Need more hard taskmasters in all departments.

    Talking of rioting in Delhi, when mainstream politicians are actively engaged to engineer a riot instead of governing what can you expect in that state.

  5. Dear Ananya,
    The problem with access journalism is that the views of the accessed people can be interpreted in different ways depending on when you want to interpret them ,whether the profiled person is . ” in power or out of power”
    of course you are not expressing your views, unless you become infamous like journalists and their articles about Hitler before ww2
    regards

  6. The Print seems to have changed but the readers haven’t. They are shocked by the change that this journal has undergone. 😀

  7. Haha looks like a 16 year old fan boy has written this. You need better editors at Print to guide your cub reporters the way according to your article Shah is guiding the Civil Servants of this country. This is such an asslicking piece 😀 I am sure even bhakts can do better than you!

  8. It’s becoming quite evident that the screw is gently being turned on “The Print” lately.

    Good show.

  9. This article is charactristic of theprint.in
    This is coming just after Delhi riots,under the direct responsibility of Amit Shah as home minister.But it is not asking the question if he was so effcient,why so many lives lost ? By not asking the question,you must partake in the sin of this killing of lives.
    This is depicting very senior IAS officers as if they are super slothful,dull,lacking in knowledge.A good minister should get rid of such, not find a way to work with them.
    Has Amit Shah brought in any innovation in administration ? The country’s security environment changed for better ? When he himself is breaking all rules of Law ?
    Great Mr.Gupta,your job as an editor.

  10. In my entire life , I have never ever read an article of such fulsome praise for the intellect of a politician , perhaps I have not read much or perhaps the quality of politicians has changed or perhaps quality of journalists has changed .

  11. I can’t think of a single tough decision taken by our Home Minister which has made life safer or secure for the common man. I am quite sure though he knows what decisions will benefit the BJP electorally, how to make hate speeches, how to screw political opponents, how to game the Constitution and the legal system etc… the list is endless.

  12. We need to stop hero-worshipping our leaders and start questioning them instead. What tough task master. First let him take tough action against Anurag Thakur and others. His manners itself intimidating. It looks some one close Admirer has asked the author to write this piece. These leaders are service provider not masters. If bureaucracy is allowed to work freely, lot of good thing will happen

  13. At last we have a Minister, a task master, strict, hardworking, sincere, dedicated. Thereby all officials are compelled to attend office on or before time, work hard with sincerity n dedication and show result. Jai Hind

  14. “ He wants to know how it will offend the public………. how it will benefit them.” But his own decisions don’t seem to be based on this principal. Repealing Article 370, linking CAA and NRC and NPR were done solely to please his masters in Nagpur. I can’t think of a single decision that he has taken which has bettered the lives of the masses. I can think of numerous instances where he has taken decisions to support his party’s electoral performance and orating speeches that divide the nation! All in all a fawning write up about a person who doesn’t deserve it. By the way, someone had said that eyes mirror the soul. The only thing that the author got right about him.

  15. India needs hard nuts, not easy to crack, no ifs and buts. we had too many softies in the lasts eventy years. It did the country and its poor no good.

  16. I am worried about the mental and physical health of Shekhar Gupta. It seems he is not well otherwise how do you explain these types of article find any space in this paper.

  17. How come daddy didn’t anticipate the riots? He was too busy with hate speech and organising Modi’s media circus, is it? Or was he blind, too busy gazing while being mentally absent? I have got through college doing that – piercing gaze while giving crap about stuff. Attention to detail I believe. Yes we saw the results on the ground, right?

    Instead of asking tough questions from those in power, ThePrint writes a puff piece. This two bit provincial politician will be confined to the dustbin of history soon enough. By the way, stupid article.

  18. And still he had no control over the Delhi riots..makes one think.. was it no control or was it totally controlled.. specially with a personality as described in this article.

  19. Amit shah is an iron man…country badly needs people like him………any change to occur the bureaucracy has to play the catalyst role

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