As Sonia fumed, Chief Secretary ‘saved the day’

Suvojit Bagchi
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At a meeting with Chief Minister, Sonia blasted government for negligence; but Sunil Kumar offered to resign owing responsibility

As the Chhattisgarh government faced a severe crisis with allegations pouring in that inadequate security resulted in the death of 24 people in the Maoist attack on the convoy of Congress leaders in Bastar on May 25, Chief Secretary Sunil Kumar saved the day for Chief Minister Raman Singh at a meeting with top Congress leaders the next day.

The meeting, convened at Governor Shekhar Dutta’s house here, was attended by senior Congress leaders and top officials of the Central and State governments, including Director-General of Police Ram Nivas. Education Minister Brijmohan Agrawal, number two in the State Cabinet, was also present.

After visiting the party office in central Raipur, Congress president Sonia Gandhi drove down to the Governor’s house to meet the Chief Minister. She was accompanied by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Minister of State for Home Affairs R.P.N. Singh.

Senior officials of both the State and the Centre told The Hindu that Ms. Gandhi blasted the government for not providing the Congress leaders with adequate security when they visited Sukma. When she enquired about the size of the police contingent assigned for security, she was told that 600-700 personnel were deployed for route sanitisation. “You are lying,” shouted Ms. Gandhi, who went to say that she was told by Congress workers that “no force was present,” charging the State government with negligence and asking it to fix responsibility. “You can tell me, as no one other than senior officials is present in this room,” she said sternly, the officials said.

Senior officials of the Union government said they had never seen the Congress president so angry. “She was fuming,” an official said.

As officials of the State government and even the politicians fell silent, Mr. Kumar said that being head of the administration, he was responsible for any failure in security. “I am the head of administration, and hence it is my responsibility. I have a few months left [to retire]; I am ready to resign,” a senior officer present at the meeting quoted him as having said.

After Mr. Kumar intervened, the heat came down, and Mr. Singh took over, explaining the steps that he planned. Dr. Singh also extended his support [to the measures], said an official. “CS [the Chief Secretary] was fantastic. He really stood for us, like a true leader, and we are grateful [to him],” said one of his junior colleagues.

However, Mr. Kumar is not quite happy that some of his colleagues spoke to the media. “Look, meetings with high-profile dignitaries in the background of a tragedy would not have been closed door, if participants were free to talk about it,” he told The Hindu .

An IAS officer of the 1979 batch, Mr. Kumar was chosen for the post almost a year ago. Sources say Mr. Raman Singh is fond of Mr. Kumar, despite his overt liking for the left-wing ideology. In fact, the Chief Minister bypassed several senior officers while choosing him for the top post.

Mr. Kumar is one of the most respected officers of Chhattisgarh. “He is almost equally respected by the hardcore police officers, politicians with corruption charges, his colleagues and Left liberals in the State and across central India for his integrity and professionalism,” said an IPS officer in Delhi. “Perhaps, Mr. Kumar’s reputation helped us when things were about to go haywire,” said one of colleagues in the State.



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