Rajiv Kumar | A bureaucrat for all seasons

The Chief Election Commissioner, who has always stayed on the right side of different governments, has a rich experience of working in various departments in States and the Centre

March 17, 2024 01:47 am | Updated 10:22 am IST

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar has been in the spotlight after the abrupt resignation of Election Commissioner Arun Goel, who was scheduled to succeed Mr. Kumar next year as CEC. After the sudden resignation on March 9, it emerged that “apparent differences” between the two led to Mr. Goel quitting the coveted position in the three-member panel.

Sources maintained that both were not on the same page on important political issues and their differences escalated after the exit of Anup Chandra Pandey, the third member in the poll panel whose tenure ended in February.

Both Mr. Kumar and Mr. Pandey belong to the 1984 batch of Indian Administrative Service (IAS), from the Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh cadre, respectively, while Mr. Goel was from the Punjab cadre (1985).

Asked about Mr. Goel’s exit, Mr. Kumar said in a press conference on Saturday, ‘We must respect if he had personal reasons to quit.” The Centre, which issued a gazette notification accepting Mr. Goel’s resignation with effect from March 9, has not responded about the exit.

A cursory glance at the career graph of Mr. Kumar suggests that the bureaucrat thrived in the governments of different political parties, be it at the State or at the Centre.

“Before Jharkhand was carved out from Bihar, Rajiv Kumar was in the Bihar cadre and was considered close to the then government of Lalu Prasad Yadav. He was very close to Mukund Prasad, a 1966 batch IAS officer, who was Principal Secretary in the CMO during the Lalu and Rabri Devi governments before he was elevated as Chief Secretary in November 2000,” a source from Patna said.

At the Centre, he worked in various Ministries, including the powerful Ministry of Finance, where he served first as Joint Secretary in the Department of Expenditure and then as Secretary, Financial Services.

By the virtue of his seniority, he was designated as Finance Secretary, from September 2017 to February 2020.

Various roles

Before he was moved to the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Kumar was the Establishment Officer in the Ministry of Personnel, a critical position, which handles all important personnel appointments. The Establishment Officer is ex officio secretary to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), which is chaired by the Prime Minister and approves all appointments and personnel matters related to the Central government.

On the ECI website, it is mentioned that as a secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Kumar monitored all work on banking, insurance and pension reforms, and had launched a crackdown on shell companies that were being used to evade taxes.

Mr. Kumar superannuated as Finance Secretary in February 2020 and in less than 45 days, he was appointed as the chief of the Public Enterprises Selection Board — the body that clears names of government officials for various top posts in public sector undertakings.

In the same year, the Modi government saw in him a replacement for Ashok Lavasa, who had resigned as Election Commissioner in August. After Mr. Lavasa’s exit, the government swiftly appointed Mr. Kumar as an Election Commissioner, in September 2020.

Mr. Lavasa had also resigned under not-so-clear circumstances, and he had apparently differed with the then CEC during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, on issues such as the Model Code of Conduct violations by certain high profile political functionaries. Mr. Lavasa was sent to the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines.

In May 2022, Mr. Kumar became the 25th CEC, succeeding Sushil Chandra, a Revenue Service officer, who was appointed to the Election Commission after his superannuation from the Finance Ministry as CBDT chairman. As CEC, Mr. Kumar’s tenure is to end in February 2025.

In his bio on X, Mr. Kumar describes himself as a trekker. An official who worked with him described him as a “bureaucrat who maintains a low profile, always prefers to be on the right side of the government and avoids controversies and media.”

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