Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot appoints Niranjan Arya, a Dalit, as Chief Secretary

Gehlot not only played his social engineering card well, but also sent a political message to the Dalits who in recent time have suffered at the hands of the upper caste

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot; the new Chief Secretary Niranjan Arya (right)
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot; the new Chief Secretary Niranjan Arya (right)

Prakash Bhandari

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, known for playing his social engineering cards well, in a midnight development, appointed Niranjan Arya, a Dalit as the new Chief Secretary. Arya was additional Chief Secretary holding the finance department's responsibilities. He superseded 10 persons who were senior to him. It's for the first time that any government appointed a person as the Chief Secretary ignoring the claims of such a large number of seniors.

A 1989 batch officer, Arya belongs to the Dholi (drummer) community from Pali district. He would remain in office for 15 months. He will retire in January 2022.

On Saturday night, Chief Minister discussed the issue of the new appointment after the Union government refused to grant a three-month extension to the incumbent Chief Secretary, Rajeeva Swaroop. After waiting for over a month-and-a-half for the extension of service tenure from the Union Home Ministry, Swaroop retired as Chief Secretary on October 31. He was in office for a mere four months.

He had replaced D B Gupta this June when Gehlot suddenly removed Gupta, an appointee of Vasundhara Raje government.

Gupta was made one of the three advisors to the Chief Minister. This decision to remove Gupta, who had barely three months left for retirement, sent a panic message in the bureaucracy. This move was followed by a large-scale bureaucratic reshuffle.

When Rajeeva Swaroop was made the Chief Secretary from the position of additional Chief Secretary, Home, he was expected to get an extension. The Chief Minister sent a request to the Union government for his extension by three months way back in September 15. But the Home Ministry did not process his file. On the other hand, the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary S Shanmugham's second extension file was approved by the Home Ministry even as Swarup was left in a lurch.

Interestingly, Shanmugham is a 1987 batch officer, a batchmate of Swarup.

The Centre did not clear the request for Swarup's extension at the behest of the Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. As Home Secretary, Swarup had ordered the tapping of his mobile phone earlier during the political crisis in the state following the rebellion by Sachin Pilot.

Swarup was due to retire on October 31 this year and Gehlot, with a view to give him some more time, sent the request to the Centre for his extension. He even spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about Swarup, but nothing moved and eventually Swarup retired without even getting a farewell.

Gehlot’s masterstroke to appoint a Dalit as Chief Secretary was definitely at the cost of superseding 10 senior officers. Arya was 11th in the seniority list, but Gehlot was determined to make a Dalit as Chief Secretary. He did not care how it would annoy the seniors. It’s for the first time that a Dalit became Chief Secretary in the state. Thus, Gehlot not only played his social engineering card well, but also sent a political message to the Dalits who in recent time have suffered at the hands of the upper caste.

During his previous two tenures as the Chief Minister, he had appointed Salahuddin Ahmed as the first Muslim Chief Secretary and Kushal Singh as the first woman Chief Secretary. Kushal Singh was also a Jat.

Niranjan Arya’s wife Sangeeta Arya, a medico, unsuccessfully contested the last Vidhan Sabha election, but only recently she was made a Member of the Rajasthan Public Service Commission.

After her appointment, it was expected that Arya will not be made the Chief Secretary. But unmindful of the reactions of the bureaucracy, Gehlot at two in the night decided to make Arya the Chief Secretary and the order to this effect was issued at late night itself.

Arya has been a trusted officer of Gehlot and he involved Arya in all major decisions. Arya was never given any significant position by the Vasundhara Raje government. But Gehlot knew the worth of Arya. Both would speak in Marwari and Arya became a major advisor of Gehlot on all aspects of bureaucracy besides finance.

Out of the 10 officers whom Arya superseded, six officers were posted in high positions in Jaipur and four officers, who are all of the ranks of Additional Chief secretary are on deputation to the Union government at the Centre in Delhi.

After Arya was posted as Chief Secretary, three senior IAS officers Veenu Gupta (1987 batch), Subodh Agarwal (1988 batch) and Rajeshwar Singh (1989 batch) were shunted out from the state secretariat and were given other positions so that they don’t sit in the precincts of the secretariat.

Three other officers, Ravi Shankar Shrivastav, Giriraj Singh and P K Goyal, who are also senior to Arya, were already functioning from outside the secretariat.

V Sriniwas, the husband of late Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s granddaughter, Neelkamal Darbari, Usha Singh and Shubhra Singh are posted in Delhi. Usha Singh, who is Sports and Youth Secretary at the Centre and Neelakamal Darbari, posted as additional secretary at te Centre, were in running for the Chief secretary’s post.

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