New Delhi: A day after the Narendra Modi government transferred Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, the administration of the union territory issued a separate order directing all administrative secretaries to address/mark papers and files to new Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta from 31 May.
“…accordingly, all the administrative departments are directed to address/mark all the papers and files to Arun Kumar Mehta, IAS, with effect from 31.05.2021,” the order read.
The unusual and cryptic order is being seen as the culmination of Chhattisgarh cadre IAS officer Subrahmanyam’s tumultuous tenure as chief secretary of J&K since 2018.
“Usually, this line is written in the transfer orders of patwaris (land records officer) when they refuse to give up charge… It is denigrating for a chief secretary,” a senior IAS officer from J&K said.
Former J&K CM Omar Abdullah too underscored how unusual the order was in a tweet Saturday. “Very unusual order issued by the J&K government. If I didn’t know better I’d read this order to mean the outgoing CS wasn’t too keen to hand over charge to his successor. Either way I haven’t seen an order like this before,” he said.
In a subsequent tweet, however, Abdullah gave a peek into Subrahmanyam’s tenure, and his inability to win over any allies across the political and administrative spectrums in the last three years.
“A man who famously said no Kashmiris shed tears when mainstream politicians were detained in 2019. In 2021, it looks like no one can wait to show him the door. Be careful who you step on (on) the way up, you will meet them on the way down,” Abdullah said.
The IAS officer quoted above claimed there was tension between Subrahmanyam and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, just as there had been with Sinha’s predecessors G.C. Murmu and Satya Pal Malik, the last governor of J&K as a state.
“The L-G’s office wouldn’t clear any files that would come from the CS office,” the IAS officer claimed. “There was an attempt to centralise all postings, transfers, policy decisions, etc., and that ultimately did not go down well with even the new L-G.”
ThePrint reached Subrahmanyam for comment through phone calls and text messages, but there was no response.
A source in L-G Sinha’s office said “there was no difference of opinion” between him and the chief secretary, and that his transfer was “routine”.
‘No one shed a tear’
In August 2020, Subrahmanyam drew flak in J&K for saying not a “single soul had cried” over the detention of political and separatist leaders in August last year, when the Modi government had announced its decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution.
“J&K was a broken state — the governance was broken badly, there was no system, no rules, and decay began a long time ago. Not a single soul had cried over detention of political and separatist leaders in August last year, when Centre scrapped J&K’s status,” he had said.
When he was transferred, politicians from across mainstream parties in J&K tweeted how nobody was shedding a tear for him when he is being removed from the post.
Adios Chief Secretary Mr BVR Subrahmanyam ji.
“No one will shed a tear”
— Najmu Saqib (@SAAQQIIB) May 27, 2021
Cheif Secretary, NO ONE SHED A TEAR. Goodbye!
— Sarah Hayat Shah (@SaraHayatShah) May 28, 2021
Sources in the J&K BJP told ThePrint that while Subrahmanyam’s stint in J&K started on a positive note until Article 370 was repealed, he subsequently developed differences — first with governor Satya Pal Malik, and then with lieutenant governors G.C. Murmu and the incumbent Manoj Sinha — over what was seen as his centralised style of functioning.
The Modi government’s faith in Subrahmanyam’s administrative capability was evident in the fact that he was made chief secretary of J&K the day after the BJP withdrew its support to the Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government on 19 June 2018. He was the first non-J&K cadre IAS officer to be posted as chief secretary of the then-state in almost 30 years.
Subrahmanyam had said in a statement in 2020 that before he came to J&K, in June 2018, he met the PM and sought his guidance for his new assignment.
“The prime minister told me: Go, clean up the administration, rebuild it and hand over the ‘amanat’ (precious possession) to the local people,” he had said.
No allies in the administration
Subrahmanyam had issued this statement a day after former Gujarat cadre IAS officer and the L-G at the time, Murmu, was transferred out in August 2020. The two had well-known tensions over the course of the 10 months Murmu was the L-G.
A second senior IAS officer from the J&K cadre, who didn’t wish to be named, told ThePrint: “It was not just mainstream politicians that Subrahmanyam antagonised. Even in the administration, he could make no allies. His tensions with Murmu are well-known. He would constantly bypass him, and try and run the administration through his own coterie of officers and a separate power centre.”
ThePrint reached Murmu for comment through calls and text messages, but there was no response.
Before Murmu’s tenure, there were reports of Subrahmanyam’s fractious relationship with Governor Satya Pal Malik, who was running the state for a year after dissolving the state assembly.
“Leave aside the political developments in Kashmir. Over the last few years, the bureaucracy has been bitterly divided here. It was one of the reasons why Manoj Sinha was sent here… It was felt that the bureaucracy needs a kind of political leadership here,” the second officer quoted above said, hinting that this was among the reasons why Sinha, a senior BJP leader, was posted as J&K L-G.
Officers claimed even in routine work and meetings, Subrahmanyam would dismiss all Kashmiris as “corrupt”, and as a result, alienated everyone around him in the state. Some termed his exit from the UT as a “confidence building measure”, which could lift the morale of the bureaucracy.
Back to the Centre
Now, Subrahmanyam is all set to take over as commerce secretary in the Government of India.
For the 1987-batch IAS officer, a posting at the Centre is familiar territory, as he has served in key departments in the central government, including the Department of Personnel and Training, the finance ministry.
He was also in the PMO as Manmohan Singh’s private secretary.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
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