IN A COUNTRY where aspirants move heaven and earth besides networking and encashing IOUs to get selected to crucial top jobs most IITs are awaiting a chairman for months and certain universities are managing without vice-chancellors?
Why is the UGC unable to find a vice chairperson for months?
Welcome to the very special screening process put in place by the Narendra Modi PMO.
Reports say the Modi government now has a seven-step filter in place for selecting just the right candidate for key institutions, and candidates are checked for what they said or did on their facebook/twitter accounts. The PMO also checks what opinions their peers hold about them, their social media profile and the comments they make about the BJP government, its policies and issues figuring in media debates.
A general perception audit, which basically means what a candidate’s friends have to say about him or her, is carried out and the views of his or her superiors, juniors and colleagues are sought and recorded.
A 360 degree study is made and an express clearance is obtained from the PMO, the Economic Times has reported.
Apart from a background check and Intelligence Bureau report, there is one obstacle that has frustrated even many heavyweight candidates.
Govt checks what candidates said or did on their facebook/twitter accounts in the past, what do they say about government policies and BJP.
"Candidates are assessed on their past association, professional, personal and ideological affiliations with the previous government or with organisations seen as anti-government in any way," the leading Indian financial daily reported.
"In all major appointments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself takes the final call," it said.
In case of certain appointments that require a nod of the President of India, three additional filters are in place.
Many in the government that Punjab Today spoke to said there is a palpable fear among even extremely senior officials and they are now careful as to who they socialise with, what they say to a colleague in a pub or what they punch in their WhatsApp groups.
"You never know what post I may be up for three years from now and who could be in power at the Centre. I do not want to lose because of something I said over a couple of drinks to a senior colleague in a bar," said a secretary level officer.
The Economic Times report said "strong comments even by friends and associates of a candidate on social media can lead to the candidate’s elimination."
Another official with specialisation in a very niche field said he was not afraid about the integrity check but was worried about a regime that checks how a candidate is perceived. "With my blunt, no-nonsense ways, I have rubbed the wrong way enough people in my career who will be going all out to contribute to my ‘perception audit’, and will recommend me for a full tenure in each of Dante's circles of hell," he said.
All VCs of central universities need a nod from President Ram Nath Kovind. Incidentally, the Rashtrapati Bhawan has its own mechanism to carry out due diligence over and beyond what the government may come up with.
"There is great benefit in this system as anyone selected will then enjoy the complete trust of the government and this fact will also be known to all the colleagues. This smoothens the work culture and removes friction," said a strong supporter of the filtering process who works with a leading NGO that in turn works closely with the government and boasts of recommending many names for crucial posts.
Many NGOs and think tanks, like the Vivekananda International Foundation, have been playing a key role in shortlisting and selecting candidates for key positions.
IGNOU, Tripura University and Visva-Bharati are currently awaiting vice chancellors. The Lalit Kala Akademi, the Indian Council for Historical Research and the National Gallery of Modern Art also had to wait a long time before the government supplied them with leaders, ostensibly filtered through an elaborate sieve.
(The author is a freelance journalist with interest in communication, media, government and politics.)
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