WITH SECTIONS OF the media underlining the perception of a regime yet to get into a proactive governance mode, one would have thought that the Team CMO would be a worried lot, huddled in a room to devise a strategy to kill that perception and float a new narrative of a dynamic government.
Instead, certain officials in the top echelons of governance in the civil secretariat are exhibiting a sense of glee, a fact that becomes all too obvious, going by the leaks, plants and sheer insinuations that have been making their way into the headlines of late.
These straw men flitting around the CMO with various tags do not realise that all such planted news stories only bring disrepute to the Chief Minister himself.
With the hand-picked team of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh – Chief Principal Secretary to CM Suresh Kumar, Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh and Principal Secretary to CM Tejveer Singh – it was clear from day one that the Patiala royal scion has given himself an exoskeleton shield to ensure that no dirty allegations stick to the CMO.
The 1983-batch IAS officer Suresh Kumar was always known as someone who could speak truth to power, a quality that made Amarinder Singh put him in the hot seat during his earlier avatar as CM at a time when CMO was neck-deep in allegations from within the Congress' ranks. With Suresh Kumar as his Personal Secretary, Amarinder Singh spent the second half of his stint more peacefully.
But then the same characteristic strain of Suresh Kumar cost him highly when Prakash Singh Badal overlooked him for the post of Chief Secretary, opting instead for Sarvesh Kaushal. With the elections looming large, there was a perception in the Akali Dal leadership that Suresh Kumar would not allow any hanky-panky and could become an obstacle.
Karan Avtar Singh waited on the sidelines for ages while Tejvir Singh simply chose to stay miles away, literally, from Punjab. With Karan Avtar and Tejveer Singh, both known to be leaders in their own right and an equal ability to play as team members, this is being seen as a tightly-knit CMO, but then middlemen in the corridors of power rarely like a set of clean reputations calling all the shots.
No wonder that some in the team of advisors – a euphemism for people adjusted, accommodated or parked for either services rendered in the past or imbued with qualities that all regimes need, though on the basis of plausible deniability – are feeling as having been left out of reckoning.
As a result, a stray news item suddenly proclaiming someone in the CMO as a person sympathetic to the Akali Dal or painting another senior officer as deliberately trying to undercut a heavyweight advisor becomes the talk of the Punjab Civil Secretariat.
"The fact is that most CMOs have a running gravy train, and there are always people surrounding every Chief Minister who want to make hay while the sun shines. Now, there is a problem with this CMO that the sun is shining but people like Suresh Kumar, Karan Avtar and Tejvir are not letting the gravy train run. How does one make hay? This was bound to result in some negative commentary," chuckled a senior journalist who has covered the CMO for more than 20 years now.
"Now, there is a problem with this CMO. The sun is shining but people like Suresh Kumar, Karan Avtar and Tejvir are not letting the gravy train run. How does one make hay? This was bound to result in some negative commentary.”
A retired bureaucrat, who, too, suffered at the hands of the erstwhile Akali regime and who has immense respect for Team CMO, said, "These straw men flitting around the CMO with various tags do not realise that all such planted news stories only bring disrepute to the Chief Minister himself. This is the first time I am seeing some advisors of the CM actually being paid to harm the CM! God save a regime which is advised by such intellect."
So far, among the people vociferously defending the Chief Minister and his government has been the Media Advisor Raveen Thukral, a journalist of some repute, but then his influence over the media corps is thanks to his years in journalism working with some top mastheads.
With the Aam Aadmi Party continuing its tirade of an understanding between the ruling Congress and the opposition Akali Dal, any allegations that anyone in the CMO is sympathetic to the Akalis is likely to erode Amarinder’s own standing. The AAP may have lost badly, but the significant sympathy for its narrative persists in Punjab.
The CM’s best strategy in such circumstances would be to stand rock solid behind men and women with teflon reputations.
Of the army of advisors and sundry political appointees, the sooner the CMO gets them to fall in line, the better it would be for the reputation of the government.
With the latest talk about friction between the state police chief Suresh Arora, and the Special Task Force head Harpreet Singh Sidhu, it seems the season of firefighting is nowhere near an end. It is time CM Amarinder Singh wielded the big stick and got everyone to fall in line.
A functioning regime is characterised by people refusing to plant internecine stories, not rushing to small time hacks for publishing backstabbing slanted headlines.
But then, small men have rarely been refrained from acting in a manner befitting the Lilliputians, a fact of history Amarinder's men in the CMO will also learn to live with. Any damage, of course, will be to the reputation of the CM himself.
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