Puloks induction helps PM reform, betters party ties

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 26 2011, 07:08am hrs
The Cabinets decision to allow 51% foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail not only has shaken the government from the moribund state it had sunk into, but also signals that, in future, on all contentious policy issues the Prime Ministers Office will play the crucial role in cementing the political divide.

A source said the recently-appointed principal secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Pulok Chatterjee, was instrumental not only in putting together the retail FDI policy but also spoke to UPA allies to assuage their fears.

When matters appeared stuck with regard to retail FDI, with the ministers in the UPA government like Veerbhadra Singh expressing their reservations, Chatterjee, with a mandate from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, made sure that the differences were thrashed out and an acceptable solution found, said the source.

Chatterjee pulled it off first by getting in touch with Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who put together a note on the matter. The new proposal was then discussed in the PMO, with Veerbhadra Singh and Kapil Sibal attending. The final version had everyone's stamp of approval, except key UPA ally and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, despite Chatterjee's best efforts.

Although Chatterjee is a UP cadre IAS, he was invited by Banerjee for a dinner hosted by her for officers from Bengal, held in Delhi, said the source. He has maintained one-on-one links across the board.

But Chatterjee's heft lies in more than his ability to network. More importantly, his proximity to 10, Janpath ensures that not only does he have the Prime Minister's ear, but ministers across the government listen to him carefully, said the source. The government had been waiting for someone who could be a bridge between the two poles of power in Delhi. In Chatterjee it seems there is someone willing and able to shoulder the responsibility.

Earlier this year, when the bungling over the handling of the 2G spectrum scam came to light, a bureaucratic reshuffle of the PMO was one of the prescription that the Congress high command and government managers had agreed on. Eight months down the line, the strategy is gaining critical mass.

Interestingly, the role of a powerful principal secretary to the Prime Minister, which had been a little obscured in this PMO, has now been revived. Chatterjee is not only important due to his rank, but also of his proximity to the Congress president.

The atmosphere of arrest that has gripped the government has been shaken up a little. Next on the Prime Minister's agenda is a meeting with the chief of all domestic airline companies to come to grips with their state of affairs.