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Making Sense of Modified Bureaucracy

In an earlier article Modi Govt Continues to Reform Indian Bureaucracy we have highlighted how ‘perform or perish’ has become a mantra for the bureaucracy under the Modi government. That being an important element, there seem to be many aspects in the Modi era due to which the Indian bureaucracy is pushing for a new work culture. Considering the fact that the governments may change, but the bureaucracy remains the same, infusing certain work culture to speed up the implementation of the programmes by the government of the day is of utmost importance.

Prime Minister Modi appears to have achieved a great amount of success in bringing a new work culture among the bureaucrats. In fact, bureaucracy was a much-discussed aspect in 2014, when Narendra Modi had assumed the office of the Prime Minister for the first time. In his second term, as well, a certain pattern is visible in his dealing with the bureaucracy, especially in his recently held interaction with secretaries. By looking at PM Modi’s interactions in the initial days of both the terms, we are attempting to understand the new work culture that has been infused in the administration.

Before we deliberate on the issue, the below infographic gives you the gist of this reformative journey.

Start of 2019- Pat on the Back

Like in 2014, PM Modi set goals for the administration in his maiden interaction with the secretaries after assuming office for the second term. But we may miss the larger aspects of this evolving story of a new work culture emerging within the bureaucracy if we restrict ourselves to see PM Modi only as a tough taskmaster. Perhaps, a more endearing moment for the officials has been PM Modi extending the credit of his electoral success to the hardworking officials. Here are the main points of the interaction that took place on June 10, 2019:

  • PM Modi said, “Recent general elections have been marked by pro-incumbency, for which credit must go to the entire team of officials, which worked hard, conceived schemes, and delivered excellent results on the ground, over the last five years.”
  • He demanded that each Ministry should focus on ‘Ease of Living’.
  • He outlined water, fisheries, and animal husbandry as important areas for the Government to focus on.
  • PM appreciated that the secretaries have the vision, commitment and energy to take the country forward. He even said that he is proud of the team. He urged everyone to use technology to improve outcomes and efficiency in each department.

A senior bureaucrat, CEO of NITI Ayog, who was in the meeting had this to say about the interaction.

Dateline 2014- Setting the House in Order

Narendra Modi had assumed the office of Prime Minister in May 2014, with the remarkable administrative experience of leading a state over a decade as Chief Minister. Some excerpts from the media reports at that time tell us the story of how he had begun to infuse the new work culture in the bureaucracy, right from the start.

On May 29, 2014 

FirstPost had reported about Modi government’s top 10 priorities for the next 100 days, in which the following top two points were directly related to the bureaucracy:

  • Build confidence in the bureaucracy
  • Welcomed innovative ideas and gave freedom to bureaucrats in their work arena

The same report had quoted the newly appointed principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Nripendra Misra saying, “Modi’s policy priorities will necessarily have to be implemented in a time-bound manner.”

On June 2, 2014 

Financial Express had reported about the four-points Modi government set for bureaucrats:

  1. Decisions should be taken in a transparent manner without being influenced by extraneous considerations.
  2. Decisions should be objective and on merit, and in the national interest and consumer interest.
  3. Let all work as a team
  4. Let the bureaucrats open up also, come up with ideas.

On June 5, 2014

Live Mint reported the secretaries level meeting. Quoting the sources, the report brought out some points that can be summarised as follows:

  • Narendra Modi seeks to give govt secretaries a greater role in policy issues.
  • He opened a communication channel to reach out directly to him to end the red tape in the implementation of schemes.
  • Previously, the secretaries had been asked to prepare a 10-minute presentation for the prime minister listing successes and failures of the past regime as well as points of action for the next five years.
Building Work Culture-Even the Small Things Mattered

Reuters news agency on June 13, 2014, had claimed that PM Modi laid out ten rules for the bureaucracy. Some of the details it wrote indicate how PM Modi had checked even the routine details to set up a work culture among the bureaucrats.

Reuters wrote: “In an edict seen by Reuters he demanded “hygiene and cleanliness”. Offices must be “cleared and spruced up”; each department should scrap 10 archaic rules; and forms should be no longer than one page.”

On June 15,2014 Hindustan Times had published a report to highlight the changes in the work culture of key ministries. Officials who spoke anonymously had admitted that there had been a great shift in their functioning. The report noted, “With instructions to senior officials to ensure their juniors report on time, and not stroll in when they wish, the junior staff has discovered the virtues of punctuality.”

“The inquisitiveness of the PMO, and their follow up to questions has made babus at the ministry more alert. The PMO is also known to call sudden meetings with senior ministers and officials, who have to be on their toes throughout.”


PM Modi seems to be pursuing a systematic overhaul at the top layer of bureaucracy that is expected to trickle down to the bottom layers as well. This entire work culture overhaul has immense scope for further research. With the other trends emerging such as experts becoming part of the administration through lateral entry and merit-based allocation of ministeries as seen in the appointment of a former foreign secretary as the External Affairs Minister, a lot seems to be in store.