Newsmaker Pillai bids Home adieu for home (Profile)

June 30th, 2011 - 12:49 am ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) When G.K. Pillai was named the the home secretary in June 2009, he famously reacted with a smile, saying “bahut danda marega udhar” - referring to Home Minister P. Chidambaram as a stick-wielding hard taskmaster.

Two years down the line, when the 1972 batch civil servant demits his office Thursday he leaves behind a nickname for himself - “big stick with soft talk”.

It manifests in his appearance as well. He always wears a smile, speaks fearlessly, wants results and has been one of the most accessible home secretaries for the media.

“He is an extremely effective bureaucrat. That in a good, positive sense,” a senior home ministry official told IANS at a farewell lunch in Pillai’s honour.

“He is very disciplined. And we got him at a time when we needed somebody very disciplined,” the official said, requesting not to be named.

Pillai took over the home portfolio after a rather soft commerce job in June 2009 when the country was still bleeding from the wounds of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

It is said India’s security apparatus, including intelligence gathering and sharing, was in disarray and this helped 10 Pakistani terrorists to sneak into Mumbai for the Nov 26-29, 2008 mayhem that claimed the lives of 166 people, including 26 foreigners.

In the 24 months since, there have been only two major terror attacks in India (outside insurgency hit Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast) - Feb 13, 2010 in Pune and Dec 7 the same year in Varanasi.

This is being largely attributed to a reform in intelligence gathering that, security officials said, thwarted terror being plotted by Pakistan-based terrorist outfits.

Chidamabaram and his close lieutenant Pillai are said to be the brains behind the better coordination and intelligence-sharing among the security agencies.

Pillai, a strong supporter of reform of the security forces, set out the priorities for himself soon after he took over: Kashmir, Maoist insurgency and the northeast.

None of these have been accomplished fully but an acceptable headway has been made to resolve the Kashmir and northeast issues, even as the Maoist challenge remains.

Kashmir, one of Pillai’s favourite subjects, has been totally peaceful this year with the government taking major initiatives like appointing interlocutors and announcing a major cut of 25 percent in the presence of security forces.

Both ideas were Pillai’s for which he battled serious opposition within and outside the government.

Talks with major insurgent groups in the northeast are also on as and the government is all set to open a peace dialogue with the proscribed United Liberation Front of Asom.

Pillai who has long experience of the northeast, having held the post of joint secretary in charge of that division in the ministry from 1996-2001, knew the insurgents groups there very well.

Unlike most New Delhi-based officials, he is known to have extensively travelled in the northeast, met ordinary people and interacted with officials.

And that is why the home ministry handled the talks with the the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M) directly after a no-nonsense, energetic officer from the Kerala cadre took over as the home secretary.

Still, Pillai is prone to criticism as some ecurity experts feel that he has not done much.

“If there has been some peace and no terror attack, it is not because of any steps taken by the government or anybody doing anything. It is because of international pressure on Pakistan,” well-known security expert Ajai Sahni told IANS.

Sahni said the principle challenge for the government was the Maoist threat.

“That still remains unmet.”

The criticism apart, Pillai, after spending nearly four decades serving the state and central governments, had seemed indispensable for the country’s security apparatus. And that why perhaps he was offered an extension but he refused.

He also opted against running for the post of Chief Vigilance Commissioner and instead preferred to “relax with my family”. He is soon leaving for his post-retirement holiday in Scotland.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in)

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