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Meet Hasmukh Adhia: Note ban point man is a mascot for Modi's brand of governance

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 December 2016, 19:55 IST

Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia could be the mascot for Narendra Modi's brand of politics and governance, the Gujarat Model of Administration as it's known in officialdom.

As is now widely know, Adhia was one of the brains behind the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. He has long peddled the Gujarat Model, which is a heady mix of administration, spirituality, management and obsession with control. Integral to this model is constant experimentation with new concepts. The unleashing of misery on ordinary people through currency replacement is, therefore, of a piece with Modi and Adhia's doctrine - only this one has gone haywire.

Adhia, a 1981 batch IAS officer, comes from Gujarat's Lohana community, which is known for its business acumen. He is one of two Lohanas who are currently in the inner circle of Modi; the other is Parimal Nathwani, Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand who was a hotshot in Reliance Industries.

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His education provides an interesting insight into Adhia's personality. After taking a post graduate degree in commerce in 1981 and a diploma in public policy and management from IIM-Bangalore in 2003, he went for a PhD in yoga from Swami Vivekananda Yoga University, Bangalore. His thesis was on "Impact of Yoga on Management".

In Gujarat, Adhia was known for being Modi's 'yes man'. He was among the bureaucrats who took Modi's directive to maintain distance from the media a bit too seriously. He never encouraged media interactions and remained quite aloof in the bureaucratic circle as well. In the most crucial periods of Modi's rule - when he took over as chief minister to arrest the BJP's plummeting popularity after the Kutch earthquake of 2001, and after the 2002 pogrom - Adhia played a key role in the efforts to give Modi an image makeover.

In return, Modi took him into his inner circle, posting him as additional principal secretary in the chief minister's office.

He actively helped launch the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit in 2003 while posted in the industries department. The event saw Modi selling Gujarat as the prime industrial destination and became a regular feature during his rule. It has since been emulated by several other states.

Adhia is, however, best remembered for Karamyogi Abhiyan of 2003, which was aimed at "infusing life into the dead administration of Gujarat to provide better governance". Though promoted as Modi's brainchild, the exercise was masterminded by Adhia. It drew much publicity amid criticism that it overburdened the already short-staffed administration at Taluka level. Many observers saw it as another attempt to create a "positive image" for Modi in the aftermath of the riots that failed to serve its stated purpose.

Next came the Chintan Shibirs, Modi's conclaves for senior bureaucrats, initially at the state level and then at district and taluka levels. Again, Adhia was the prime force behind it. Often referred to as Modi's Chief Karamyogi, he was instrumental in introducing yoga sessions at these events; it was, in fact, compulsory for participants to do yoga exercises.

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Adhia also tried to introduce the Japanese Kaizen philosophy to Gujarat's administration after his return to the administration having completed his PhD. He tried to experiment with the implementation of the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency. "Maybe he forgot that it was Gujarat in India and not Japan that such an exercise would work. But this showed his penchant for experimenting," noted a senior journalist who has covered the Gujarat administration for decades.

The ideas of Kanya Kelavani, a campaign to promote girls' education and Gunotsav, aimed at increasing enrollment in primary schools, too are attributed to Adhia. While the Gujarat government has claimed that these initiatives have brought about a sea change in rural, and particularly tribal areas, several NGOs have disputed the claims.

While at the education department in 2010, Adhia launched Vaanche Gujarat, or Reading Gujarat, a campaign that envisioned reading "good books" as a cultural practice to make Gujarat a 'well read' society. The rationale behind was that Gujarat, being known as a state of entrepreneurs and businessmen, was not associated with good reading habits. In colloquial idiom, the people were known for their skills in keeping and maintaining their 'chopda'(cash books) but not for reading 'chopdi' (books).

Its launch by Modi was marked by over 50 lakh students across the state reading for an hour. Modi himself read Hind Swaraj by MK Gandhi in the Central Library, Gandhinagar. The campaign was lost somewhere as Modi and his team came out with newer ideas and more campaigns.

Adhia has been writing columns on spirituality and has penned two books -- Reinventing Government through HRM Strategies and My Notes to Myself. In the latter, he dwells at length on the rationale behind the Karamyogi Abhiyan.

Interestingly, Adhia's tenure as principal and later additional chief secretary, finance, is not remembered for any major economic decisions. "Yet Modi has taken his confidantes to Delhi and placed them in the finance ministry in particular," the journalist pointed out.

In New Delhi, Adhia is said to have been behind last year's two controversial budget proposals - the decision to partially tax withdrawals from employees' provident fund, or EPF, and the levy of one per cent excise duty on jewellery. The government was eventually left red-faced on both. What happens in case of demonetisation remains to be seen.

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First published: 10 December 2016, 19:55 IST