To some, the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar, who will oversee the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha elections, is a man for all seasons. To others, the 1984 batch IAS officer of Jharkhand cadre is the right person for the right job Beneath these ambitious demands of ex-colleagues lies a lazy person who usually avoids the limelight but listens to everyone, knows how to reach consensus, can crunch numbers on his own and implement a goal even in the most challenging situations. The new Chief Election Commissioner,
All these qualities will be tested, as Kumar will take over as CEC on May 15, replacing Sushil Chandra. He took the important post at a time when the Election Commission of India is being increasingly criticized by the opposition for being biased towards the ruling BJP. In the age of hyperactive social media, opinion polls and heated TV debates, it has become difficult for the commission to ensure that its code of conduct is strictly enforced.
Kumar, an expert on finance, corporate governance and public policy, retired as finance secretary in February 2020. He became the head of the Public Enterprise Selection Board (PESB) in April 2020, before being appointed Election Commissioner in August of that year.
“One of Kumar’s greatest strengths is that he can easily find talents and use them productively,” a senior officer who worked with him for several years told FE. “However, his best quality is that no matter how intense the pressure from the top, he doesn’t give it to his juniors for his own release. This enables the juniors to do their best, ”the official added.
Kumar had an unexpected task of organizing those meetings when Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to hold an unusual meeting with government officials related to various central services, including Jr., in 2016-17, usually to the surprise of seniority-conscious bureaucrats. 20-30 groups in a tight schedule. As the establishment officer and additional secretary of the personnel and training department, Kumar also focused on ensuring 360-degree verification of officers in key positions, another official added.
But Kumar’s toughest challenge awaited him in the Financial Services Department (DFS). When he took over as its secretary in September 2017, the banking system faced its worst crisis. The total NPL ratio of commercial banks reached 11.2% in FY18, with provision coverage of only 50%.
Led by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Kumar planned to add an unprecedented 2.1 trillion to state-owned banks through FY19. But he tied the charge with strict conditions on the recipient bank’s financial performance, governance and risk identification system. A senior officer who worked with Kumar at DFS said, “He told PSB for an indefinite period that there was no free lunch.”
However, by the time Kumar became finance secretary in late July 2019, some stressed state-run banks had begun to recover and others were showing signs of recovery. In his time, the government decided to consolidate 10 PSBs to create a larger and stronger balance sheet for the four larger entities.
A lover of Hindustani classical music, Kumar spends time meditating when he is not working. However, his love for trekking is more known. Kumar went on multiple adventure trips to Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Western Ghats, often recalling those trips with selected journalists. Since he is about to start a new chapter in his life, he will have to give up the beating to further strengthen the credibility of the Election Commission.