The resignation of Shri S C Garg, a high profile bureaucrat, post his shunting from the powerful post of Finance Secretary to the low key post of Power Secretary, was sudden and did take the markets by surprise. Till yesterday he was the public face of the finance ministry and also the PMO’s dominating sharp shooter, who did not hesitate to get into duels with any authority.
He lorded over the MPC meetings pursuing the government’s agenda for an interest rate cut, he threatened to overrule the RBI, by issuing section 7 notices, which were never ever issued in the history of the RBI till then, leading to the resignation of the then RBI governor Dr. Urijit Patel, he then demanded that the RBI handover its accumulated surplus of lakhs of crores to the government, ultimately leading to the resignation of its Deputy Governor Viral Acharya and he recently put in a heavily worded dissent note in the Jalan Panel report, demanding that the RBI handover its huge surplus of lacs of crores to the government, in one single instalment, even refusing to accept the requests of other members of the panel to tone down his dissent note.
He has now been demanding that SEBI too handover its surplus to the government, rejecting its contention that doing so will erode the financial and functional autonomy of SEBI. He was the sore thumb and dissenter in every situation, willing to break time honoured traditions of unanimity and cordiality in the bureaucracy, such that he even put in a rude and unbecoming tweet in response to Viral Acharya’s explosive speech last year, which got him a severe reprimand from the then Finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley.
He was the man who always disturbed the system, but he certainly did so at the bidding of his political masters.
His sudden demotion and shift to the lowkey power ministry comes as a surprise, though his resignation does not, because generally a person accustomed to such power and limelight cannot do without it. S C Garg has been one of the most powerful finance secretaries of recent times and has been a very domineering one too. He was afterall the pointsman, sharp shooter and the bully of those at the top, who he reported to. He certainly got carried away by his power and proximity to the powers that be.
But the corridors of power in North Block say that this departure was expected and imminent. With his unwillingness to build bridges in the system and his attitude of ‘my way or the highway’, he had grown too big for his boots and needed to be cut to size. Despite being a senior IAS officer, it is said that the system itself started disliking him and thus when the budget proposal of the Finance Minister to borrow funds abroad raised a hue and cry, he was the logical fall guy.
Even in the worst of times like in 1991, India did not resort to such borrowings and when it decided to do so now, a litany of economists and former RBI governors objected to it strongly. The government soon realised the foolishness of this move which would have an adverse impact on future generations of India and is reported to have put it on hold.
S C Garg was blamed for not having sufficiently warned the government of the risks and dangers of resorting to such foreign loans and that was a good enough reason to cut him to size and shunt him out of the finance ministry. It was not one reason, but the accumulation of many that led to his exit.
But then S C Garg has been a powerful babu who headed the system and his sudden departure from the finance ministry is no ordinary event and it is not business as usual. Much as a bureaucrat’s duties are shrouded in secrecy, this departure leaves a deep mystery and demands a few answers.
- The budget has been a damp squib and the Indian economy is in severe stress, with no suitable policies to revive it. Is Garg the fall guy for failures of his top bosses, after all the top netas are never blamed, somebody else is, like Garg in this case.
- Why is it that the blue eyed boy of the system has now become the bad boy and has been thrown out?
- Is Garg the victim of a power struggle or a blame game between top senior ministers, who got caught in the cross fire?
- Is it that Garg is the babu who knew too much and had to be exited?
- Why was he shunted out, is it a case of incompetence, or is it corruption or is it that he had become a threat to the system itself.
- Is it that he was obstructing reforms and policies and had to go?
The exit of S C Garg to us is shrouded in a mystery which will be resolved only when he writes his biography like many of his ilk do. But he will forever regret forgetting the saying, that those who dance with the elephants get crushed.