As the ritual chest chumping and credit claim battle rages is on over the Bogibeel bridge as from politicians to social organisations all are taking credit, the man who made it happen was quietly forgotten.
He was late Ashok Saikia, IAS, Joint Secretary(PMO) in the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government. It was he who moved the Railway Board through PMO on the bridge, which has been hanging for years it was considered completely economically unviable for NF Raulway.
The survey of Bogineel Bridge was done several time since 60s but it was not in the radar of the Railway Ministry due to its unvability despite the strategic necessity.
But it was Ashok Saikia who played the pivotal role in both Bogibeel Bridge and Dholla Sadiya during the Vajpayee Government, which bore the fruit today.
In fact, along with principal secretary Brajesh Mishra, if there’s any other official in the PMO that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee trusts implicitly, it was the mild-mannered, unassuming Saikia. But while Mishra was the high-profile, visible face of the PMO, Saikia preferred to push his files as far away from the limelight as possible.
There were two reasons why Saikia was widely regarded as the most important joint secretary in this PMO. When Vajpayee became PM, he asked Saikia, who was about to pack his bags and leave for an assignment in North Korea, to move to Delhi instead of Pyongyang. The two know each other for over three decades, ever since Saikia studied history at Ramjas College in Delhi University. He was a regular visitor to the home of Vajpayee’s adopted family, the Kauls.
He maintained an obsessively low-profile. The low profile has helped. Few outside the PMO recognise Saikia. And like any other joint secretary, his photograph is yet to make it to the front pages of a newspaper. But within the four walls of South Block, there are no delusions about his importance. Apart from the principal secretary, Saikia is the only other official who can walk into the PM’s room without an appointment. And later in the evening, he is also a frequent visitor at the PM’s residence. In fact, he is seen as the link between South Block and Race Course Road.
The 1971 batch IAS officer is, however, very clear about the fact that he is there in South Block only because of this prime minister. And for no other reason. “Last April, when the government lost the vote of confidence, Saikia came to office early the next day, packed all his stuff in four boxes and said bye to all of us,” recalls a PMO official. Saikia had, in fact, contacted the chief secretary of Meghalaya and asked for a transfer back to the state. “So for him, it’s not the PMO. It’s the PMV (Prime Minister Vajpayee),” says a friend.
The accessibility often leads to extended responsibilities. For instance, recalls a PMO source, one evening at around 9 pm, when the PM saw the speech he was supposed to deliver the next day, he said he didn’t like it. Saikia, who was there at that time, was asked to do something. In the end, it was the joint secretary who stayed up till 11 pm, reworking the speech.
But surprisingly for one who is known for his closeness to the PM, the joint secretary has only two pictures taken with Vajpayee. The standing joke is that he had better get some more taken. Otherwise, how would the rest of the world realise that he “knows the PM”.