IN WHAT may be the first instance of lateral entry into a secretary-level position from outside the civil service, the government has appointed Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, a former vice-chancellor of Jamnagar-based Gujarat Ayurveda University, as special secretary, Ministry of AYUSH. The only other case of lateral entry at this high level in the NDA government is of Parameswaran Iyer, an IAS officer who was brought out of retirement to be made Drinking Water and Sanitation Secretary.
Kotecha, an ayurvedic doctor, has been appointed for three years. His wife Mita teaches at the National Institute of Ayurveda in Jaipur. Kotecha, 54, calls himself an “entrepreneurial Gujarati”, the son of illiterate parents. His first business venture was inaugurated by Narendra Modi, then a BJP general secretary. In 2015, he was awarded the Padma Shri. Kotecha’s CV says he is ‘Trustee, World Ayurveda Foundation, an initiative of Vijnana Bharati, (and) Advisor to the Vijnana Bharati, the biggest science and technology movement in India’. Vijnana Bharati is one of the outfits of the RSS.
While Kotecha moved into his AYUSH office on June 29, a June 20 order that says that till such time that he is familiar with the working of the ministry, Health Secretary C K Mishra will continue to remain in charge has caused some confusion.
Officials, already resentful of the lateral entry, have been wondering at the open-ended nature of the order and the almost dual command structure that is in place for now. Questions have also been raised about a conflict of interest as Kotecha’s wife works in an institute run by the ministry. Sitting in his AYUSH office, Kotecha bristles at the IAS/non-IAS comparison. “I will not do it (answer a question about what he brings to the table that an IAS officer cannot) because I do not support this idea of difference between IAS and non-IAS… It is not the right thing to do… It is a big responsibility. It is not wise to compare what I can do and what an IAS cannot do. IAS can do so many things, but as a technocrat I can do so many things.”
Kotecha says he first met Modi in 1988, when he came to inaugurate the first branch of his Chakrapani Clinic in Jaipur, as BJP general secretary. The clinic has branches in Jaipur, the US and France. “I did not know Modi. Somebody suggested that you are a Gujarati, he is a Gujarati, he may come. So I invited him, and since he was already in Jaipur for another function, he came for the inauguration. When I was the vice-chancellor of Gujarat Ayurveda University from 2013-2016, he was the CM for some of that time. So I did pay him a courtesy visit but we have not had too many interactions,” Kotecha says.
Talking about his long association with RSS ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh, Kotecha says, “He was my mentor, a father figure. He handpicked me for the Post Graduate Institute of Ayurveda, Mahatma Gandhi Chitrakoot Gramodaya University, where I was from 1991-98. I was his personal physician.” The Chitrakoot university was founded by Deshmukh.
Kotecha, who admits having drifted into Ayurveda, graduated from the same Gujarat Ayurveda University that he later headed. “People say I was good,” he says about his tenure, during which he brought in examination reforms.
He says the government has brought him to the AYUSH Ministry to bring quality, in everything from education and research to public health. “There is already a lot of good work being done,” he adds quickly.
Asked about the opposition of allopathy doctors to a proposal in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, now on hold, to give rights to AYUSH doctors to abort non-surgically, Kotecha says the ministry is pushing for it. The legislation is stalled since the Sangli abortion racket, where a homoeopath was caught doing illegal abortions. The PMO felt that the Health Ministry should focus on implementation of existing laws.
Kotecha slams what he calls the undue focus on such incidents. “Reports in foreign media about our country make it appear like we have a very high crime rate, which is not true. This is like that. These are isolated incidents, it is not like everybody is doing it, but media gives disproportionate coverage.”Kotecha also calls “packaging” of AYUSH one of his priorities. Asked about Swami Ramdev — who declined the Padma Shri the same year as Kotecha was awarded — and his growing Ayurveda empire, he smiles. “If FMCG brands are scared of an Indian company, it is good,” he adds.