Shashank Shekhar Singh disliked being called a pilot. Flying and an interest in aircraft were only a hobby,he would tell people,asking them to describe him in terms of the work I have been doing for so many years.
Singh,who died Wednesday in Delhi at age 63,preferred to be identified with his administrative skills,which included managing politicians. He was not an IAS officer but served the Uttar Pradesh 30 years as an administrator,a career that peaked with his appointment as cabinet secretary,a post the UP government created especially for him.
And though many bureaucrats and politicians referred to the former Army pilot as Captain,they do remember him as a lot else besides – a troubleshooter and a master strategist,a highly ambitious and short-tempered man who managed political as well as bureaucratic matters.
During the previous regime,it is said he signed almost every file on chief minister Mayawatis behalf,from transfers to approval of projects. This,say bureaucratic sources,left the chief secretary with practically nothing to do. He managed and controlled everything,from the day-to-day affairs of the government to tricky political situations such as farmer protests in Bhatta-Parsaul, says an officer who worked with him. Singh had represented the government in negotiating with the agitating farmers.
He never left anyone in doubt about who was in control. If anything was bothering officers or politicians,he would call them to his office and sort out their issues. If anyone wanted anything done,it was outside his office that they would wait,and this included even leaders of the then ruling BSP.
Once, recalls a rural development officer,he summoned rural development and forest officers of all districts to Lucknow,where we stayed for three days until the plans for a plantation project were complete. None of us was allowed to move out,even lunch and dinner were served there.
About his temper,an officer recalls,He would lose his cool with senior officers,including the chief secretary and DGP,during meetings,which would embarrass everybody.
He was a very confident pilot too,recall sources in the civil aviation department,where he had served as secretary and director. He frequently interacted with pilots on technical issues,besides closely following the purchase of aircraft and development of airfields across the state. He flew the aircraft for several chief ministers; this stopped in the last few years,though he continued to fly solo.
His rise began after 1979,when he became a state pilot after having served in the Army. V P Singh was then chief minister. Shashank Shekhar Singh flew V P Singhs aircraft,and went to fly those of Mayawati,N D Tiwari,Veer Bahadur Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav.
His equations with political leaders varied from leader to leader,and from time to time. In 1985,during the Veer Bahadur Singh regime,he was made officer on special duty. From 1995-97,during Presidents rule,he was made principal secretary to then governor Romesh Bhandari,but was relieved of that post when Mayawati became chief minister. When she returned to power in 2002,Singh was made industrial development commissioner,a position next only to that of the chief secretary,as well as ex-officio chairman of the industrial development authorities for NOIDA and Greater NOIDA.
There was a time when he regarded as close to Mulayam,too. He was adviser (civil aviation) in the Samajwadi Party government until 2007. Later,it would be the Mulayam government who would dissolve the post of cabinet secretary created for Singh.
The Mayawati government of 2007-12 had created the post with an amendment to the governments Business of Transaction Rules. He was also given power as administrative head and a cabinet ministers rank. A litigation in high court,however,led to the government restoring the chief secretarys administrative powers and Singh losing the cabinet ministers rank – not that it curbed any of his powers during that regime. After the current government took charge and dissolved the post,Singh took premature retirement in March 2012.