Kremlin's Andropov signals that discipline is his byword

''Discipline'' is emerging as a major domestic policy theme of new Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, and the nation's new deputy premier has a reputation as a disciplinarian.

Mr. Andropov's first major policy speech, Nov. 22, also suggested the importance of basing job decisions on candidates' abilities. In the view of some foreign diplomats here that is one possible explanation for the promotion Nov. 24 of Geidar Aliyev, a non-Russian, to one of the two posts of first deputy prime minister.

A natty dresser, a tough and confident talker, and a career internal security official from the days of Stalin, Mr. Aliyev has within a single week jumped from the Communist Party leadership in his native Azerbaijan Republic, near Iran , to full membership on the national party Politburo and one of Moscow's top economic posts.

Western diplomats speculate that Mr. Aliyev is slated to act as ''enforcer'' within the Soviet economy for the new party leadership's avowed emphasis on fighting inefficiency, shoddy workmanship, irresponsibility, and bureaucratic inertia at farm, factory, and office.

Senior Soviet sources argue it is simply too early, and too simplistic, to make predictions of this sort. The precise responsibilities of Mr. Aliyev - beyond a role in ''managing'' the troubled national economy - are said not to have been fully worked out.

But a prominent member of the Communist Party Central Committee said privately Nov. 25 it is fair to assume that the new leadership attaches top priority to seeking an answer to corruption, laxity, and related economic snags. He added: ''This is a problem that has long been ripe for addressing.''

Since he moved from the head of the Azerbaijan KGB security organization to his republic's Communist Party chiefdom in 1969, Mr. Aliyev has gradually built a reputation for a can-do approach to the economy and a no-nonsense assault on corruption. On the latter front he used the punishment of local party officials who took undue advantage of their positions to try to counter what he termed ''despondency and indifference'' among the populace.

Despite his efforts, Mr. Aliyev never really undid corruption problems on his home turf - this, according to no less a figure than party leader Leonid Brezhnev shortly before his passing. One of Mr. Aliyev's final anti-corruption moves as Azerbaijani party leader, in fact, targeted the very authorities that were supposed to be enforcing his campaign.

All this may say less about Mr. Aliyev than about the intractability of the problem he had taken on. Indiscipline is an issue that will be central to Mr. Andropov's early tasks.

On the general economic front, Mr. Aliyev oversaw a startling turnaround during his tenure as Azerbaijani leader, in which the republic moved from among the most sluggish to among the most productive in the Soviet Union. Here again, at least one caveat might be added. Azerbaijan benefits from a labor surplus, rather than the shortage that complicates much of the nation's economy.

But there can be little doubt, at least, that Mr. Aliyev's image as a taskmaster fits in nicely with the general approach suggested by the early days of Mr. Andropov's tenure as national party leader.

Although recent Azerbaijani policies should not blithely be assumed as a model for Mr. Andropov's national strategy in the weeks ahead, one well-publicized aspect of Mr. Aliyev's battle against corruption was its focus on local party officials who were lining their pockets with money obtained by questionable means or stuffing their staffs with proteges instead of doing their jobs.

Mr. Aliyev, in an interview in the national weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta last year, explained: ''In an atmosphere of abuse of official positions, corruption, whitewash, in an atmosphere of contempt for honest labor, the initiative of the masses cannot but diminish, moral indignation cannot fail to reign, only to give way to a state of despondency and indifference among many strata of society. . . .

''We had to help people recover their faith in the righteousness and stability of the Leninist norms of life in a socialist society.''

Between 1971 and 1976, Mr. Aliyev has said, 15 regional party leaders from a total of roughly 60 were dismissed on various charges of misconduct. Earlier this year, Mr. Aliyev was quoted as saying that since February 1980 fully 25 percent of local government, as opposed to party, leaders had been sacked ''for various abuses and flagrant violations of the law.''

Among transgressions high on the Azer-baijani leader's black list was the appointment by officials of friends and relatives to economic management posts for which they were unsuited.

Mr. Aliyev's most recent policy speech came at a late October session of the Azerbaijani party Central Committee. The tone was tough, the main targets, corruption and economic indiscipline or misdeeds of various sorts.

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