|The Prime Minister’s principal secretary Nripendra Mishra; (right) Narendra Modi greets Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at their new residence, 3 Motilal Nehru Marg, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Modi drove to Singh’s residence in the evening, in what sources termed a courtesy call. Pictures by Ramakant Kushwaha and PTI
New Delhi, May 27: A bureaucrat who impressed Kalyan Singh two decades ago but was shunted out after the Sangh branded him “close to the US” has been appointed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary.
Nripendra Mishra’s induction provides further evidence of Uttar Pradesh’s centrality to the new dispensation, just as Kerala dominated the previous Prime Minister’s Office in the shapes of national security advisers Shivshankar Menon and M.K. Narayanan and adviser T.K.A. Nair.
Further, the buzz is that once cabinet secretary Ajit Seth retires this year, Uttar Pradesh chief secretary Javed Usmani could replace him. Usmani, a topper at IIM Ahmedabad and in the civil services, has served in PMOs headed by H.D. Deve Gowda and Manmohan Singh.
Mishra, an Uttar Pradesh-cadre officer, had served as principal secretary to Kalyan, chief minister of the BJP’s first government in the state, in the early 1990s.
Kalyan’s motto was: “A good officer in a good post and a good post for a good officer.” He thought Mishra would fit the bill, and he did.
Like Modi, Kalyan was a proponent of administrative reforms. He was swayed by Mishra’s proposal to introduce a single-window scheme to clear industrial and investment plans, thus infusing transparency and efficiency into the system.
By Uttar Pradesh’s dinosaurian yardsticks of running a government, it was radical. But the state BJP was upset with Mishra for not “obliging” its cadre, which had high “expectations” from the government. Equally upset was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The Sangh’s Hindi mouthpiece, Panchjanya, carried an article alleging Mishra was “close to the US”, on the basis of the bureaucrat having been spotted in the company of a Washington policy work.
Panchjanya was edited by the late Bhanu Pratap Shukla, who was close to then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi. Some have insinuated that Joshi may have instigated a “campaign” against Mishra to “destabilise” Kalyan’s government.
Kalyan was unmoved by the canards but Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani told him he had no choice but to get rid of Mishra. The official was appointed chairman of Greater Noida and replaced by Yogendra Narain, widely believed to be a Joshi recommendation.
However, then as now, sources in the bureaucracy gave Mishra the benefit of the doubt, claiming he was sucked into the BJP’s power play.
Mishra managed to stay on in key positions in Delhi, as secretary in the fertilisers and communications ministries and then as chairman of the telecom regulator. Had the NDA returned to power in 2004, he would almost certainly have been appointed cabinet secretary.
After retirement, he worked as a consultant with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Rated highly by peers and juniors on “integrity and competence”, Mishra became a member of the executive council of the Vivekananda Foundation, a think-tank that works out of Delhi’s upscale Chanakyapuri, home to foreign missions.
The foundation is an offshoot of the Vivekananda Kendra, started in 1972 by Eknath Ranade, Sangh general secretary from 1956 to 1972. The foundation was the silent mover behind the anti-graft protests led by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare.
Indeed, the foundation could be a wellspring of ideas and implementers for Modi. Mishra apart, another prominent associate is Ajit Doval, former Intelligence Bureau director who was being mentioned as a prospective national security adviser.
Sangh sympathisers S. Gurumurthy and R. Vaidyanathan, a professor at IIM Bangalore, are on the foundation’s advisory board as is Prakash Singh, a former BSF director-general. When Prakash was director-general of Uttar Pradesh police in the early ’90s, he had a running turf battle with Mishra.
Mishra also convenes the India International Centre’s “Saturday Lunch Club”, which supposedly brings together highbrows and sages to tell the government what it should and should not do.