PMO 2.0 may see change at helm; Mishra may replace Misra

New Delhi: An all-powerful Prime Minister’s Office has centralised authority in the land in its first innings, now in its second avatar, it has much more to do. It will continue to oversee PM Modi’s hobby horses which revolve around Jan, Aadhar and Mobile or JAM providing direct benefit to the poor and underprivileged at the bottom of the pyramid. Modi’s Populist Development or Hindutva Plus has worked like a charm in 2019 hustings and the PM is in no mood to take his foot off the pedal.

However, Modi 2.0 will also see a PMO 2.0. Speculation is rife over the continuing role of the Big Three atop Raisina Hill. Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra, National Security Adviser Ajit K Doval and Additional Principal Secretary P.K. Mishra. They provide the necessary heft to the PMO and the question is whether they will continue or not in the new PMO for another five years. All three have their tenures co-terminus with the PM.

Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra is 74 years old and an ordinance was used to bring him into office in 2014, but it may see the age cut-off threshold of 75 nix his prospects. PM follows a code where leaders over 75 don’t figure in his council of ministers and perhaps that is why stalwarts like Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha never made it to his Cabinet in 2014. This time tickets were not given to L.K. Advani, Joshi and even speaker Sumitra Mahajan for the same reason. But since there is a year for Misra to attain the age of 75, he may well continue.

In the eventuality that Nripendra Misra is asked to demit office, it is certain that 70-year-old P.K. Misra (Additional Principal Secretary) will take over as Principal Secretary. One of the PM’s most able advisors, Ajit Doval, will remain NSA. Which means that Additional Principal Secretary moving up the value chain could be the first change followed by a second for he will require a replacement. Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha, 63, who retires in mid-June will then step into Misra Jr’s shoes.

Nripendra Misra has a long and distinguished career as a top bureaucrat, from fertilser secretary to telecom secretary, he went onto become the regulator stewarding TRAI. A 1967 batch UP cadre officer, Misra has an MPA in public administration from John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and postgraduate degrees in chemistry and political science and public administration from Allahabad University. The principal secretary also plays a substantial influence on policy-making. Misra who has been credited for being an efficient, pro-business administrator has served as the telecom secretary under Dayanidhi Maran and is credited with the broadband policy to his name.

A 1968-batch IPS officer who spent virtually all his career in IB, Ajit Doval is a former IB chief and a legendary intel operative who infiltrated Mizo National Army and combated terrorists in Punjab and Srinagar. He also spent six years in Pakistan and is described as a ‘realist’ on that country. He is the first police officer to receive Kirti Chakra in 1988. While there has been talk that he could become defence minister or Ambassador to US, he is in many ways the PM’s eyes and ears on security-related issues and sources close to developments dismissed his move from the PMO completely.

Pramod Kumar Misra is the other Misra in the PMO and like Misra Sr, an extremely powerful bureaucrat. It is important to mention here that this post was specially created by Modi to keep his most trusted bureaucrat close to him in the PMO. Misra has also been given the charge as Ex-Officio Mission Director of the ambitious National Mission for Clean Ganga. Reportedly very close to the PM, Misra served as Principal Secretary to Modi between 2001 and 2004 during his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat.

It was during this period that Misra, a native of Odisha played a pivotal role in the metamorphosis of Modi from an RSS pracharak to the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is known for assisting the then Gujarat CM while the latter made his way into the complex world of the bureaucracy and public administration. Misra was later handpicked by Modi and appointed as Chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission for a five-year term just after a day of his retirement in 2008.

In his four-decade-long career as an administrator, Misra has held various key positions at the Centre and in the Gujarat government. As Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture between December 1, 2006 and August 31, 2008 under Sharad Pawar, he was credited with the implementation of the National Agriculture Development Programme and the National Food Security Mission. It was during his tenure in the Ministry of Agriculture that the production of food grains reached record levels and there was a substantial increase in the agricultural GDP. He later served as Member Secretary in the National Capital Region Planning Board and Secretary of the National Disaster Management Authority.