New Delhi: It was a smooth transition for P.K. Mishra, the former additional principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), when he took over as the principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 11 September, after his predecessor Nripendra Misra stepped down.
And in the over 60 days since he has taken charge, the 71-year-old retired Gujarat cadre bureaucrat has brought in his own style of functioning.
Unlike Misra, who used to chair all meetings, especially those on infrastructure, the soft-spoken Mishra has a slightly decentralised style.
He does not chair all meetings, senior bureaucrats that ThePrint spoke to said, on the condition that they not be named. In the new scheme of things at the PMO, former cabinet secretary P.K. Sinha, who was appointed principal advisor to the PM, attends all meetings.
“But it’s Mishra who takes a final call before the matter is put before the PM,” a person familiar with the matter said. Mishra also has direct access to the prime minister, the source added.
“Mishra works closely with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on all matters, including political ones,” said a second person aware of the matter.
There is a comfort level that Mishra has with Modi, having worked closely with him since the time Modi was Gujarat chief minister, the second person said.
“Mishra worked closely with the PM on all matters related to appointments and other issues when he was the additional principal secretary too. As on date, he is one of the most trusted and closest aides of the prime minister,” the second source added.
Sinha’s role, on the other hand, is limited to giving inputs to Mishra, based on his interactions with officials in the meeting. “Unlike Mishra, Sinha does not have access to the prime minister,” said another person who has attended multiple meetings since the restructuring in the PMO.
The third source described Sinha’s role as “nebulous”. “It’s evident Sinha does not have much of a say in the scheme of things. His role is akin to his designation. But he has become more voluble now in meetings.”
The others in the Modi A team
Besides, Mishra, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is among the most powerful bureaucrats in the PMO.
There has also been a reallocation of work in the PMO after Bhaskar Khulbe retired as secretary last month. Although no secretary has been appointed in Khulbe’s place, two additional secretaries — Tarun Bajaj and A.K. Sharma — handle the work that Khulbe did.
Bajaj, a 1988-batch Haryana cadre IAS officer, handles over a dozen ministries and subjects, including home affairs, electronics and information technology, communications, parliamentary affairs, Aadhar, DBT, digital payments, Information & Broadcasting, monitoring of PM’s announcements, delivery monitoring unit, and some thrust areas of the government among others.
He had earlier handled matters related to the social sector, including human resource development and health.
Bajaj also handles issues related to Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast (except Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) and Haryana.
Sharma, a 1988-batch Gujarat cadre IAS officer who was promoted as an additional secretary only in October, handles matters related to infrastructure ministries. These include highways, railways, civil aviation, housing, coal, petroleum and natural gas and mines, among others. He also deals with issues related to Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Odisha and Kerala.
Debashree Mukherjee, who until recently was handling social sector ministries, has been promoted as an additional secretary and posted in the water resources ministry. She is yet to take charge.
Gopal Baglay, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer posted as joint secretary, deals with all matters related to external affairs and defence.
There are five IFS officers posted in the PMO, including Baglay.
All matters related to the ministries of finance, corporate affairs, labour and employment are dealt with by Arvind Shrivastava, a 1994-batch Karnataka cadre joint secretary rank officer.
Besides, Hiren Joshi, the officer on special duty for communications and technology, heads a four-member team looking after communications and IT.