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World Bank, UN, Ram Mandir panel — IAS, IFS officers from Modi’s PMO are rising & going places

Foreign secretary designate V.M. Kwatra was at PMO in Modi’s early days in the chair. ThePrint looks at how other officers from 1st Modi PMO in 2014-15 have risen in their careers.

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New Delhi: When 1988-batch Indian Foreign Service officer Vinay Mohan Kwatra was appointed foreign secretary earlier this month, superseding five senior officers, there was no doubt in the minds of several senior civil services officers about why it happened: Kwatra, they said, has a “very good working relationship with PM”.

India’s current ambassador to Nepal, Kwatra, who will take over his new position when the incumbent Harsha Vardhan Shringla retires on 30 April, was one of the people who worked at the Prime Minister’s Office when Narendra Modi first took the chair in 2014.

Kwatra is hardly the first official to see his career graph rise after a stint at the PMO. Thirty-eight officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) worked in the PMO in Narendra Modi’s first year in office (2014-15). Some were retained from the Manmohan Singh PMO, while others were brought in in that year.

Of these, one is currently a cabinet minister in Uttar Pradesh, 11 are either on foreign postings at the World Bank, World Trade Organization, or United Nations, or on study leave abroad; one is the head of the committee entrusted with overseeing the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, while two never retired and continue to serve at the PMO. Some have been given prestigious positions such as Secretary in the ministries of external affairs, commerce and industry, and finance.

ThePrint traces the rise of officers from the time they worked in the PMO in Modi’s early days to their current, prestigious positions.  

Also Read: The 3 Bengal IPS officers who will probe political violence cases against Mamata’s TMC

From politics to policy making 

Among the most prominent diplomats who joined the BJP is Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar. Posted as foreign secretary in 2015, Jaishankar joined the Bharatiya Janata Party after retirement and became a minister in 2019. 

Arvind K. Sharma, a 1988-batch IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, worked in the Modi PMO as joint secretary in 2014. He took voluntary retirement from service and went on to become the vice-president of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit in June 2021. 

In 2022, he became a cabinet minister in Yogi Adityanath’s second government.

Nripendra Misra served in the PMO as principal secretary to the prime minister from 2014 to 2019. After heading several organisations since his retirement in 2019, such the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, he was appointed the chairman of the temple construction committee of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust in February 2020.

Set up by the government of India, the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust is the organisation that is overseeing the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.  

Pramod Kumar Mishra, who was appointed to the PMO as additional principal secretary in 2014, is currently the prime minister’s principal secretary — a position to which he was appointed in 2019. Mishra’s tenure has been extended until 2024.

Among the senior officers who served in the PMO between 2014 and 2015 were B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, who has been elevated as commerce and industry secretary; Tarun Bajaj, now the revenue secretary; and T.V. Somanathan, who has been appointed finance secretary. Senior IFS officer Vikram Misri is now the deputy national security adviser.

Another senior IAS officer, Bhaskar Khulbe, who joined PMO in 2014, retired in February 2022.

Also Read: Modi govt forms DoPT panel to solve IAS crunch at Centre, members say more intake won’t fix it  

Positions abroad

Senior IAS officers Brajendra Navnit, Rajeev Topno, and Gulzar Natarajan are currently posted abroad after briefly serving in various ministries. 

Navnit, a 1999-batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre who served in PMO between 2014 and 2019 as director and joint secretary, was appointed India’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva in 2020.  

Rajeev Topno, a 1996-batch Gujarat cadre officer who served as Modi’s private secretary between 2014 and 2019, was appointed as senior adviser to the Executive Director of the World Bank in Washington DC in 2020. 

Two IAS officers who worked in the PMO in 2014-15 are now aboard on study leave, while another quit the services and joined an international non-profit organisation in London. 

At least six IFS officers — Sanjeev Kumar Singla, Jawed Ashraf, Deepak Mittal, Munu Mahawar, Namgya C. Khampa, and Pratik Mathur — are now posted as ambassadors, or serve in supervisory positions at the Indian missions in Israel, France, Qatar, Maldives, and Nepal. Mathur is posted as counsellor to the UN in New York. 

No thumb rule

Sanjaya Baru, who was media adviser to former PM Manmohan Singh, said the practice of PMO officials rising to other prominent positions is not limited to the current dispensation.  

“There is no general rule. It depends on the prime minister. But it has happened earlier too. Officers who served in the PMO got prestigious positions, while some of them joined politics,” Baru, author of the 2014 memoir The Accidental Prime Minister

Baru gave the example of K. Natwar Singh, a former IFS officer under Indira Gandhi who joined the Congress and later went to become minister of external affairs under Manmohan Singh. 

“Officers who served under the PM joined politics too earlier. We have Mani Shankar Aiyar and Natwar Singh — both were IFS officers and both worked in PM Indira Gandhi’s office. Later, both joined politics and became ministers. So these are not unique cases, but now it might be happening a little more.”

Notably, the officers who previously served under Manmohan Singh have also done well under the current regime. Several of these officers — most significant of these being Anil Baijal, the current Lieutenant Governor of Delhi who was the urban development secretary under Manmohan Singh — have risen to high-profile status. 

B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, who served in both tenures of the Manmohan Singh government, was handpicked by Modi in 2014 and appointed as the chief secretary in the sensitive state — now Union territory — of Jammu and Kashmir. He is currently serving as the secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

T.K.A. Nair, who served as Manmohan Singh’s principal secretary, said a civil servant’s position depends on merit and the prime minister’s approach toward the officer. 

“The officers who serve in the PMO generally get prestigious positions, but it is about the PM’s choice too.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Odisha IAS-IPS officers ‘politicians in disguise’, says BJP, after visit to ‘congratulate’ CM


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