New Delhi: Just three months ago, a 60-year-old rule was amended to pave the way for P.K. Sinha’s third extension as cabinet secretary — a post he held for over four years, making him the longest-serving cabinet secretary in history.
Last week, the day before his three-month extension was to lapse, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s all-powerful and trusted principal secretary Nripendra Misra expressed his desire to resign from the Prime Minister’s Office. It was ostensibly to accommodate Sinha into the PMO.
On Friday, Sinha was appointed as the officer on special duty in the PMO. He is now slated to take over as the additional principal secretary.
So what makes Sinha, the retired IAS officer with a career spanning 42 years, so important to the Modi government?
A discreet demeanour, sheer competence and a single-point focus on delivery, his colleagues say.
“He is a very competent officer,” said a retired IAS officer, who is a batchmate of Sinha’s. “As cabinet secretary, he has done everything assigned by the PM with utmost diligence,” the officer added.
“The fact that he is so discreet obviously helped. In this government, the quality of being seen as being discreet and quiet comes after professional competence. Sinha has both.”
What makes Sinha the right man for the job?
An Uttar Pradesh cadre officer of the 1977-batch, Sinha, unlike many powerful bureaucrats in the present dispensation, had no experience of working with Modi during his years as the Gujarat chief minister.
In fact, he handled three key ministries in the 10 years of the UPA government. Known to be an affable, performing and upright officer among his colleagues, he was retained by the Modi government as the power secretary for over a year after it came to power in 2014.
During the first year of the Modi government, it was under Sinha that the power ministry saw a record 22,566 MW capacity addition and the highest ever increase in both the transmission line and in the sub-station capacity.
Sinha was sufficiently rewarded — he was appointed the cabinet secretary in 2015, the senior-most cadre post of the IAS.
During his years as the cabinet secretary, he was instrumental in formulating the Goods and Services Tax (GST) law, sensitising state officials about its functioning and working closely with finance officials.
He also played a crucial role in Urjit Patel’s appointment as RBI governor given that he was chosen to head the committee to find a replacement for Raghuram Rajan.
“It is a classic case of a bureaucrat, trusted by the PM, rising up the ranks… That has been the style of this government, so his elevation to the PMO is hardly surprising,” said a senior IAS officer from the UP cadre.
“And it also makes sense because as cabinet secretary, he was crucial in ensuring coordination among different ministries, so it is expected that he will be doing similar work in the PMO.”
‘A detached, delivery-oriented officer’
Sinha is known to not mingle with either his colleagues or the media. “His style of functioning is such that he has no attachment or detachment to his work,” a senior officer who worked with Sinha in the power ministry said. “There is just a single-minded focus on delivery.”
So discreet is Sinha that his colleagues would not even know much about his family, the officer said. “That seems to have gone in his favour.”
Sinha’s sister, Rashmi Verma, a retired IAS officer herself, is known to have been at loggerheads with Union Minister Smriti Irani when she was posted as the textile secretary. As a result of this fallout, Verma later moved to the tourism ministry as the secretary.
The two P.K.s in the PMO
While in all likelihood Sinha will be appointed the additional principal secretary to the PM, replacing the other P.K. (Mishra) in the PMO, he is expected to take over the policy work in the PMO from Nripendra Misra. P.K. Mishra is expected to take over as the principal secretary to the PM.
“P.K. Mishra is five years Sinha’s senior, so it would disrupt the seniority to appoint him as the principal secretary,” another officer said on condition of anonymity. “But he would, in all likelihood, be doing what Nripendra Mishra was doing until now.”
Meanwhile, P.K. Mishra, who has been crucial in taking key calls in bureaucratic functioning as well as key appointments, is expected to continue doing similar work as the principal secretary.
While Nripendra Misra’s sudden departure from the PMO raised many eyebrows — given that he was just accorded cabinet rank — Sinha’s batchmate quoted above said his departure had more to do with his ailing health.
“Misra has had diabetes for a very long time and is also old… As we know that in this government, being in the PMO is a 365-day job,” the officer said. “Since Sinha is much younger, he’d probably be able to cope better with the pressure.”
Also read: India is hoping for a stable govt post-Lok Sabha polls, but bureaucrats not so much
Competence -planning and execution is rewarded in all sectors be it public or private . So rather than criticising, aquire competence. Best of luck.
The top echelons of the baboodom looks like a giant geriatric ward of government hospital. The baboos hold onto their reigns of power and authority until forever through extensions, extensions and more extensions! Is it because India has run out of smart young officers?
Comments are closed.