New Delhi: Arvind Kumar Sharma, a former Gujarat-cadre IAS officer and a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who took voluntary retirement to become a member of legislative council (MLC) in Uttar Pradesh in 2021, was Friday named a cabinet minister in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s second council of ministers.
Sharma was sworn in at a gala event at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow, where Adityanath took oath as Uttar Pradesh CM for a second consecutive term.
Considered to be one of PM’s closest aides, Sharma has worked with Modi since his days as Gujarat chief minister. He was secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) until Modi moved to New Delhi, where Sharma joined the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as joint secretary. He was later promoted to the rank of additional secretary and remained with the PMO till April 2020.
At the time, during the peak of the migrant crisis triggered by the Covid-19 lockdown, Sharma was appointed Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises secretary.
Nine months down the line, Sharma took voluntary retirement to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Soon after, he was nominated as a member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative council. He was later appointed BJP state vice president.
Role in UP
From the time Sharma became an MLC in January 2021, speculations have been rife that he was being groomed for a bigger role in Uttar Pradesh.
When there was talk of a reshuffle in incumbent CM Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet last year, there were rumours that he would be accommodated in the cabinet. But the reshuffle plans were put on hold on account of the second Covid wave.
As state BJP vice president, Sharma did not have any defined role, but he utilised the time to travel extensively in the state and meet people, especially the Purvanchal region.
Sharma is also very active on Twitter, posting pictures of his outreach programmes.
Administration work in UP
During the peak of the second Covid wave, UP saw a massive spike in cases. Amid growing concern over what was seen as a governance deficit in the handling of the pandemic, the PM entrusted Sharma with Covid management in Varanasi, his parliamentary constituency.
Sharma managed to turn things around in the temple town in a short time.
District administration officials had earlier told ThePrint that Sharma got down to work in Varanasi soon after his arrival on 13 April 2021, summoning top officials of the district administration, municipal corporation and police to take stock of the situation.
Within a fortnight, he is said to have set up the 24×7 Kashi Covid Response Centre, which had real-time data on not only the total caseload but the number of beds available in each hospital, oxygen demand and availability, and stocks of medicines like remdesivir.
He is also credited with implementing individual oversight mechanisms from the block to gram panchayat levels to ensure enough samples are getting tested, as well as to distribute medicine kits to those infected and showing mild symptoms. He made frequent trips to Primary Health Centre and Community Health Centre, hospitals and Covid control rooms to keep an eye on the situation.
It was “kind of a parallel system” in Varanasi under Sharma. He was coordinating directly with the PMO on the Covid situation in the district. This also instilled a lot of confidence in the district administration and motivated the officials and staff down below, sources had said.