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‘Tough taskmaster’ Nripendra Misra endeared himself to Modi, but not to all civil servants

PM Narendra Modi bid farewell to his former principal secretary Nripendra Misra Monday, saying the officer’s wisdom saw him through many crises.

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New Delhi: When Nripendra Misra stepped down last month as principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it created a flutter in bureaucratic circles.

Misra had only just been given an extension for another five years, and his post was elevated to that of cabinet rank. In the five years of the Modi government’s first term, the 1967-batch Uttar Pradesh cadre officer had become one of the most powerful retired civil servants in the government. He was someone who had the prime minister’s ears, and the power to question and pull up senior civil servants, including secretary-rank officers, if their ministries’ performance was not up to the mark.

It was this “school monitor” role that did not endear Misra to many senior civil servants in the government, who told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that they often found his behaviour “very arrogant” and “rude”.

This image of a “decisive”, “efficient” and “tough taskmaster”, however, was exactly what pushed Modi to pick Misra — whom he had never worked with before — to drive his PMO. Modi’s government even had to amend Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) rules to ensure that Misra gets appointed as principal secretary, much to the chagrin of opposition parties. Under then TRAI rules, Misra who was chairman could not have taken up a government position after vacating his post.

On Monday, Modi bid farewell to Misra, recalling that when he became prime minister the first time, he was totally ignorant of Delhi’s politics. It was Misra’s wisdom that saw him through many crises, said the PM.

According to civil servants ThePrint spoke to, Misra’s impeccable integrity and hard work — working hectic schedules of 14 hours a day — won over the PM.

But the same cannot be said of his ties with other political leaders and civil servant, despite a staggering five-decade-long career during which he worked across governments and party lines.

Also read: Why Modi has created a new ‘super power centre’ in his PMO

Going beyond the ideological divide

Many serving and retired civil servants who have worked with Misra during his stint in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre told ThePrint that he had an uncanny knack of earning the trust of his political bosses, irrespective of the ideological divide.

Misra was a top aide of two UP chief ministers — Janata Dal’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, when he became CM in 1989, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Kalyan Singh when he succeeded Yadav as CM in 1991.

It was during Misra’s tenure as secretary to Yadav that senior BJP leader L.K. Advani undertook the rath yatra demanding a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

“It was Misra who advised Yadav, who was with the Janata Dal at that time, against arresting Advani fearing political repercussions,” a retired UP-cadre IAS officer and one of Misra’s contemporaries said on condition of anonymity.

Advani was eventually arrested in Bihar but the events that followed led to the fall of Yadav’s government.

Rumours of Misra’s alleged proximity to the BJP started to float around then, said civil servants who have worked with Misra.

“It got buttressed further when he joined the BJP think-tank Vivekananda Foundation post retirement, and in the way the NDA government went out of its way to amend rules to appoint him in the PMO,” said another UP-cadre IAS officer who retired as a secretary in one of the central ministries.

No brakes on career progression

Misra’s professional career remained unaffected despite the fall of Yadav’s government. He was reappointed principal secretary to Singh after the latter took over as CM in June 1991. Singh had decided not to restructure the CM’s Office after he took charge.

“But to continue to repose faith in Misra who worked with the previous dispensation speaks volumes about the latter’s ability to straddle different political ideologies and win the trust of his bosses,” said a third UP-cadre IAS officer who had worked with Misra during his tenure as principal secretary to Singh.

Politically astute, committed and competent, Misra did not disappoint Singh.

A current secretary in the Modi government who had worked with Misra at that point recalled how he became Singh’s most trusted aide in no time.

Singh, who also held the finance portfolio, was to present the state budget in 1992. When the budget documents came on 9 March, two days before they were to be presented, Singh was unhappy with his speech. He called Misra in the evening and told him to redraft it from scratch.

“It was Misra’s birthday on 9 March but he sat through the night in office and rewrote the speech, prominently bringing out the people-friendly aspects in the budget. It was not an easy job considering that budget documents takes about a month to be prepared. Singh liked the redrafted speech the instant he saw it,” recalled the secretary.

Man behind ‘dummy notes’ & ‘day officers’

Civil servants who have worked with Misra in Uttar Pradesh credit him with introducing innovative governance practices during his tenure in the Kalyan Singh CMO.

“He was the one who came up with the idea of preparing ‘dummy notes’ for the CM, who did not have the time to go through bulky files. ‘Dummy notes’ were basically a brief summary of the issues discussed in thick files. The practice has continued to this day,” said another UP-cadre civil servant who is currently posted as secretary in a union ministry.

Misra also introduced the concept of ‘day officers’ — a joint secretary-level officer attached to the chief minister on a daily basis for better coordination between the CMO and the government. It has continued to date.

“He started a roster system where everyday a JS was put on duty with the CM. The JS’s job was to take note of whatever discussions happened in the CMO, grievances that the public submitted to the CM and follow it up with the concerned departments,” said the civil servant quoted above.

The contemporary officer of Misra quoted above recalled how the senior official was transferred out of the CMO following a salacious article in an RSS mouthpiece, despite being Singh’s Man Friday.

“There was an article in Panchjanya linking Misra with the US after he was seen in the company of some US officials. It was an outlandish charge to say the least. Nobody knows till date who was behind the article and why Misra was targeted. But soon after, Misra was transferred out of CMO.”

‘Incisive decision-maker but highly arrogant’

In the words of civil servants who have worked with Misra, the retired officer was a “brilliant” decision-maker, but equally arrogant too.

“Nobody discounts the fact that he is incisive and took quick decisions once convinced. But he was often rude and snubbed officials,” said a joint secretary-level officer who didn’t wish to be named.

Several officers told ThePrint about instances during Misra’s PMO stint where his arrogance was clearly on display.

“There was an instance where a senior IAS officer from a central ministry was making a slide presentation. Misra cut short the presentation and pulled up the officer for the slow progress of certain schemes run by the ministry. The officer was taken aback by the rude behaviour,” said a secretary who was present at the meeting and didn’t wish to be identified.

But it wasn’t an isolated incident.

“He behaved like a schoolteacher with secretary-level officers. Taking regular stock of government programmes is okay but you have to factor in the complexities involved in implementing proposals on the ground. Snubbing officers does not work all the time,” said a retired secretary of a social sector ministry who didn’t want to be named.

However, another serving secretary had a different take. “The constant reviewing done by the PMO ensured that bureaucrats were always on their toes. How many times could you come to a meeting and tell the PMO that there has not been much progress in X,Y,Z project?”

Also read: Modi’s principal secy was CBI’s star witness in 2G case. But court ignored his testimony


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  1. Sirji, BJP apna kaada uncha karrarahi Hain lekin Janata ko niche girane ka kaam karrarahi Hain jaise ki India mein Kai Company closed ho gayi hai aur kaiko naukri mein rahatehuan chutti kardi Hain. Jo questions sarkar see puchhe hate uska jawab nahi dete aur Congress paar Bhrashtachar ka aroppa lagakar aur bichha Mein kuchha channel help karke unki maddad karte Hain. Thanks

  2. Thanks to all his great qualities, we now have a 5% growth rate overall and that too is questionable. These guys are better in VF writing essays and eating bhel puri. Misra & Mishra, worst thing that happened to a govt with a massive mandate.

  3. BJP leaders themselves revealed that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s secret plans to secure Babri Masjid’s safety were passed on to them by Misra. He was Secretary to Mulayam. Misra must have played the same game with Modi which resulted in his ouster.

  4. Spoiled civil servants who have been taking easy for many years of previous governments need a hard task master and then if Mishra is the right person then so be it.

    • Very true, if they did their job right Misra didn’t have to scold.
      Majority of gov IAS use to work less than 40 hours a week, enjoyed perk and played golf at gov expense.
      Modi- Misra team was needed to get the job done.
      Hope next one is equally good.

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