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#FutureProof: PMO appointment shows how Modi Sarkar is different

Author | Rohit Bansal | Tuesday, May 27,2014 8:35 AM

#FutureProof: PMO appointment shows how Modi Sarkar is different

Buried beneath the spectacle, speculation and strategic punch of Monday's swearing in is the rock-solid appointment of Nripendra Misra as principal secretary to Prime Minister.

Like the new PM has experience of delivering administration at the grass roots unlike Manmohan Singh, so does the czar who would lead the country's most important back office.

To confirm, let's simply map Misra's deep CV straddling key positions in Uttar Pradesh and the Centre against Pulok Chatterji, the outgoing principal secretary. Trying to be fair to Mr Chatterji's innate brilliance, there's little to deny that his only job after being a collector in Rajiv Gandhi's constituency was in the PMO and then as the personal staff of Sonia Gandhi.

So, while he turned out to be an excellent clearing house between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh during UPA-1, whereafter delivery per se got maimed after a series of regulatory fractures, Mr Chaterjee wound up his innings on Monday.

Mr Misra, on his part, has serious diversity in his repertoire - he has headed the back office of both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh, two competing characters in India's most politically heavy-weight state, thus confirming how he has managed pretty well without needing the Gandhi family for sustenance.

Ditto for the fact that unlike Mr Chatterji he has been a secretary to government of India, manning two important constituencies of policy, i.e. telecom and fertilisers.

Add to this exposure as a regulator  (chairman TRAI) and in economic diplomacy when he served as minister economic in our embassy in Washington and as additional secretary in commerce where I saw him first in our A-Team at the Doha Round. If only to belabour the point, the new czar of the Modi back office can claim no professional fraternising with his new boss. He remains a classic example of India's best public service cadre, a dyed-in-the-wool professional IAS officer, whose name has emerged from the mills of meritocracy.

Also, here's proof that Mr Modi can look beyond his long-serving confidantes (read Kuniyil Kailashnathan) rather than attract criticism of a 'Gujarat capture' on Raisina Hill. Mr Misra's induction is the new PM's way of telling his civil service that ties of kinship matter less to him than commentators credit him with.
But savour the parting thought: the new principal secretary exemplifies continuing importance of Uttar Pradesh in the nation's political calculus.

He, like Mr Chatterji and outgoing cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, who again was criticised for never having run a department on government of India, belongs to the UP cadre; but unlike Mr Seth and Mr Chatterji, who read at my alma mater, St Stephen's, Mr Misra read at Allahabad - a formidable network of my father referred to as 'Oxford of the east.' 
Related, the role thus played by two Modi satraps in head hunting a professional rather than a Gujarat confidante - Amit Shah, the state BJP chief who delivered 73 of the 80 parliamentary seats in UP, and Bharat Lal, an Allahabad alumnus himself, who will be the point man filtering who gets to see the new chief executive of the world's largest Democracy.

(The columnist works at the intersect of media, regulation and strategy on RIL. Views are personal. Tweets @therohitbansal).

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