The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is three months old, but already two points of friction have emerged within the powerful ring of officials that surround Narendra Modi in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Nripendra Misra came to national attention when he was appointed the Prime Minster’s principal secretary, because it required an amendment of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, which was quickly pushed through so that Modi could have his old favourite by his side. However, it now emerges that Misra has been overshadowed by a subordinate, additional principal secretary PK Mishra.

According to a senior official in the PMO, the key responsibilities of the PM’s principal secretary have in effect been transferred to additional principal secretary Mishra, who is a retired IAS officer from the Gujarat cadre.

Fall from grace

Nripendra Misra is believed to have angered Modi by giving an interview to a national daily newspaper outlining the new government’s priorities as soon as he was appointed principal secretary. A PMO official told Scroll that such an interview, coming as it did before Modi had the chance to settle in South Block, did not fit into the Prime Minister’s scheme of things.

PK Mishra is a long-time Modi loyalist. The Odisha native was principal secretary to Modi between 2001 and 2004. After he retired, he served as chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Mishra has already started scrutinising all the Cabinet notes and representing the PMO at cabinet meetings – tasks that have traditionally been performed by the principal secretary to the prime minister.

This is part of a larger trend visible within this administration; nearly every significant post in the PMO has been filled with officials who worked with Modi in Gujarat.

Other prominent members of the Gujarat contingent include Arvind Sharma, joint secretary in the PMO; Rajiv Topno, private secretary to the Prime Minister; Jagdish Thakkar, public relations officer in the PMO; and Hiren Joshi, who looks after Modi’s social media outreach.

In addition, junior level officers from the Prime Minister’s home state include Sanjay Bhavsar, Tanmay Mehta, Hemang Jani, Dinesh Thakur and Prateek Doshi.

But the Gujarat officers are by no means a close-knit group. There is a great deal of competition – and apparently a silent war of egos – between Thakkar and Joshi.

Thakkar and Joshi are both primarily responsible for building the prime minister’s image, the former in conventional media and the latter on the internet. Thakkar, whose advice the prime minister is said to trust on every media matter, is considered a master of the press release.

Social media outreach 

Joshi, who holds the designation of officer on special duty (information and technology), is an IT expert who helps Modi reach out to his vast array of followers on the internet. He is considered equally close to the prime minister. Despite the fact that he works independently of Thakkar, it is Joshi’s responsibility to upload inputs on Modi’s events provided by the PRO’s office on social media.

Under Modi, the PMO under Modi has been churning out press releases and brief SMS messages based on these releases. Because they’re coming in fast and furious, lapses in coordination have become rather frequent, officials said. Both Thakkar and Joshi reportedly blame each other for these lapses.

According to the official, the man entrusted with the running around between Modi’s sulking Gujarati aides is Sharat Chander, an Indian Information Service officer who was shifted to PMO from the Press Information Bureau in the first week of July.