“PMO must reflect image, personality, commitments of PM”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top 10 priorities for the country are likely to be revealed on Thursday, said Nripendra Misra, in an interview to The Hindu Businessline after taking over as Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). “These, in Mr. Modi’s characteristic style, will necessarily have to be implemented in a time-bound manner,” he added.
Mr. Misra, who was hand picked for the new role in a surprise move, having neither worked for nor having met Mr. Modi earlier, asserted that the PMO will have to reflect the image, personality and commitment of the Prime Minister. “The entire machinery will be geared up to fulfil the mandate of the new leader,” he said.
The 1967 batch IAS officer and the former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman said he saw the PMO, which is set to become an important power centre in the new dispensation, as playing three main roles. “Priority will be placed on implementation, catalysing and facilitating inter-ministerial issues, and addressing concerns relating to the economy.” Asked to outline the PMO’s strategy in connection with infrastructure and policy reforms, Mr. Misra said it was for the PM to spell this out. “However, personally, I think we need to ask why despite large investments, completed power projects are not operational, why the NHAI is unable to deliver on road building targets, and why despite India’s rich natural resources, earnings from exports of minerals have come to a halt while coal is being imported.”
On what can be done to restore confidence among serving bureaucrats, who resort to strategic inaction to avoid the risk of being dragged into court cases because of controversial decisions taken by their political masters, Mr. Misra drew attention to Mr. Modi’s leadership style in Gujarat. “Mr. Modi does three things: he guarantees stability in tenure for as many as four to five years for competent officers, offers tremendous freedom to innovate and deliver, and takes personal ownership of all decisions,” he said. “The officials and secretaries are all padded up for their new innings,” he added.
On the plan to revamp social infrastructure such as health and education, Mr. Misra emphasised that although the ambition is to ensure health facilities for every citizen of the country in terms of availability and affordability, this would not be done by doles or government-financed infrastructure alone. “We will seek to provide more instruments in the hands of the people just as in the insurance sector. We want to secure optimal private participation in the health sector,” he said.
How does Mr. Modi, portrayed as a man of detail who works long hours, also present himself as someone who delegates a lot of authority to ministers and bureaucrats? Mr. Misra said there was no contradiction. “Both are true. Mr. Modi makes this possible through reliance on technology. He will work with a state-of-art information system where everything is uploaded and updated on a real-time basis and he can access all delivery across multiple issues at the touch of a button.”
Asked how he landed the job, Mr. Misra said he was himself caught by surprise when asked to meet with Mr. Modi at Gujarat Bhavan in Delhi. He said his name was possibly among others shortlisted for the job and that it was only at the third meeting with the Prime Minister, on May 25, that he was asked to become Principal Secretary.
He declined to comment on the legal issues raised over his appointment after having held the position of TRAI chairman.