NEW DELHI: PK Mishra, who was on Wednesday appointed principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is known as a self-effacing bureaucrat of integrity, few words and who is thorough with his files.
Unlike his predecessor Nripendra Misra, who worked with Modi only after he became PM in 2014, Mishra was the Gujarat chief minister’s principal secretary in 2001. While Misra helped Modi navigate through the bureaucratic maze of Delhi in 2014, Mishra did the same in 2001, when Modi became CM. By making Mishra his additional principal secretary in 2014, Modi chose the 1972-batch IAS officer who has a doctorate in economics, for the challenging task of freeing central appointments of lobbying and undue influence.
One of the hallmarks of Mishra’s tenure was that never was there a leak on appointments before the official announcement. All files for the Appointments Committee of Cabinet passed through Mishra’s desk and he introduced a 360-degree assessment system to identify bureaucrats for positions.
“Integrity matters most for him as people with high integrity are vital for the government,” a senior official who worked with Mishra told ET. At times, when the media accused the PMO of favouring officers from Gujarat or Mishra’s home state, Odisha, during appointments, he made officials counter them with facts. Mishra also played a key role in Cabinet reshuffles and selection of Padma awardees.
The PM has immense faith in Mishra’s ability to “harmonise conflicting elements — people or situations,” said a senior official. He cited events of 2017, when there was a perceived difference between the government and RBI governor Urjit Patel over lowering interest rates and when chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian critiqued the RBI. “Mishra was asked to resolve the situation and he cleared any misunderstandings over the CEAs comments over lunch with Patel at the RBI headquarters, where he was accompanied by the cabinet secretary and financial services secretary,” the official said.
Mishra is credited with the crop insurance scheme when he was agriculture secretary during Sharad Pawar’s tenure in UPA-I. Both UPA and Modi government adopted his idea, with the improved PM crop insurance scheme launched in 2016. Many saw him as the ‘scholar in PMO’, given his love for agriculture, economy and disaster management. He first came across Modi as additional secretary of Gujarat’s disaster management handling reconstruction work after the 2001 Bhuj earthquake. Disaster management remains his favourite topic of discussion to date.
Mishra has been a stickler for hierarchy. An official said that while Nripendra Misra often said he and Mishra almost had the same status, the latter would make it a point to go to Misra’s room as the ‘second-incommand’ to duly inform him of all important matters he needed to know. “When you acquire so much power, you can become high and mighty but he is not. He returns calls and replies to messages. He would never cross the line set by the PM or jump the gun. No wonder the PM has elevated him to this status,” a senior official told ET.