MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Just a few days before Christmas last year, the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology in Bhubaneswar conferred an honorary doctorate on Pramod Kumar Mishra, the Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, at its 38th convocation ceremony.
However, Mishra, the first Odia person ever to reach the elite position that he is holding right now, was unfortunately not present on the occasion to receive the Honoris Causa award from the hands of Governor Ganeshi Lal.
Born and brought up in Sambalpur, the 1972-batch IAS officer might have been rather conspicuous by his absence on the OUAT campus in the state capital on December 21 – but nobody could have held that against him.
Considering the current national climate and the firefighting that the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre has been busy doing these days what with the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, it is not hard to imagine that Mishra – arguably the chief trouble-shooter for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at present – must have had his hands full.
However, he is no stranger either to his role at the Prime Minister’s Office or to challenging situations.
Before he was appointed to his present post, Mishra had already served as Additional Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister for over half a decade.
During that period, Prime Minister Modi had entrusted him with ensuring that senior appointments at the Centre were made on the basis of capability and suitability rather than personal contacts and influence. It was a rather challenging task considering the culture of lobbying and cronyism had been deeply entrenched in the system.
But Mishra was more than up to it: Not only did he institute a 360-degree assessment system that ensured right bureaucrats were placed in the right positions, but he also checked all the files that were on their way to The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. Most impressively, government appointments during his tenure remained strictly – and unprecedentedly – confidential until they were officially announced.
Mishra by this time had become so integral to Team Modi that he even had a say in Cabinet shuffles and Padma award decisions.
The Gujarat cadre officer has actually been one of Prime Minister Modi’s most trusted lieutenants since the early 2000s when the latter was Chief Minister of the state. Among the many important positions that Dr Mishra held in his cadre and the Centre, he had also served as Principal Secretary to Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Even apart from his rather long, fruitful and continuing association with Modi in Delhi and Gujarat, the nation’s top bureaucrat can look back at an outstanding administrative career that is strewn with critically acclaimed research work, reams of national and international publications, path-breaking policymaking and ingenious management of programmes and projects relating to agriculture, disaster management, power sector, regulatory issues and infrastructure financing. Winning the United Nations SASAKAWA Award, the most prestigious globally in disaster management, earlier last year was the icing on the cake.
Some of his friends and colleagues aver that Mishra’s impressive academic career made for the solid foundation on which his remarkable bureaucratic accomplishments were built. His PhD in Economics and Development Studies and a master’s in Development Economics, both from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, preceded by his MA in Economics (with a first class) from the Delhi School of Economics is believed to have contributed in no small measure to his policymaking prowess. In fact, Mishra had shown a lot of promise from way back in 1970 when he graduated from GM College (Sambalpur University) with a first class distinction in Economics, becoming the only man in Odisha that year to have earned a first class in the subject.
As for the honorary doctorate that he has received from the OUAT, it is nothing if not a token of love and appreciation from his home state for all that Mishra has done – and continues to do – for his country.