New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effected one of the most significant bureaucratic reshuffles of his government so far, calling on his most trusted officers to help India out of the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an unusual development, two officers – Arvind Sharma and Tarun Bajaj, considered part of Modi’s inner circle – were shifted out of the PMO and placed as secretaries of ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises and department of economic affairs respectively.
Sharma’s departure from the PMO comes as a surprise to many as he has been with Modi for the longest time. After Modi became the CM of Gujarat in October 2001, Sharma was the first person whom he appointed in the CMO as his secretary.
When Sharma was appointed as Modi’s secretary, at that time he was commissioner of Sardar Sarovar Project looking after rehabilitations.
Modi was sent to Gujarat at a time when BJP was facing huge problems there after the earthquake in Bhuj and there was need of injecting new lease of life in the workings of the state government. Sharma has been close to Modi since then.
After Modi moved to Delhi, the notification to appoint Sharma in the PMO was issued on May 30, 2014, days after the oath-taking ceremony. Unofficially though, he started working in Delhi from May 20 when the then President Pranab Mukherji invited Modi to form the government.
Tarun Bajaj, who is from the Haryana cadre, had joined the PMO in 2015 as a joint secretary and has worked there ever since even after being promoted as the additional secretary. Sharma and Bajaj are the only two additional secretaries in the PMO, who now have been appointed secretaries of two important portfolios.
People aware of the development said that amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the biggest concern of the Centre is to fast-track the economy’s recovery. To overcome these challenges, Modi has fallen back on two of his most trusted officers.
Bajaj has earlier served in the department of economic affairs as a joint secretary before he moved to the PMO.
Sharma, on the other hand, has enough experience to steer the MSME sector. Right from his days in Gujarat, he has been handling the responsibilities of this industry. So much so, that to promote investment in industries, when Modi launched Vibrant Gujarat Investors Summit in 2003, it was Sharma who was made the single reference point for this in CMO.
Sharma was also part of Modi’s core team whenever he toured the nation or overseas as the chief minister of Gujarat. Even in PMO, he was entrusted with the task of looking after all the departments that were associated with the infrastructure sector.
He was also the one who was monitoring all the important industrial states of the country. Despite the fact that he had no direct role in financial matters, he was the one who was lent ears on issues of inputs about the budget preparations and other important occasions.
Known to keep a low profile and stays away from the lime light. He never says no to anything that Modi asks of him but he nonetheless, does not hesitate to spell out clearly the difficulties that may be there.
Handing over the DEA to Bajaj is also an important indication as he is an old hand in this department. He will take the place of Gujarat cadre IAS officer and Secretary Atanu Chakrabarti, who retires on April 30.
With this, PM Modi has also tried to convey the message that in comparison with other departments, he accords maximum priority to the economy. Before bringing Bajaj to the finance ministry, Modi already has placed another of his favourite officers, TV Somnathan, as expenditure secretary.
Before assuming his new responsibilities in December 2019, Somnathan, a Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer of 1987 batch, has already spent his time in PMO and has played a critical role during demonetisation.
MSME is a ministry under Nitin Gadkari while Nirmala Sitharaman heads the finance ministry. To have his trusted officers with his close and important ministers, PM Modi wants to ensure that there are no impediments in the functioning of the two ministries that are very critical to the economic turnaround of the country.
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