Skip to main content

Modi's PRO, who served previous Congress, BJP CMs in Gujarat with "equal" competence

Jagdish Thakkar in PM office. Left: Kishore Anjaria, a previous colleague
By Rajiv Shah
A public relations officer (PRO), even as maintaining anonymity, is supposed to “manage” reputation of his or her client, reflecting the client’s views in order to influence opinion and behaviour. A PRO is also known to use, the world over, media and communication to build, maintain, manage and plan publicity strategies and campaigns, even as dealing with enquiries from the public, particularly media, organising promotional events such as press conferences, open days, exhibitions, tours and visits. A PRO is also supposed to final touches to press statements for his or client.
I have known Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s PRO Jagdish Thakkar, who passed away in New Delhi at the age of 72 on December 10, a Monday, after prolonged illness. I found him a PRO of a different type. One who was picked up to work as PRO by Congress’ Amarsinh Chaudhary, who was Gujarat chief minister between 1985 and 1989, he remained on the post, without a break, till Modi came to power.
Thakkar’s “clients” included Congress’ Madhavsinh Solanki (1989-90), Chimanbhai Patel (1990-94) and Chhabildas Mehta (1994-95), followed by top Modi opponent in the BJP Keshubhai Patel (1995) and Suresh Mehta (1995-96), BJP rebel Shankersinh Vaghela (1996-97) followed by Dilip Parikh (1997), and was again picked up by Keshubhai Patel (1998-2001) in his second term.
On becoming Gujarat chief minister in October 2001, Modi removed almost the entire staff from the chief minister’s office (CMO), considering them all supporters of Keshubhai Patel, including top IAS officials, but Thakkar continued to be the client of the new chief minister. The reason attributed for his “success” is, he was too low profile, very soft spoken, and the joke about Thakkar, at least among those of us  who covered Gandhinagar Sachivalaya, was, he wouldn’t just capture the mindset of his boss but also quickly prepare a “prefect” press note to be sent for typing even before the briefing ended!
To quote a well-known Gujarati scribe, Prashant Dayal, “The information department officials never worried about writing press releases during the chief minister's public rallies at multiple places. As the chief minister spoke, Thakkar would write the press note, and by the time the address was over and the chief minister’s team was ready to leave the venue, Thakkar would send the press note to the official and instruct for release it media.” Not tech-savvy, quite unlike Modi, he would write all his press notes by hand, never using the computer keyboard.
Other “qualities” of Thakkar helping journalists in every possible way – till, of course, it didn’t harm the boss. Thus, one reason why most reporters always “liked” to be with him was, he not only behaved badly with anyone, but would go out of the way to allow scribes to freely use facilities available in the chief minister’s office (CMO) to send articles not just to their office but even abroad. Dayal recalls, before the days of mobile phones and computers, he would write for a New York-based daily run by NRIs. Thakkar would allow him to use the fax machine without any issues, even if the articles were “anti-establishment.”
Recalls Kishore Anjaria, who worked as PRO with the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) for a long period, and today, retired from government service, is an active Gujarati journalist, another reason why Thakkar was chosen for the chief minister’s office (CMO) was his "knowledge of English."
Thakkar was picked up by IAS official PK Laheri, who served in the CMO under different chief ministers, finally to become Gujarat chief secretary under Modi, recalls Anjaria further, adding, he was perhaps the only official in Gujarat who put at rest broke the general thinking that a new boss always brings with her or him his own PRO to work with – “so much of trust he was able to cultivate in every new incumbent”.
One who disliked seeing his name appearing in print, Thakkar was so low profile that he would not discuss virtually nothing, least of all something controversial, with journalists. A man of few words, when once I pressed upon him to speak out about unpleasant things about a past chief minister, he just said, with a smile, “Let me open my mouth after I retire!”, something he never did. He would tell me, “All chief ministers had pluses and minuses. But I have had excellent memories with them all”, but refrain from speaking anything more.
A workaholic, one doesn’t recall if Thakkar ever went on leave to relax. Apart from dishing out press notes in virtually no time, he would forward appointment requests from scribes to the chief ministers. One who retired as government official of the Gujarat information department in 2004, Thakkar made known his desire to quit work government service. He was co-opted by Modi that year, was asked to continue as PRO in the CMO. “Saheb has asked me, I can’t refuse”, he said.
I covered Gandhinagar Sachivalaya for the Times of India from 1997 to 2013, and would interact with Thakkar routinely. Modi met me one-to-one twice, both before the 2002 Gujarat riots, and would also interact with me during the lunches he would serve for journalists on the occasion of the Gujarati New Year, but refused to meet me one-to-one. Thakkar gave me the reason: “Saheb says, you write whatever he tells you. He doesn’t like that.” My telling him that I wouldn’t didn’t help either! Did my stories in the Times of India embarrass Modi so much? I don’t know.
After I retired from the Times of India in January 2013, I didn’t interact with Thakkar much – except on phone. While he never picked up the phone instantly, he would return back as and when he found time. After he went to Delhi with Modi, I asked him what his job was. And this was his reply, straight and to the point: “What could it be? The same... Preparing press notes.” I further queried: “In Gujarati like before?” And he replied, “No, not just in Gujarati...”, but didn’t add more.
---
A version of this article first appeared in The Wire

Comments

Unknown said…
Great and befitting tribute to all time PRO
Uma said…
A man for all seasons, indeed!

TRENDING

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report

By Rajiv Shah  A high profile report prepared by the influential  American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights , taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Whither SDG goal? India's maternal mortality rate fall target 5.5% per yr, actual 4.5%

By Srinivas Goli, Parul Puri* The maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births) is a key and sensitive parameter used by health policymakers to monitor maternal health conditions in particular and women's status in general in a country.

Fresh efforts to subsume Buddhism within Hindu fold 'undermining' Ambedkar

By Aviral Anand*  From Yeola in 1935, when Dr Ambedkar announced that he would not die a Hindu, to Nagpur in 1956 when he converted to Buddhism, is a considerable distance in time. But, there was in him a need to make a public announcement in 1935 about moving away from Hinduism. 

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Reverse progress in fight against hunger? 15.3% of India undernourished: GHI

By Harchand Ram*  Every year October 16 is observed as World Food Day to celebrate the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In the year 2021, the theme for World Food Day is “Our actions are our Future-Better Production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life”.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Global Hunger Index: Govt of India response pathetic, 'lacks' scientific empirical evidence

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* Come 16 October – and the world once again focused on the most basic need for a person’s survival: food! The first World Food Day was observed in 1994, to mark the launch of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Ever since, the day is marked to highlight the need and importance of food security across the world. The significance is accentuated especially in these difficult times like the C-19 povidandemic. The theme for 2021 is ‘Safe Food Now for a Healthier Tomorrow’, emphasising on the various immediate and long-term benefits of consuming safe and healthy food.

Failure of 'trickle down theory' behind India's poor Global Hunger Index rating

By Dr Gian Singh*  On October 14, 2021, two organisations, Concern Worldwide (An Irish aid agency) and WeltHungerHilfe (a German organization that researches the problem of global hunger), jointly published the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021. These organizations have included 116 countries in the world hunger rankings.

Unlike other revolutionaries, Hindutva icon wrote 5 mercy petitions to British masters

By Shamsul Islam*  The Hindutva icon VD Savarkar of the RSS-BJP rulers of India submitted not one, two,or three but five mercy petitions to the British masters! Savarkarites argue: “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit” (YD Phadke, ‘A complex Hero’, "The Indian Expres"s, August 31, 2004)

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam* In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.