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

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

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".

India sees 62 journo deaths, 4th highest, amidst pandemic: Swiss media rights body

By Our Representative The Switzerland-based media rights body Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has noted that India is the fourth most affected country as far as mediapersons’ death on account of Covid-19 is concerned. According to Blaise Lempen, secretary-general of PEC, the global tally of casualties among media persons in the Covid-19 pandemic has reached 1,036 journalists in 73 countries till date.

Liberating Bengal Hindus? Worst flames of communal division, lessons from the past

By Shamsul Islam*  The whole thrust of the RSS-BJP election campaign for 2021 state assembly elections in West Bengal has been to save Bengal from the rule of Mamata Bannerjee who is allegedly not a ‘Hindu’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, as usual set the polarizing agenda. While addressing the first election rally, he called upon the electorate to overthrow the ‘nirmam’ (cruel) rule of Mamata by showing a ‘Ram Card’. He did not name Hindus directly but there was no confusion about the religious identity of the electorate Indian PM was addressing to.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Modi's Hindutva 'ensuring' empowerment of rich, disenfranchisement of poor

Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The Hindutva socio-psychopaths are neither nationalists nor patriotic people. These medieval reactionary forces don’t understand the idea of citizenship, justice, liberty, equality and humanism. Indian democracy is merely an electoral transaction for the Hindutva forces. Hindutva forces neither follow science nor understand the sufferings of fellow human beings. These core qualities are common among the Hindutva forces in India.

Rs 5 crore 'demand' for India Today anchor: What about 52 lesser souls who died in April?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  A well known Hindutva protagonist masquerading as journalist passed away recently resulting in messages of condolences and tribute right from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to progressive liberals expressing grief of his untimely death. It is said that he passed away due to cardiac arrest, though the fact is, he was also Covid infected. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister termed him a ‘brave’ journalist, insisting, his passing away has left a big ‘vacuum’.

Communal rhetoric? Hindutva preached by RSS-BJP is 'monolithic', not Hinduism

By Prem Verma*  I am a devout Hindu but not a believer of RSS Hindutva form of Hinduism which brings about hatred of other religions. My Hindu religion has not taught me to look down on other religions and neither has it instilled in me to go about converting others to my religion because my religion is superior.

India's Covid-19 'nightmare': A product of majoritarian Hindutva ideological praxis?

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Indians struggle to find place and time to bury their dead due to the devastating effects of the second wave of Covid-19 in India. The crematoriums in the capital cities are overflowing with dead bodies. People are dying without oxygen and basic medical support. The cities like Delhi and Mumbai are struggling to cope with the rising number of infections and COVID-19 led deaths. The deaths and destitutions are products of a defunct BJP government led by Narendra Modi.

Indian media persons collapsing to Covid disease as fast as 3 per day, third highest

Yogesh Sharma, Shailesh Rawal  By Our Representative  The Switzerland based media rights and safety body, Press Emblem Campaign ( PEC ) has said that it is “alarming for Indian journalists”, who have lost at least 107 colleagues to Covid-19”, noting, Indian “journo-colleagues” have been collapsing to the Covid-19 complications now as fast as three scribes per day. In a statement, PEC said, “India with 107 media corona-casualties has already placed itself on the third position just below Brazil (181 dead) and Peru (140) in the list of Covid-19 victims among journalist.”

Pradeep Bhattacharya, who spent his life for the cause of working masses, rational thinking

By YS Gill*  At 11:30 pm on May 3, 2021, I lost my best friend and comrade Pradeep Bhattacharya. He spent his life dedicated to the cause of the working masses and rational thinking. A person of thorough scientific outlook and a well-read student of Marxian thought, he was a walking encyclopedia and could speak on a wide variety of topics from art and culture to science, philosophy, history and politics.