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

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

JP advised RSS to give up Hindu Rashtra, disband itself: Ex-IAS officer tells Modi

Counterview Desk
Major MG Devasahayam IAS (Retd), chairman, People-First, in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Jayprakash Narain’s (JP’s) death anniversary (October 11) has wondered whether he remembers “a patriot called Jayaprakash Narayan”. Recalling what JP thought on issues such as communalism, freedom, democracy, Hindutva etc., Devasahayam says, Modi has been been doing “the very opposite of the principles and values for which JP lived and died.”

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

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".

UP chief secretary, DGP have 'surrendered' to political diktat: 92 retired IAS, IPS officials

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, 92 retired IAS, IFS and IPS bureaucrats, commenting on “blatant violations of the rule law” following the Hathras incident, have blamed that the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police for abjectly failing to exercise control over a “highly compromised” administration the state.

Hathras reflects Manu's mindset dominates: 'Women are false, it's in their nature to seduce'

By Parijat Ghosh, Dibyendu Chaudhuri*
The woman died and then we woke up to protest. She was alive for two weeks after the heinous incident. Many of us even didn’t notice what had happened at Hathras, how she fought during the next 15 days. Those who noticed, many of them were not sure what actually had happened. So much so, we as a nation were more busy in finding out who among the Bollywood actresses were taking drugs, who smoked weed, who had ‘inappropriate’ or more than one relationship, what kind of private conversations they had in their chat boxes and what not!

Gujarat literati flutter: State Akademi autonomy curb a Sahitya Parishad poll issue?

By Dankesh Oza*
The 115-year-old Gujarati Sahitya Parishad is in election mode. More than 3,000 life members of the Parishad are set to elect its 52nd president and 40 plus central working committee (CWC) members, which in turn will elect its executive and two vice presidents, six secretaries and a treasurer for the coming three years (from 2021 to 2023).

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.

Atrocities against Dalits: Why don't MPs, MLAs from the community ever speak up?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
In Gujarat, a young Dalit activist lawyer Devji Maheshwari, belonging to the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMSCEF) was killed in Surat, allegedly by a goon who was warning him against his Facebook posts not to speak up against Brahmanism. Facts have come to light suggesting there are other issues also which led to the murder, mostly related to land disputes, many a time ignored by activists.

Delhi riots: Even British didn't accuse Bhagat Singh of reading Lenin, Jack London

By Vikash Narain Rai*
After the #BlackLifeMatters movement seriously tested the credibility of police across America, the Houston police chief Art Acevado talked of ending “lawful but awful” policing. No comparison, but in India, a citizens’ committee comprising former top judges and bureaucrats is now set to inquire into the role of the state machinery and media in handling the February 2020 Delhi violence, which followed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), “as the investigation by the Delhi Police has evoked extensive critical commentary in recent times.”