When former BJP MP from eastern Uttar Pradesh Harinarayan Rajbhar declared in a January 4 video that UP BJP vice-president AK Sharma “will be the next chief minister from our region,” he set the political tongues wagging in the Hindi heartland that goes to polls next month.
Though Rajbhar from Mau, to which Sharma also belongs, is not a tall leader from the region, the statement has warmed up the political climate in Uttar Pradesh since the latter is a close lieutenant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
And he was sent to the State in 2021, after he took premature retirement from the bureaucracy to join the BJP. Sharma was in the CMO as well as in the PMO of Modi and played a key role in his ambitious Vibrant Gujarat global investors summit and several projects.
Secondly, true to his style, this was a surprise that Modi sprung and neither the UP BJP nor Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath knew of it coming.
Narendra Modi’s Gujarat style of governance, which is more his own style than a model that few could implement, has two distinct features — running the government unilaterally through a few handpicked bureaucrats and an element of surprise.
It is now expected that he would do the unexpected, as he did on December 29, 2021.
When the Modi Government went a step further to unilaterally appointed senior bureaucrat Durga Shankar Mishra as the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh a day before his retirement on December 31, few back home in Gujarat were surprised.
Except UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Sources in the State administration said he was caught unawares since this appointment was in a deviation from the conventional system where a State Government is consulted and the latter issues the order through the Governor.
A chief secretary is the administrative head of a state and works in close tandem with the sitting chief minister.
But breaking conventions is Modi’s style. This is the second bureaucrat close to the prime minister who has been sent to the Hindi state in a year ahead of a crucial election. First, it was Gujarat cadre bureaucrat AK Sharma who retired from central deputation and joined the BJP.
Much to the chagrin of Adityanath, the low profile bureaucrat was sent to Uttar Pradesh amid widespread speculation that he would be made the deputy chief minister.
Since this wasn’t as easy as sacking the entire Vijay Rupani Government in Gujarat, Sharma was given an ornamental post of a vice-president of UP unit of the BJP. Ornamental because he became the 17th vice-president, joining a crowd of 16.
Still, significantly, it must be noted that Sharma was elected to the UP State Legislative Council (a state-level body equivalent of a Rajya Sabha that exists in several large states). So, he can easily walk into a minister’s chair.
Those aware of the proximity of these two bureaucrats, Mishra and Sharma, to the prime minister and of his style of governance know that Modi works to a long term game plan — and this still can be analysed only after it is fully implemented.
Both have been sent to the powerful Yogi’s state without his knowing it beforehand. And how? Mishra, a 1984 batch bureaucrat, has come in the place of incumbent Chief Secretary RK Tiwari who is close to Yogi and due to retire only in February 2023. Sources claim he is already empaneled and may go on a central deputation.
There are now two Modi’s trusted bureaucrats in Uttar Pradesh — one in the administration and another in the party organisation.
An IAS from the 1984 cadre, Mishra is an alumni of IIT-Kanpur and holds an MBA degree from the University of Western Sydney. As a Union Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary since 2017, he had the enviable assignment of overseeing the prime minister’s ambitious Central Vista project.
Under Mishra’s term, key programmes like the Smart Cities Mission, Swatchh Bharat and metro rail projects in Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Kanpur were implemented.
Similarly AK Sharma, both at Modi’s CMO and the PMO. His directions were interpreted as those from the top boss. But he did it quietly, in his mild-mannered style that never ruffled any feathers.
Since Modi’s key drivers are the bureaucrats, he wants his trusted officials handling all his pet projects. AK Sharma was known to be a key player in the CMO and stayed the longest there, not even trying a central deputation.
Sharma reached there in 2001 and his experience in the industries department made him the key mover of the Vibrant Gujarat summits and accompanied Modi abroad to attract investments to the state.
His proximity to Modi could be understood from the fact that when he went abroad for a year-long training, the post of Secretary was kept vacant until he returned.
In Uttar Pradesh, Sharma is the sounding board of the prime minister for intelligence inputs on the State. He has a key role in eastern UP since he also belongs to Mau and his father was a Senior Incharge of Mau Roadways Bus Station.