TODAY -

With Four Prime Ministers: My PMO Journey

Rajendra Kshetri *

 With Four Prime Ministers: My PMO Journey - Book Cover
With Four Prime Ministers: My PMO Journey - Book Cover :: Pix - TSE



"When Jarnail Singh bade farewell (to Manipur) first on a rainy Imphal evening of July 4, 2008, to be greeted by two rain-soaked women admirers and later on in March 2017, little did he know that Manipur shall beckon him again. Sooner than Expected".

This is what I wrote in my Review of his first book " My Tryst With Manipur: A Memoir " that appeared in the English edition of The Sangai Express, October 30, 2018. Come he did following his appointment by the Hon'ble High Court of Manipur as Administrator of Manipur University in October 2018. Shri Jarnail Singh's administrative affairs with Manipur thus continue till date.

The year Twenty Twenty brings back the writer in Jarnail Singh once again. This time around, he takes us to the exclusive corridor of the highest political power in the country.

"With Four Prime Ministers: My PMO Journey", the second book to come out in fourteen months time after his first, is the personal account of his days, an eight years stint (August 1996-August 2004) in the Prime Minister's Office.

Of all the offices in the country, PMO is the most powerful where decisions of the highest order pertaining to National Interest are taken/arrived at. No wonder it is the desire nay dream of any civil servant/officer to serve this office. Not: everyone is as fortunate and lucky as Jarnail Singh though.

Having served 4 Prime Ministers (as Joint Secretary to the PM), HD Deve Gowda; IK Gujral; Atal Bihari Vajpayee; and Dr Manmohan Singh for long 8 years (August 1996-August 2004), the first civil servant in the country to have served 4 PMs I suppose, ('A record period' indeed for any joint secretary) Jarnail Singh has obviously a lot to tell/write/share (experiences and anecdotes) what goes inside the PMO.

And this is exactly what he did. These 8 years "stand out for the economic development and Opening up of the many sectors of the Indian economy" (p.xviii) and how Deve Gowda's 'New Initiative for North-Eastern Region' became a mantra for development for North-East not only increased the fund flow to these states, but also led to the setting up of a Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLJCPR) and a separate Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region during the tenure of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee" (pp.xix-xx).

Of all the Prime Ministers Shri Singh served, his tenure under Vajpayee must have been the most challenging and satisfying time at PMO. For one thing, it was the first time that he "would work under a BJP dispensation "(p.74).

Secondly, this was the longest period of his service at the PMO. Thirdly and most importantly, it was during the second innings of PM Vajpayee that two most epoch-making events of national importance bearing international repercussions happened in the country. First was the 5 Nuclear Tests at Pokhran (May 1998) known as Pokhran 11 and the second was Kargil War.

While Pokhran 11 and Lahore Bus diplomacy along with Kargil War, rightly hailed as the finest hour/'wonderful achievement' of the Vajpayee government, there was this conflicting voices about the 'incompetence' of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in alerting the Centre..."(p.82).

The author (Jarnail Singh) who was asked, a week after the Kargil War, by the Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra "to check all RAW reports sent to the PMO and see if there was any mention of intrusion into India in Kargil", informed the latter that" no such information was given by RAW to PMO in writing... and that "there was nothing in it about the intrusions "(pp.82-83) .

Such a conclusive conclusion that" the RAW failed in its duty to provide information about Kargil intrusions (p.83) ...the gentleman who headed RAW at that time... should have been held accountable and punished for the Kargil fiasco, rather than being rewarded with the post of a governor "(p.83) could only come from officers/civil servants of impeccable integrity.

No account/narrative/report of the Kargil War could be considered complete without a reference to the arm-twisting(diplomatic) tactics employed by the White House and this is where the reader is left a tad disappointed.

One is left wishing the author could have provided some insightful insights/informations /anecdotes as to how Vajpayee stood his ground and (reportedly) told the White House that Pakistan would be wiped out from the face of the earth if the latter ever dare nuking India.

There has been personal memoirs of civil servants who have worked in the PMO such as M.O. Mathai's "Reminiscence of Nehru Age"(1978) and "My days with Nehru" (1979). Jarnail's is refreshingly different in that his is not so much about the idiosyncrasies of the PMs (he worked under) but more about the working styles and functioning of the PMO.

His is not a personalised account of the four PMs he worked with but an objective account/inside view of the office of the Prime Minister. His is about institutions, not individuals.

For those bureaucrat officers/civil servants working in the country/state who are committed to work according to the Rule Book and what the Rule permits, this book is a MUST READ. For those interested to have a glimpse of the working styles of the most powerful office in the country, Jarnail Singh's " With Four Prime Ministers: My PMO Journey " offers an ENJOYABLE READ.

Having reviewed his two books, I can't help thinking, having a feeling that a third memoir (his days at Manipur University) is in the offing.

The writer in Jarnail Singh will not give him rest till he pens his third. A wishful thinking!!! Time will tell.


The reviewer is Professor and Head, Department of Sociology MU, Imphal. His published books include " The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism "; "District Councils in Manipur: Formation and Functioning "; "Sociology: Perception and Conception ". His latest, a prose-poetry book on Nambul River, "Cry Of A Dying River " published by AABS Publishing House Kolkata is available at amazon.


* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Times
This article was webcasted on June 09 2020.



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