For someone who has depended equally on publicity and implementation for his plans to work, Narendra Modi has inducted a perennially reticent man, Jagdish Thakkar, to be the link between the media and the Prime Minister's Office. But Thakkar has credentials on his side. Not only was he a trusted public relations officer for Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, but he had also served nearly a dozen preceding chief ministers of the state over three decades, irrespective of their political affiliations.
Despite his premium position as the face of Gujarat's chief minister, and now the prime minister, one would be hard put to find a photograph of him for use in the media. And that is how Thakkar would like it. Ironically for a man in his position, the quality for which Thakkar has been chosen to handle public relations in these high offices is his uncanny ability to keep information out of reach of those people deemed unfit to receive it.
Many a journalist has complained that Thakkar neither responds to messages or calls nor does he answer queries. But people close to him say he is not generally parsimonious with information, only that he is selective in responding to queries from journalists, depending on which media house they represent. Some also express exasperation at his rather secretive ways when his job requires him to be more forthcoming with information.
But this trait of Thakkar, who began his career as a journalist at a local daily in his hometown of Bhavnagar, is precisely what endeared him to his bosses. He understands the needs of the man he works for. Thakkar became an information officer with the Gujarat government in the late 1970s and was posted in the chief minister's office under Congress' Amarsinh Chaudhari in 1985. He also worked with Madhavsinh Solanki, Chimanbhai Patel, Chabildas Mehta, Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta, Shankarsinh Vaghela, Dilip Parikh and Modi.
Suresh Mehta declines to comment on Thakkar's work, but remembers even after two decades that Thakkar was the information officer deputed to his office during his tenure in 1995-96. Says Dhiren Avashiya, Thakkar's colleague in the chief minister's office under Modi: "If I had to describe Jagdishbhai in one word, then I would say he is, in the truest sense, Arjuna who only saw his target. He neither indulged in any unwanted activity nor did he engage in unproductive talks. His only objective was to complete the work assigned to him by the chief ministers."
Thakkar, who is now in his 70s, retired from government service about a decade ago, but continued to work as PRO for Modi. He travelled extensively in Modi's company and impressed everyone with the speed with which he could churn out well-nuanced press releases on the chief minister's interactions. Having earned Modi's trust, it wasn't surprising that when the Bharatiya Janata Party leader moved to South Block from Gandhinagar, he too was summoned to Delhi. Working with Modi for over a decade has taught him what pleases the man and what annoys him.
An important difference is that his work in Delhi will be as the public relations officer for the Prime Minister's Office and not Modi personally. He is, in that sense, not another Sanjaya Baru or Pankaj Pachauri. And he can live with that because unlike them, he prefers a low profile and a role as a man who merges anonymously with the procedures and frameworks fixed by the bosses.
Thakkar's family consists of his wife and a son. While his son is settled abroad, his wife runs a charitable organisation in Gandhinagar for the poor.