Modi’s ‘Five Stars’: The Indispensable Core Team Shaping India’s Future

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New Delhi, 5th August 2023: The Narendra Modi government has gone to great lengths to ensure the continuity of its core team, comprising three civil service officers — two IAS and an IRS. Additionally, two other civil service officers — an IPS and another IAS — are also highly regarded by the government. These five retired bureaucrats, often referred to as the PM’s ‘Panch Ratna’ or Modi’s ‘Five Stars,’ are considered indispensable to the government’s functioning.

Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor (NSA); PK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the PM; Rajiv Gauba, Cabinet Secretary; Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Union Home Secretary; and ED Director Sanjay Mishra are the key members of this core team.

While the positions of NSA and Principal Secretary have traditionally been held by retired officers, the tenures of the Cabinet Secretary, Home Secretary, and ED Director have been significantly extended under the Modi government. In the past, these positions were held by retired officers for shorter periods.

The government values continuity in important positions, especially with upcoming general elections on the horizon. Changing these roles could disrupt the administrative structure and lead to a domino effect on other important positions.

Rajiv Gauba and Ajay Kumar Bhalla are highly trusted by the Prime Minister and have served in crucial positions throughout their careers. Gauba’s stint on central deputation restarted in 2016, and he has held significant roles in various ministries. Bhalla has served at the Centre since 2010 and occupied key positions in the energy and power sectors before becoming Union Home Secretary.

Sanjay Mishra, the ED Director, is seen as an asset to the government for his relentless efforts to expose corruption and financial crimes. He has been granted multiple extensions, making him the longest-serving bureaucrat in his position. Mishra’s dedication to investigating offences of money laundering and foreign exchange violations has been widely recognized.

The government’s decision to retain these officers has drawn criticism from some political and bureaucratic circles. Critics argue that continually extending the tenures of retired officers limits the chances for other senior bureaucrats to reach such top positions, leading to a lack of opportunities and unfairness.

Recently, the Supreme Court cancelled Sanjay Mishra’s extension as ED Director, but the government successfully moved a petition before the court citing the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) review, which led to an extension of his tenure in the “public interest.”

In conclusion, the Modi government has strategically maintained continuity in key positions by extending the tenures of selected civil service officers, which has both supporters and critics within the political and bureaucratic landscape.