Prashant Dayal, Ahmedabad: During my rookie days a journalist in Gujarat, if there was any government official who spoke to me in a courteous way during my visits to the Sachivalay in Gandhinagar it was Jagdish Thakkar. My heart is weighed down with grief and pain as I write about his passing away today, on December 10, 2018. When Narendra Modi became the prime minister in 2014, he took with him to Delhi a team from Gandhinagar, which included Jagdish Thakkar.
Jagdish Thakkar was the life of the information department. He was made the public relations officer in the chief minister’s office when Amarsinh Chaudhary had become the Gujarat CM. Usually, with every new CM, the CMO’s staff too change as every CM likes to keep his trusted men with him during his tenure. But Jagdish Thakkar was an exception. Chief Ministers came and went, but Jagdish Thakkar remained in the CMO. He served Madhavsinh Solanki, Chimanbhai Patel, Chhabildas Mehta, Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta, Dilip Parikh, Shankersinh Vaghela, Keshubhai Patel, and even Narendra Modi.
When Modi came to power in Gujarat in 2001, the entire staff from Keshubhai Patel’s tenure was changed, because he couldn’t place his trust on them. But Jagdish Thakkar couldn’t be moved out and Modi retained him. His retirement time had come and Thakkar would say that the constant travelling with the CM had tired him out. But Modi insisted that he continue as he needed him. There are very few government officials who could survive working with Modi, and when the man himself comes up to you tells that he needs you, the scenario is completely different.
He served in the chief minister’s office even after his retirement. His attitude and speed at work was very different from others. 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, the Jagdish Thakkar would write the press note and by the time the address is over and the CM’s team leaves the venue; Thakkar would send the press note to the official and instruct him to release it to the media. He worked with multiple CMs with ease because he would keep track of every CM’s like and dislikes. He could read the political strategies and plans going in the chief minister’s head. At times when we would go to meet the CM and Jagdish Thakkar would tell us that the temperature is high today; it meant that the CM is not in a good mood today.
I liked being with him. He would never behave badly with me despite being aware of the fact that I was not in good terms with any of the chief ministers he had served. He would even help me as a journalist, despite my anti-establishment stance in my articles. Before the days of mobile phones and computers, I used to write for daily based out of New York. They would pay me for my articles but it was my responsibility to send my writings to them in the US. This was during the tenure of Chimanbhai Patel. I couldn’t send my writings through courier as it would take many days to reach and I didn’t have the kind of money to afford international courier.
Sending faxes were also costly and international faxes charged on a per minute basis. I spoke to Jagdish Thakkar about my issue. He told that it is his duty to help Gujarat journalists. I have to help the government protect its image and make the government’s message reach the public. But I know you would never write praising the government. I’ll get a solution to your problem, but don’t speak about it to anyone. He informed me that I could send international faxes from Chimanbhai Patel’s residence. My anti-establishment writings would get faxed from the state CM’s house.
I loved listening from him, the tales about the different chief ministers he has worked with. I once asked him, who was the most workaholic chief minister. He told me it was Chimanbhai Patel, who would convene meetings with IAS officers even at 2 AM after midnight. He said that Chimanbhai would instruct him to leave and come a little late, probably around 7 AM next morning, and by the time he arrived, the CM would be at his dining table having breakfast at that hour. During elections, Chimanbhai would not sleep in beds and would catch naps during travel in his car itself.
After Chimanbhai, the most workaholic CM was Narendra Modi, said Jagdish Thakkar to me. When I had asked him about Narendra Modi, he had told me that he would tell me about every chief minister in detail once he retires and that I must write a book about it. But alas, he left me without fulfilling his promise. He was undergoing treatment at AIIMS for the past three months and passed away this morning. Jagdish Thakkar, who never got attracted towards power despite working with those in power, left at the age of 72. Narendra Modi, who is the PM now, had met his family this morning upon hearing the news of his demise.