In the passing away of Jagdishbhai Thakkar, Public Relations Officer (PRO) to the Prime Minister, a link has been lost with an era of Gujarat politics that would remain a void forever. His official designation did not give a true measure of his exact role and contribution to the PM’s daily engagements. From morning to late evening, he would effectively be the Prime Minister’s shadow organizing his meetings, creating briefs for them, taking notes, and keeping records. Even before PM would finish his speech, Jagdish bhai would be ready with news points from it for a press release. He understood closely the PM's mind and what was expected of him.
Having started his career as a journalist with Loksatta in 1967 and then with Saurashtra Samachar, Jagdishbhai joined the Gujarat Information department, rising through the ranks to become an integral part of the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) 1986 onwards. Since then he had the unmatchable achievement of having worked with at least a dozen odd CMs in Gujarat, including with PM Narendra Modi, with whom he moved to Delhi in 2014.
He was already 80 years old when I met him for the first time in 2006, or so he would joke. Jagdish bhai was an encyclopaedia on the inner workings of Gujarat politics with an institutional memory that would give both a bird’s eye view and a worm’s eye view of how Gujarat shaped up through some of its most interesting times.
I would always wonder about the secret behind his longevity with Chief Ministers cutting through unbridgeable ideological divides. From Madhavsinh Solanki of Congress to a Chimanbhai Patel of Janta Dal, from Keshubhai Patel of BJP to his rebel Shankarsinh Vaghela of RJP to Narendra Modi, with whom he spent over 15 years, Jagdishbhai was the constant.
As most journalists on the Gujarat CMO beat would vouch for, despite being a media manager Jagdish bhai would maintain strict redlines, most important of which was never to speak anything negative about the leaders. Perhaps that was the most crucial aspect of his personality that endeared him to leaders of all hues. He would narrate anecdotes from the past within the framework of those redlines leaving us with the thought that if I were in his position I might have written more than a couple of books on Gujarat politics. I would cajole him with that idea whenever I could in my more than a decade old association with him. But he would deflect it with an all-knowing smile.
I met him last at the private ward of AIIMS the same day that I came to know of his ailment. He looked as fit as ever, prompting me to joke again that he was fitter than me even as an 80-yr old. Ever polite and business-like, Jagdish bhai just responded with a humble laughter that was his trademark. I did not know he would not recover. Perhaps the gruelling schedule of last few years taxed his body to the extreme. And yes, he has gone with all the books inside of him, never to be told, his secret intact.