The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) stands as the pivotal center of power in the Indian governance landscape. Serving as a reflection of the incumbent Prime Minister’s character, personality, and governing style, its primary mandate revolves around facilitating high-level decision-making within the Indian government.

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Origin and Evolution: Established as the Prime Minister’s Secretariat (PMS) in 1947, the PMO evolved from being a modest administrative entity. In 1977, it replaced the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, transforming into the Prime Minister’s Office. Functioning under section 77(3) and attaining department status through the Allocation of Business Rules of 1961, the PMO began offering essential secretarial support.

Initial Phases: Nehru and Shastri Era:

  • Nehru’s Era: In the initial phase during Nehru’s leadership, the secretariat remained low-key and managed by a joint secretary rank officer. The apex decision-making authority was the Cabinet Secretariat during this era.
  • Shastri’s Contribution: The era of Lal Bahadur Shastri marked a broader role for the office. It became known as the prime minister’s secretariat, with senior IAS officers overseeing its operations.

Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai:

  • PM Morarji Desai’s Changes: In 1977, PM Morarji Desai rechristened it as the Prime Minister’s Office while curtailing its roles and responsibilities considerably.

Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narsimha Rao, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee:

  • Rajiv Gandhi’s Expansion: Under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership, the PMO experienced substantial qualitative and quantitative growth. It delved into technology and scientific advancements.
  • PV Narsimha Rao’s Significance: The PMO played a pivotal role during PM P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tenure (1991-1996), orchestrating economic policy shifts in response to the 1991 balance of payments crisis.
  • Vajpayee’s Active PMO: The Atal Bihari Vajpayee era witnessed an actively engaged PMO, particularly in the realms of the economy, foreign policy, and security frameworks.

UPA Era (2004-2014):

  • Low-Profile Phase: During the UPA era, the PMO receded into a low-profile role.
  • NAC vs. PMO: The National Advisory Council (NAC), led by the Congress President, emerged as a significant organization. It was perceived to influence key policy decisions and appointments, even within the PMO.

Current Status (2014-Present):

  • Strengthened Power: The PMO has undergone a transformation, emerging as a potent decision-making entity. It has evolved into a “Super Secretariat,” boasting a workforce of around 800 individuals organized into formal and informal groups.
  • Hub of Decision-Making: The PMO has become the epicenter of decision-making, fostering streamlined interactions with various ministries while maintaining essential checks and balances.

Balancing Act: Some experts argue that a formidable and centralized PMO undermines collective responsibility and parliamentary principles, potentially challenging the democratic essence of the executive. However, a weak PMO could lead to chaos, policy stagnation, and inefficiency. Thus, a judicious equilibrium between a robust PMO functioning as a super cabinet and preserving its peripheral role becomes imperative for effective governance.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish April 23, 2024