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The Man Who Never Gets Weighed Down: PM Modi’s Trusted Officer GC Murmu Becomes India's First CAG from a Tribal Community

File photo of former J&K Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu. (PTI)

File photo of former J&K Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu. (PTI)

Murmu, who comes from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha and is the oldest among eight brothers and sisters, has been credited with presenting Gujarat’s case in an effective manner in courts following the 2002 riots.

When Girish Chandra Murmu took oath as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on Saturday, he became the first person from a tribal community to occupy the post in the institution's 162-year history. President Ramnath Kovind administered the oath of office to Murmu in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhavan. As an IAS officer, Murmu has worked closely with Modi for the past 15 years.

When Murmu abruptly resigned from the post of Jammu and Kashmir's lieutenant governor on August 5, few had any doubts about his next posting. But this was not the case with the post he had vacated. There was massive speculation about the next L-G of Jammu and Kashmir, and the position ultimately went to Manoj Sinha, a seasoned politician from Ghazipur. It was clear though that Murmu was going to replace Rajiv Mehrishi, the outgoing CAG.

Murmu, as official records show, was born on November 21, 1959. So he will be on the post of CAG till he attains the age of 65, according to rules, or for a maximum period of six years. This means that Murmu’s tenure as CAG may last till November 21, 2025. This is the first time that a Gujarat cadre officer has assumed the post. Also, while independent India had seen 13 CAGs before him (the position was established by the British in 1858), Murmu will be the first from a tribal community. And the credit for this will certainly go to PM Modi.

Murmu comes from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. He is the oldest among eight brothers and sisters. His mother was a schoolteacher and his late father worked in the railways. Murmu often visits his native place to meet his mother. He is a 1985-batch IAS officer and, before joining the service, he briefly worked in State Bank of India as a probationary officer. No one would have known at the time that he would one day head the department of financial services which oversees the working of all banks.

Murmu studied in Utkal University from where he earned a BA degree in political science and then finished his MA from there. After the reading down of Article 370 of the Constitution, Murmu became the L-G of the newly formed union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. His knowledge of political science proved useful there.

His appointment as L-G of J&K grabbed attention. People came to know that he was a trusted officer of PM Modi as he was dispatched to Jammu and Kashmir whose special status stood withdrawn and the region was facing a very challenging time. He replaced Satpal Malik who was governor of Jammu and Kashmir when it was still a state and undivided. Before this, in Gujarat and also in Delhi, only a handful of people knew about his closeness to PM Modi.

People in Gujarat came to know about Murmu when he returned there in 2004 after finishing an MBA course from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Upon his arrival, he was appointed secretary in the state's home department and he remained on this post for the next three and a half years. Gujarat was still trying to recover from the communal carnage of 2002 and many cases were reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court. Controversies were also raging about police encounters in those days.

Murmu has been credited with presenting Gujarat’s case in an effective manner in courts. He was everywhere and did not say no to any task he was handed, no matter how difficult it was. In those days, the Centre was ruled by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) headed by the Congress and it had no love lost for Modi. During the 10-year rule of UPA from 2004 to 2014, the Manmohan Singh-led central government was often pitted against the Modi-led Gujarat government.

In such circumstances, Murmu never lost his focus. People who have worked with him say he is quiet and simple by nature but has the ability to speak his mind. He is very punctual, can go anywhere and finishes every task with dignity. He briefed lawyers in Gujarat and outside it regarding cases and presented the side of the state government before several commissions very effectively.

Modi was impressed by Murmu's hard work and his faith in the officer increased further. This was the reason that Modi appointed him his additional principal secretary in the chief minister's office in 2008 and he also continued in the same position in the home department. One must remember that during his 13.5-year tenure as Gujarat CM, Modi retained the portfolio of home ministry while Amit Shah worked as his deputy after being inducted in 2003.

Amit Shah resigned from his post in 2010 when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a charge sheet against him in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Apart from Modi, Murmu also came in close contact with Shah. He fought the legal battle for the Gujarat government under the guidance of these two leaders.

After Amit Shah not only left the government in 2010 but also had to leave the state, Murmu was left as the sole close adviser of Modi. During this period, Modi had to appear before the special investigation team (SIT) that was formed on the orders of the Supreme Court. These legal battles were like a marathon, but Murmu was never found huffing and puffing and he remained on course and kept fighting.

This was no surprise as Murmu is built for battles. He is a weightlifter and his biceps and physique are proof of it. About Murmu, it is said that he can leave everything except his physical exercise. When Murmu was staying in Gandhinagar, he was a regular at the local gymkhana as a weightlifter. Junior officers came to know about this when Murmu appeared bathed in sweat in official meetings at his residence.

After his transfer on deputation to Delhi in 2015, he did not leave his workout. When he was staying in a government flat in New Moti Bagh, his colleagues could see him lifting a huge dumbbell in the gallery early in the morning. After he shifted to a government bungalow, he continued with his routine.

Murmu has been a major support for his family. Being the oldest among his siblings, he has ensured that all of them get a good education. One of his brothers, Shirish Chandra Murmu, has an MSc degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University and is working as regional director of the Reserve Bank of India in Kolkata and is a nominated director of RBI on the board of Bank of India. Another of his brothers has cleared the UPSC exams and holds a high post in the railways.

Murmu’s wife Smita Shukla has a PhD and is busy in social services. Their daughter Ruchika is preparing for the UPSC exams and son Ruhan is a student of Class XII. Murmu loves to spend time with his family when he is not working and has a special liking for action films.

Murmu, however, has not been able to find enough time for the family in the past 15 years. While PM Modi has not taken any holidays during the entire journey from the post of CM to PM, the same is the case for officers who work closely with him.From 2004 to 2014, Murmu worked under Modi and carried a significant part of the load. He was always on his toes – travelling to Delhi from Gandhinagar almost every month. On many occasions, he had to visit Delhi every week. In May 2014, when Modi became Prime Minister, Murmu worked as principal secretary of his successor as Gujarat CM, Anandiben Patel, for almost one year. But in 2015, he headed for Delhi and arrived on central deputation in the national capital.

Before being appointed L-G of Jammu-Kashmir in October 2019, Murmu worked in the finance ministry in various capacities for four years. From April 20, 2015, he started working as joint secretary in the ministry. On October 29, 2019, when he relinquished the post of secretary, department of expenditure, he was appointed the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Since he worked in the department of expenditure, banking and revenue, these experiences will be useful for him as CAG.

Murmu has the habit of doing serious homework. In Gujarat, when he was overseeing the works of the home ministry along with his role in the CMO, he would read all the files very carefully – those related to transfer-posting as well as the ones on legal matters. Murmu has the habit of delving deep into issues. Despite being a senior officer, he visits advocates in person to discuss important matters.

Murmu was a regular at late Arun Jaitley’s house, who was a close confidant of Modi and senior BJP leader. He was accompanied by Tushar Mehta who was additional advocate general of Gujarat in those days. Advocates who advised the Gujarat government in legal matters included Harish Salve, Mukul Rohatgi, Sushil Kumar and Ranjit Kumar.

On many occasions, Murmu could be seen waiting outside the chambers of these advocates but he never seemed flustered. This was very unusual for a senior officer like him. However, he never pardoned an advocate who made him wait but was not ready to discuss the case without charging a heavy fee. It was Murmu’s feedback that led to all these advocates being 'suitably rewarded' in Delhi with high positions in the government, barring the one.

Murmu has never been a greedy man. When Modi became PM in 2014, everybody thought that Murmu too would head for Delhi. But that took 11 months. Earlier, it was speculated that he would be made the head of the Enforcement Directorate, but that did not happen. When he was picked for the post of L-G of J&K, many were taken aback. Few had thought that before turning 60, Murmu would hold so many key posts. It was not a small achievement to become an L-G from a bureaucrat and that too of a sensitive region like Jammu and Kashmir.

Within a year, by offering another crucial post to Murmu, PM Modi has again thrown a surprise. However, those who are close to the Prime Minister say this is not at all surprising. Modi values honesty and hard work. He also knows to take care of those who have stood with him in his challenging days.

The way Murmu has been with Modi through thick and thin, and won his confidence, it is not unusual that he has got the post of CAG. This is also a message to the country, politicians and bureaucrats that if they do their work with honesty and diligence, then their social background will never come in the way of their reaching the pinnacle. This has been the case with Modi and also with Ram Nath Kovind who, as the first Dalit President of the country, administered the oath of office to Murmu as the new CAG of India.

In Hindu philosophy, it is said that whatever happens to someone is predestined. But Modi has seemingly changed the prarabdha (past-life karmas that affect the present life) with his work and so is the case with Murmu. Both of them believe in astrology and do puja every day but chart their course themselves.

That is the reason a person who was born and brought up in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, cleared his UPSC exams in 1985 and started his career as sub-divisional magistrate of the little-known Petlad town in Gujarat in 1987, is now the CAG of the country, a top constitutional post. Jagat Rawal of Jamnagar had no inkling that Murmu, who was a collector from 1997 to 2000 in his city and who always felt nervous while taking his photographs, will be always before the camera after 15 years. Even this reporter had not thought of this turn of events while interviewing Murmu, the-then collector of Jamnagar in 2000 on the roadside in a non-air- conditioned SUV on a hot summer day.