Challenges galore for Modi’s new team : The Tribune India

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Challenges galore for Modi’s new team

Modi has been increasingly gravitating towards former bureaucrats, professionals and technocrats. In this model of governance, he is not looking for professional politicians of the yesteryear variety. In fact, there are now only two ‘relics’ from the past in the Cabinet — Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari.

Challenges galore for Modi’s new team

Elevation: Among the high-profile promotees is Mansukh Mandaviya (R), who has been given the charge of Health and Chemicals & Fertilisers. PTI

Neerja Chowdhury

Political Commentator

IN 2014, when PM Narendra Modi formed his first Cabinet, it carried a touch of Arun Jaitley. It included many Jaitley ‘boys and girls’ like Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Prakash Javadekar. Jaitley himself got Finance and was given the additional charge of Defence.

In 2021, the Cabinet reshuffle bears the stamp of Amit Shah, be it the elevation of Anurag Thakur, G Kishan Reddy, Parshottam Rupala or the induction of Bhupendra Yadav or Meenakshi Lekhi and several others. This is not surprising, for the Prime Minister relies on Shah’s counsel on most matters.

Modi seemed to be addressing a few needs through the reshuffle. The first was to fill vacancies which had existed for some time due to deaths and the exit of allies like the Akali Dal. It was supposed to lighten the load of some ministers who had been saddled with additional departments. However, several ministers continue to have more than one department under them.

Two, it was done for reasons that were political. Given the recent dip in its popularity, the party has reached out to its allies once again. It will need their support in 2022 and in 2024. It inducted RCP Singh from the Janata Dal(U), and made Pashupati Paras of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) a minister at the instance of Nitish Kumar who managed to split the LJP.

But the more important consideration for the BJP is to win UP again, where elections are due next year, and it will be a do-or-die battle. The second wave of Covid, with the deaths and loss of livelihoods it left in its trail, has dented the BJP’s popularity in the state.

The PM appointed seven new ministers from UP, inducted more OBC ministers taking their tally up to 27 and upped the figure of Dalit ministers to 12. The Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs, the Kurmis and the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) are an important catchment area for the BJP in UP. Of the ministers from UP who have been inducted are Anupriya Patel and Pankaj Chaudhary, both Kurmis. Then there is BL Verma, a Lodh, a community to which former CM Kalyan Singh belongs, and Bhanu Pratap Verma, a Koeri. And others who can influence the Dalit voters. But for this to happen, they will have to be empowered to work on the ground to lessen people’s pain and suffering.

Modi’s third concern was to beef up governance. He promoted seven ministers from MoS to Cabinet rank, and they are obviously going to be the new face of the government, along with a few who have been inducted like Ashwini Vaishnaw, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sarbananda Sonowal and Bhupendra Yadav.

They have understood what Modi wants — loyalty, efficiency and a grasp of the subject — and have to deliver accordingly.

Modi wants to run the government like the CEO of a company. The ideas will come from the top (PM, PMO, HM) but the ministers — most are not political heavyweights — will be called to implement them effectively.

Modi has been increasingly gravitating towards former bureaucrats, professionals and technocrats (there are as many as seven former bureaucrats in his team today).

In this model of governance, Modi is not looking for professional politicians of the yesteryear variety who gave a political lead to their departments and called upon the bureaucrats and experts to provide the subject expertise. In fact, there are now only two ‘relics’ from the past left in the Cabinet — Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari.

Those promoted have obviously been rewarded — RK Singh (Power) was low profile and non-confrontationist; Kiren Rijiju (Law and Justice), who has outreach to the North-East, understood the new work culture; Hardeep Puri (Petroleum and Urban Affairs) defended the Central Vista project of the Prime Minister.

A high-profile promotee is Mansukh Mandaviya, who has been given charge both of Health and Chemicals and Fertilisers. He has been close to Modi since 2002 when he became an MLA in Gujarat. He could see Modi, it was said, without prior appointment. He is called a younger Gadkari and enjoys the image of being a ‘doer’. Even as MoS, he was in touch with pharma companies, many of them based in Gujarat. As Health Minister, he is expected to coordinate with them for the production of drugs as and when needed in the future with the continuing Covid challenges.

The challenge for him is also going to be to attend to ‘nutrition’, as Covid has made a large number of poor children severely malnourished, on the verge of death.

The new team — the Cabinet is now the youngest ever — understands the rules of the game. The model of governance under Modi has undergone a change. He rules like the CEO of a company. It is hardly a secret that the ministries are driven by the PMO.

The fourth consideration and an important one, was to safeguard Brand Modi. The PM’s image took a dip after the second wave of Covid. In an uncharacteristic move, for the PM is not given to admitting failure or shortcomings lest it should weaken him, Modi sacked as many as 12 ministers. They included Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar and Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar.

Had Modi not dumped them, the blame would have been — and is being — laid at his door. But most people in the hinterland don’t even know the name of the Health Minister. They blame the Modi Sarkar.

The Health and Labour ministries had come in for huge criticism for their Covid-linked inaction, for ordering vaccines too late, for not having anticipated the oxygen shortage, and for the hardships that migrant labour went through last year. There is speculation about why Prasad and Javadekar were given the marching orders. But it had something to do with their inability to prevent and manage the criticism about the Modi government in domestic and foreign and social media.

It is Prasad’s successor, Ashwini Vaishnaw, the new IT Minister, whose induction has created the biggest buzz. He now has to resolve the impasse with the American microblogging site that had bedevilled Prasad’s last days.

Everything will depend on how Modi’s new horses run the race. And whether they can make a difference to the prices of atta-dal and sabzi.

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