Knife-edge suspense as Modi finally decides to reshuffle his pack
A reshuffle is in the air. But if you think anyone has the ghost of an idea as to who will be in and who out, you should know you are wrong. Prime Minister Modi loves to play it close to the chest, not feeling obliged to share such info with colleagues bar a couple of them. Among the couple is, of course, the BJP chief Amit Shah and maybe Finance Minister ArunJaitley. Everyone else must wait to be told strictly on a need-to-know basis.
However it is safe to assume that the proposed reshuffle-cum-expansion of the central team cannot be put off any further. Given its incompleteness even when the Government is into its penultimate year, the task of cabinet-making has indeed acquired some urgency. Key slots are in temporary hands while some ministers have been mere passengers, failing to provide leadership to the vast army of bureaucrats under them. Modi is expected to fill these vacancies, especially when it is widely accepted that it would be the last major shuffle of the central pack before the specter of the next general election begins to loom large yet again.
Besides, a few key Raj Bhavanshave remained untenanted for long. They must get regular Rajyapaals. Speculation was strong that a cabinet minister who has shown little drive or purpose in his key portfolio might be accommodated as a governor of an important State. But, as we said, only Modi and Shah, the Gujarati twosome who have a vice-like grip on the Government, know for sure what the proposed changes would entail as and when the duo decide to put them into effect.
Given that the Modi-PMO, probably one of the most powerful, energetic and efficient that we have hadfrom the time Indira Gandhi first created this quasi-constitutional power structure in the early 70s, has a tight grip on all that happens in government, it is possible to exaggerate the role of individual ministers. For, the Modi PMO is known to monitor 24x7 all that goes on -- or does not go on but should – in various ministries and departments.
The point is simple: Even without formal, full-time heads, work in various ministries did not suffer because the PMO was keeping a constant watch, pushing their agendas and monitoring implementation. Besides, to tell you the truth, like the previous dispensation, the current ruling party too is not exactly oozing with surfeit of ministerial talent.
Vajpayee had a most talented team
While still on the coming reshuffle of the central ministry, it says something about our entire political class that in almost all ruling parties there has been a woeful lack of ministerial talent. The smart ones in each dispensation virtually elect themselves for ministerial roles. In the UPA, P.Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, even Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma were obvious choices for senior ministerial slots. Selection for the rest of the posts was invariably dictated by regional, religious, caste and even gender concerns.
In this respect,Vajpayee probably was most fortunate. He had a big pool of talent to draw from, with L K Adavani, ArunJaitley, ArunShourie, YashwantSinha, Jaswant Singh, SushmaSwaraj, Rajnath Singh, etc, filling key ministerial posts. By nature an easy-going, laid-back person, Vajpayee delegated freely, a quality which ensured excellent individual performances by his ministers.
In sharp contrast, under Manmohan Singh the PMO had virtually become irrelevant, exercising little or no power with each minister turning his charge into a private fiefdom, or at best, feeling accountable only to the 10 Janapth bosses.
However, the advent of Modiin New Delhi has seen the reassertion of the power and glory of the PMO. No minister feels confident enough to do his own thing without first getting the nod of the big boss. This has of course helped eliminate the scourge of corruption and the misuse of ministerial discretion. But the downside is that it has slowed down government in some respects, especially when it comes to filling empty slots in various public sector units, commissions, tribunals and other discretionary posts. Why, even appointments to higher judiciary get stuck for months for want of the mandatory PMO nod as it grapples withmatters far more urgent than the filling of vacancies in various high courts around the country.
Yadav, a victim of his vicious tongue
As we noted in an earlier column, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) is all set to find representation in the Modi Ministry. At least one cabinet- ranked minister and another minister-of-state is likely to find place in the coming expansion of the Ministry. We were wrong about SharadYadav, the party leader in the RajyaSabha, selecting himself for a cabinet-ranked post from the JD(U) component of the NDA. It seems that Modi was hurt by the vicious manner in which Yadav attacked the Government in recent months. Particularly the sheer vehemence against the demonetization decision,what with poisonous sallies and barbs, was such that the Prime Minister was left seething with anger, especially when Nitish Kumar had publicly supported Notebandi. Besides, neither Modi nor Kumar can gain politically by humoring Yadav, a leader without a constituency to call his own anywhere in the country.
Durbaris are evergreen
Governments come and go but durbaris carry on merrily, unbotheredand unconcerned by the change of guard at the top. A case in point is the appointment of a vice-chancellor. It seems they have recently appointed someone to head a prestigious university with huge salary and perks who had been close to the previous regime as well. Awarded a Padma award by the UPA, the self-professed scholar boasts of great academic credentials to lay a rightful claim on the job. Incidentally, the previous vice-chancellor of the relatively new university was most controversial. She had lacked the requisite academic and administrative experience but was still preferred over two widely-respected scholars for reasons which shall remain unmentioned.