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Cabinet reshuffle: A sarkar of, by and for PM Modi, bound together by the RSS

New Delhi: Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray threw a tantrum on Sunday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi put in place a new order — and perhaps a new pecking order as well — by expanding his cabinet to achieve four broad objectives: blend the old with the new to create a pool of talent; strike a caste balance that spells social inclusiveness; extend the party’s geographic reach, particularly in poll-bound states like Bihar and West Bengal where it will battle regional and region based forces; and correct the lopsidedness in ensuring minimum government with maximum governance.

But the dominant message emanating from the induction of four new cabinet ministers, three ministers of state with independent charge and 14 Ministers of State — most of whom come stamped with the RSS ideology — is that the government at the Centre is of Modi, by Modi and for Modi,  and anyone in the team or outside who thinks otherwise would do it at his or own risk as Thackeray learned on Sunday.

Alliance trouble

Narendra Modi and Manohar Parrikar at the swearing-in. PTI

But much like it has happened for the last 25 years, the pressure of allies cast a shadow on the proceedings, when an angry Thackeray withdrew his ministerial nominee Anil Desai as he was reportedly being sworn in not as a cabinet minister but as a Minister of State. What fuelled his anger further was despite his opposition, Modi inducted Suresh Prabhu as a cabinet minister. Prabhu will now be a BJP man.

Not surprisingly, the immediate questions thrown up by the cabinet expansion was not about who’s who in the team or their merits and strengths, but about BJP-Sena relations which have been hurtling downhill in recent weeks both at the Centre, where it presently has a minister in Anant Geete, and in Maharashtra where they contested the elections separately. And if it decides not to join the Devendra Fadanavis government it would become the official opposition — a post which a badly mauled Congress has been eyeing.

But Modi would have learned a lesson from the mistakes made by the Congress-led UPA and his predecessor Manmohan Singh by now: that people want a strong Central government which does not succumb to the pressure and demand of allies — particularly an unreasonable demand and a churlish ally at that — for then there is no end to it.

But to get back to cabinet expansion.

Six categories of inductees

Members of the Modi team seem to arrange themselves into four sometimes overlapping categories, with most of them bound together by the RSS thread.

The first set is of cabinet ministers and ministers who have experience in administration and have been handpicked by Modi for their talent and ability to take governance to a new level and give a new thrust to mantra of development. They include Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu whose entry and assignments could change the equations at the Centre and possibly lead to a readjustment in the all important cabinet committee on security.

Parrikar was made to quit as chief minister of Goa to join the Modi team. An IIT graduate and a technocrat, Parrikar is expected to add shine to Modi’s plank of clean politics with his reputation for honesty and integrity while delivering on the targets that the prime minister sets for his ministers.
Low profile and unassuming Prabhu, on his part, is known for his expertise on infrastructure and development issues ranging from finance and power to climate change and environment, is respected across power and party divides and is probably among the few ministers in the Modi team with wide experience across different ministries. He is also the Prime Minister’s Sherpa for the forthcoming G-20 summit. And with Modi ready to annoy the Sena by getting him on board, Prabhu, like Parrikar, would provide competition to Arun Jaitley both as a performer as well as in his proximity to the PM.

Even where the inductees have no experience, the fact that some of them have excelled in their respective fields is likely to bring fresh energy and new inputs into governance. They include the likes of technocrats like Jayant Sinha, armyman and Olympian silver medalist Rathore, Dr Mahesh Sharma who runs the Kailash Hospital near Delhi, noted singer from West Bengal Babul Supriyo or Hansraj Gangaram Ahir who made a name for himself as the whistle blower by exposing the coal scam that, among other things, helped bring down the Congress-led UPA.

The second set of leaders are expected to help Modi weave inclusiveness into the government’s agenda and change the popular perception that the BJP stands only for Hindutva and upper castes. Sunday’s induction is an amalgam of ministers from diverse social streams. To take a few examples, the list includes Brahmins (Parrikar), Kayasthas (Jayant Sinha, Giriraj Singh), Rajputs (Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore), Muslims (Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi), OBCs (Ram Kripal Yadav), Jats (Birender Singh, Sanwar Lal Jat), Scheduled Tribes (Haribhai P Chaudhary) and Scheduled Castes (Vijay Sampla). The lone woman sworn in is saffron clad Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti whose induction is addressed towards women in general and the hard core Hindu supporters in particular.

Besides contributing to the government, their role would include helping the Modi regime build its image and appeal among their respective communities so that Modi’s dream of setting up a Congress Mukht Bharat (Congress-free India) — and the unstated goal of a BJP Yukt Bharat (BJP- united India) — is in place socially, politically and electorally. To reach that objective, those who have migrated from other parties have been rewarded, notably Birender Singh and Ram Kripal Yadav who defeated his former mentor and RJD supremo’s daughter Misa.

The third set of leaders are those who are expected to complement Modi in the state elections coming up in the near future, specially in Bihar in 2015, West Bengal in 2016 and UP in 2017 where it will fight the regional forces like the SP, BSP, RJD, LJP, the Trinamool Congress. Ram Kripal’s induction would help the BJP highlight the dynastic rule that Lalu had sought to perpetuate by fielding his daughter from his confidante’s constituency so much so that he was forced to jump ship.

Modi’s success in the parliamentary elections in Bihar may have prompted Lalu and JD-U’s Nitish Kumar to join hands and successfully halt the BJP in the subsequent bypolls, but Modi is now gearing up to battle their combined strength. He has inducted three ministers from Bihar, each representing a different community — Ram Kripal (OBCs), Giriraj Singh (Bhumiyar) and Rajiv Pratap Rudy (Rajput). There are now eight ministers from the state. From West Bengal, Modi has inducted singer Supriyo, the youngest of the lot, for his wide appeal across the state where the party has only two MPs and intends to expand its base to take on the ruling Trinamool, specially when the Left is down and the Congress is seen as a has-been. Even for states like Maharashra, where the assembly elections are over, the party has now seven ministers (including Shiv Sena’s Anant Geethe) to try and finish off the NCP and the Congress and if Thackeray parts ways, the Shiv Sena too.

Likewise, there are four ministers from UP — Naqvi, Dr Sharma, Dr Ram Shankar Katheria and the Sadhvi which takes the total ministerial strength from the state to 13. UP, which will poll for a new assembly in 2017, had hoisted the BJP by giving it 71 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the national elections plus another two to its ally, the Apna Dal to take the NDA’s total to 73 seats in the state.

The fourth set of leaders helps Modi to showcase regional representation which was markedly absent in his first team and therefore attracted criticism. This time there are representatives from Goa, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal. The only states that are now left unrepresented in the total of 66 member council of ministers are Kerala and northeastern states like Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Sikkim where the BJP does not have any presence and Uttarakhand where it is strong.

The fifth category is an assortment of half a dozen first time MPs including Rathore, Supriyo, Sampla, Sadhvi, Sinha and Dr Sharma, who will be groomed for the future; leaders who have been rewarded for migrating to the BJP and weakening the parties they belonged to (Ram Kripal from the RJD, Birender Singh from the Congress); party seniors who are being compensated like JP Nadda who was a minister in Himachal Pradesh and as general secretary (organisation) was being talked about as a possible candidate for the BJP presidentship but lost out to Modi confidante Amit Shah.

The sixth category over arches all of the above. Barring exceptions like migrants from other parties like Birender Singh, Ram Kripal and Giriraj Singh or technocrats like Prabhu and Jayant Sinha or former army men like Rathore, all the others are steeped in the Hindutva ideology and have strong RSS or ABVP links.
The end result: a government of, by and for Modi with a RSS sheen to it.

But the expansion has invited its own share of controversies, specially over the tensions with the Sena and the induction of Giriraj Singh who was recently in the news for wrong reasons when he could not explain the over Rs one crore theft from his house. It also raises the question whether after Sunday’s exercise Modi will be able to strike a balance between minimum government and maximum governance that was not possible with only 44 members as the work load on the ministers increased while their offices remained understaffed.


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