PM reshuffles his ministerial team

By K.N. Pandita

For the first time ever since Narendra Modi formed NDA government in 2014, a major reshuffle has been made in the ministerial team.

Common belief is that ministerial reshuffle is not a major event that takes place during the tenure of a party in power. From that angle the recent is not fraught with any unusual significance. Reshuffling of the Council of Ministers is the prerogative of a Prime Minister, who, in the parlance of political science is the first among the equals. The essential philosophy behind reshuffle is neither disapproval nor censure of any ministerial colleague though deducing such negative inferences is something like a fantasia that has sent the opposition berserk. The precise aim is fulfillment of commitments made by the party and its leadership at the time of fighting elections. PM Modi is clear in his mind that people voted not for persons but for principles and policies. Therefore reshuffle in the Council of Ministers, after having put in nearly three years in office, is to be seen and evaluated in the light of those commitments.

Modi government is not an ordinarily elected government when we take into account seven decade long history of country’s parliamentary democracy. It marks the watershed between the rule of spurious idealism and the rule of popular pragmatism. It is a major and fundamental shift from governance with vested party interests and governance with civilizational outlook. Modi has given option to the people to make him answerable to them and not seal their lips on shortcomings if any. In that sense the vote given by the electorate was not merely for the replacement of faces but replacement of ideology and philosophy that had almost fossilized nation’s mindset and disabled it from breaking the stereotypes.

It is true that in his public speeches Prime Minister usually and sincerely repeated that he was satisfied with the functioning of his team at the ministerial level. Obviously, his satisfaction emanated from what he gathered from monitoring the performance of his ministerial colleagues. However, remaining satisfied does not mean a government has to remain content with what is at hand. If our memory does not fail us we may recollect how often he also said that he would be monitoring the performance of his council of ministers. Of course performance is the prime catalyst for the reshuffle.

It is also true that reshuffle has to be seen from a larger and futuristic perspective. Every national level mainstream political party has to plan for decades and not only for the short span of its tenure of five years. If there is futuristic element in the reshuffle, it has to be taken in its stride. Of course critics will feel gladdened to analyze and evaluate individual promotions or ousters of the ministerial candidates and make interpretations according to their understanding. For example the elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman to the crucial post of Defence Ministry is severally interpreted. In the same vein, replacement of the Railways Minister, whose performance outstands that of many of his colleagues is severally interpreted, and so forth and so on. That is a layman’s assessment. The crucial point is building a structure that can withstand the test of the time. It is ideological structure with cast iron philosophy of building the nation along civilizational parameters. Let us not forget that during our march along democratic dispensation, an incorrect belief spread among the political class that they could manage affairs through the instrument of sycophancy. Unfortunately it became the bane of our social and political set up. Some would say that our political class was not wriggling out of sycophancy. Prime Minister Modi found ‘performance’ as the panacea to cure and banish sycophancy.

On the lighter side, it is not difficult to imagine the motivation for the reshuffle if we presume it was not all about “performance”, though that is the basics of the entire exercise. Actually, the balance of probability is that there are many other reasons underlying the changes.

Three of the new entrants into the council of ministers are from Uttar Pradesh, which is due to hold assembly elections next year. Gujarat, where the BJP might be in trouble in the assembly elections, also saw its numbers in the council increased. More to the point, five of the new ministers are Dalits. In 2014, a significant proportion of the mandate that swept the BJP to victory in 73 of UP’s 80 seats was because young Dalit men abandoned Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party to vote for Modi. The BJP has a path to victory in the state assembly election with them. Prime Minister has worked out to incorporate Dalits in leadership positions. Increased Dalit representation at the highest levels will ensure caring for a crucial segment in UP.

In the reshuffle interests and representation of various identities has been met to a fairly large extent though in a big country like India the danger is always there that some lesser influential identities remain sidelined. Keeping the 2019 elections in mind, the new Council of Ministers is fairly devised to meet the ground requirements.

The reshuffle has a message for all state governments that ultimately only performance and delivery are the criterion which the central government would care for while planning future projects for development. It is a stark message for our state also because; as we know the performance of the state government about some of the crucial centrally sponsored schemes has not been up to the mark. Though the Central government does not meddle with the freedom of the chief minister in shaping the council of ministers but the message is loud and clear that all ministers have to be evaluated and assessed from their performance. Whether the State government will take a cue from the reshuffle and embark on the same line is not for us to debate about.

However one thing has to be made clear and the State government will understand it without we outstretching the idea. The Minister of State in the PMO, Dr. Jitendra Singh, who belongs to the State, has not been touched and retains his crucial position in the PMO. It is so because of his commitment to the State and his constituency where he spends most of his time devoutly working for its improvement, be it the Devika reclamation project or Shapur Kandi juggernaut or the Eco-park in Kathua etc. It should be a clear message to the State government and even those in New Delhi that performance is the sum and substance of good governance. It has won him the valuable trust of the Prime Minister and that is a matter of pride for the State.

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