Course Correction by NDA-II
Larger Cabinet, better governance
Modi borrows talent from Shiv Sena and Congress
Prabhu, Parrikar to strengthen govt.
I & B for Jaitley to help corporate sector
New Delhi, November 12: What Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to do on Sunday was a course correction. In the process he corrected some of the mistakes committed by him at the first attempt and also committed some new mistakes in the second. Taking tainted politicians in the first expansion of the Union Cabinet on 6 November 2014 was unwarranted and could have been avoided had Modi been particular about ‘Swatch Sarkar’.
Modi’s pet theme which he articulated during his energetic election campaign was smaller government and better governance. His small cabinet of 44 ministers could not be a match to the huge challenges thrown by a country as large and diverse as India. The government was found wanting on several counts. Modi had noted this limitation very soon and took measures to overcome teething problems. He had to induct 21 new faces to make the cabinet large and efficient enough to tackle inscrutable issues faced by the people.
Modi has been co-opting icons of other parties like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Mahatma Gandhi. Ambedkar’s legacy is sought to be shared by the RSS itself. It was on account of lack of icons in Sangh Parivar (except Vir Savarkar, Golwaker, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee etc) to celebrate. That is part of politics which can be appreciated. But the matter of concern is that Modi does not have great talent in his party even today to choose from. That was perhaps the reason why he had to poach a friendly party like Shiv Sena in order to get an efficient and clean minister to streamline the Railways. Suresh Prabhu is not a routine politician. He was a minister in Vajpayee’s NDA government during 1998-2004 as a representative of Shiv Sena. Ever since the fall of NDA government, Suresh Prabhu has been largely ignore by Uddhav Thakheray although Prabhu was a blue-eyed boy of Uddhav’s father, the legendary Bal Thackeray, founder of the party. Modi had to woo Prabhu out of Shiv Sena since Sena was not prepared to name him. Birendra Singh was another case. He had to come out of the Congress to join Modi’s cabinet. But the master stroke was to induct Goa’s former chief minister Manohar Parrikar as Defence Minister. Known for impeccable integrity and administrative acumen, Parrikar had to be taken off from Goa to implant in Delhi to help improve the efficiency quotient of Union Cabinet. Inclusion of Suresh Prabhu and Manohar Parrikar is going to strengthen Modi’s hands in delivering his promise on governance.
Shifting of Rly minister
When it comes to moving some of the ministers found wanting from key ministries such as Railways and Health, Modi was left with little option. Sadananda Gowda, former Railway Minister, proved to be unequal to the challenge. Modi wanted to modernize the Railways by implementing a scheme meant to provide Wi-Fi in some railway stations and a few designated trains as a starter. Gowda, a mild-mannered politician, thought he had some more time to study the scheme and did not focus his attention. In the area of attracting Foreign Direct Investment in the Railways also Gowda did not live up to the expectations of his boss. It may not be the same case with senior BJP leader from Delhi, Harsh Vardhan, who was handling his pet portfolio, Health. National Health Insurance, a much publicized policy initiative by the prime minister was taken seriously but results could not be shown in given time. Vardhan is, in any way, slated to go to state politics. He has to lead the assembly election campaign in Delhi very soon. He appointed a committee to make recommendations and identify the contours of the scheme which is aimed at providing health coverage to the people. The scheme provides for preventive health checkups, free drugs and health insurance for all. It is an ambitious scheme which has to be taken forward by extraordinary energy. But Vardhan has Delhi politics to reckon with. He could not probably concentrate on the job on hand. Shifting the portfolio of I & B from Prakash Javdekar to Arun Jaitley who was divested of the additional responsibility of Defence was mainly to keep the corporate sector, which has been increasingly making inroads into media world, in the loop. A finance minister who is close to the prime minister can deal with corporate honchos in all aspects in a single window fashion. The shift was not on account of any commission or omission on part of the young BJP politician, Javdekar, who was in-charge of Telangana affairs during general elections.
While these corrections are good for the health of the cabinet, the inclusion of tainted politicians like YS chowdary of the TDP, does not bode well. Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken alleged that Chowdary (popularly called Sujan Chowdary) owns a company that has defaulted in repaying Rs 317.6 crore to the Central Bank. There was a petition by a premier bank in Hyderabad High Court praying for arraging payment from the defaulting company owned by Chowdary. The explanation given by Arun Jaitley is not quite convincing. Narendra Modi could have asked TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu to name someone who is not facing charges of financial misbehavior. That Naidu has considerations other than clean image in matters like this is another matter. Taking young leader, a protégé of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, can also be described as correcting an error that was committed in the initial days of Modi’s tenure as prime minister when Rajnath Singh’s son was shown in poor light in order to show the Home Minister his place in the government and party. Inducting Rudy was a sop meant to appease the HM who, as party president, was instrumental in elevating Modi to the highest level.
The inclusion of , BJP General Secretary, who is a known influence-peddler in the list of new ministers could also be faulted by right thinking people. He was singularly responsible for the unceremonious transfer of Chief Vigilance Office Sanjay Chaturvedi, a vigil blower, from AIMS. This action of the government did not go well with the discerning public. Giriraj Singh is a loudmouth who prattled during the election campaign and was reprimanded by Modi for the same reason. Giriraj declared that those who did not vote for his leader (Modi) would be packed off to Pakistan. He is under investigation to establish the source of his unaccounted money to the tune of one crore which was stolen by a thief from his Pune residence.
Confidence and hope
Suresh Prabhu himself although regarded as a clean and unassuming non-politician in Shiv Sena was in the list of persons who got a flat in the notorious Adarsh Housing Project, a scam on account of which Ashok Chavan had to pay with his position as CM. It is true that it is extremely difficult to find spotless politicians to pick from to be made minister. But, Modi who made all kinds of allegations against the UPA government, cannot get away easily with his own flaws in making the ministry.
Having said that, the overall look of the new, enlarged Cabinet is something that arouses confidence and hope. The short but telling experience of Sadananda Gowda should be a lesson for the new comers to learn. ‘Perform or perish’ is likely to be the rule by which Modi would like to rule the country.