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Can these ministers bring elusive 'achhe din'?

September 03, 2017 20:27 IST

'The reshuffle was expected to show some sign about the BJP's awareness of the looming difficulties.'
'But there is no certainty that the new inductees will be able to breathe life into the government,' says Amulya Ganguli.

The ministers after the swearing in

More than the unexpected choice of Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister and Suresh Prabhu's expected removal from the railways, Narendra Modi's third ministerial reshuffle may well be noted for the royal snub that he has meted out to Nitish Kumar.

The rebuff would have been marginally less if the Janata Dal-United had not given the impression -- unlike the Shiv Sena, which apparently knows its 'ally' better -- that it was almost certain about some of its members being taken into the Union council of ministers.

 

The scene for the JD-U has been made worse by reports that Nitish Kumar is resentful of his party being overlooked and Laloo Prasad rubbing salt in the wound by saying that it is the Bihar chief minster's 'fate'.

While it is too early to say what effect this sign of strain will have on BJP-JD-U relations, what is clear is that it is yet another example of the hauteur for which the ruling party at the Centre has become known.

However, to what extent this attitude is helpful for it is doubtful, for whatever BJP President Amit Shah may think about his party winning 350 seats in the next general election, the prospects of the National Democratic Alliance will not be enhanced by the BJP's arrogance.

This disadvantage will be all the greater because the BJP is not as securely placed as it probably believes in the wake of the lawlessness in Haryana, the deaths of children in UP, the continuing worries about the agricultural sector and the slowing down of the economy as is evident from the growth rate falling to 5.7 per cent, which will exacerbate the unemployment problem.

The reshuffle was expected to show some sign about the BJP's awareness of the looming difficulties.

True, the departure of as many as six supposedly 'non-performing' ministers underlines the realisation that the 'chalta hai' attitude will not do, as the prime minister once told bureaucrats.

But there is no certainty that the new inductees will be able to breathe life into the government.

Perhaps the most controversial of the appointments is that of Nirmala Sitharaman.

She is the third defence minister to be tried by Modi after Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar.

Of them, considerable hope was placed on the Goa chief minister because he was seen as competent. But he proved more adept at organising defections in his home state to enable the BJP to emerge from its No 2 position in the assembly elections to grab power.

Like Parrikar, Sitharaman is perceived as competent. But it is one thing to be a commerce minister and quite another to hold the heavyweight portfolio of defence, especially at a time of turmoil in South and East Asia with China licking its wounds after its Doklam misadventure and Pakistan sulking on being scolded by Donald Trump.

To compound the scene, North Korea appears to be itching for war.

Sitharaman, therefore, will have her hands full. If she comes out unscathed from these near-apocalyptic conditions, she will be hailed as a genius.

For the present, most people will keep their fingers crossed.

Like her, Piyush Goyal is also known to be a hands on minister. But the railways is a different kettle of fish from the power ministry.

As the series of accidents which derailed Suresh Prabhu shows, reforming the railways is a gigantic task.

Unfortunately, BJP simply does not have in its ranks enough senior and experienced people to handle major departments.

Because of the dearth of talent, it had to depend for long on the ever reliable Arun Jaitley to be both finance and defence ministers.

Nitin Gadkari is also deemed to be efficient. But as a heavyweight who is known for his pronounced RSS background, it is probably 'safer'; to keep him confined to road transport, highways, shipping, etc, with Ganga rejuvenation now being added to his portfolios, where he can be given a free hand.

Handing him defence or the railways would have only added to his weight, especially if he was successful.

No one knows whether Modi's expectation that his new team will deliver better results than the earlier ones will be fulfilled.

But it is clear that time is running out for the prime minister for whom the glory days of 2014 now probably appear to be receding further and further into the distance while 2019 is advancing towards the party at a seemingly faster pace.

Yet, few will believe that the new ministry will usher in a sea change and bring the unrealised achhey din nearer.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

Amulya Ganguli