rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » News » The Reshuffle: What it says about Modi

The Reshuffle: What it says about Modi

Last updated on: September 04, 2017 14:55 IST

'While Piyush Goel, Dharmendra Pradhan, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and a clutch of former bureaucrats including R K Singh, Hardeep Singh Puri and K J Alphons are loyal BJP members, none of them fit the mould of party apparatchiks.'
'In fact, many of the latter kind have been shown the door or have been given reduced charges.'
'That goes to show the prime minister's comfort level in dealing with professionals and administrators and the trust he reposes in them,' says Shreekant Sambrani.

Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, flanked by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Surface Transport Minister Nitin J Gadkari, interacts with a group of additional secretaries and joint secretaries in New Delhi, September 1, 2017.

Numerous nations, especially European ones, have had women defence ministers, including the present incumbents in Germany, Italy and Norway. Some have held these positions for considerable periods.

But no major Asian country figures on this list (barring Japan which had a woman defence minister for exactly 54 days 10 years ago) unless you count the titular assumption of such posts by the head of the government -- Sirimao Bandaranaike, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina, Begum Khaleda Zia have all held the defence portfolio some time or the other as a stop-gap measure in the absence of a full-time minister.

Until September 3, that is.

 

Nirmala Sitharaman broke through this ultimate glass ceiling when she was named India's defence minister. That was the marquee item in the latest reshuffle of the Modi Sarkar.

India being a nuclear power and possibly the largest importer of military hardware among all countries, with the world's fourth largest armed force strength, adds even more significance to this development.

We are not exactly a gender-sensitive society. Female foetuses continue to be aborted, girl children get the short end of the stick even from their own parents, young women get gratuitous advice about their clothing and behaviour from self-styled patriarchs including many votaries of the ruling dispensation, brides are harassed for dowry and women walk in the shadow of possible physical and mental violence from known and unknown men.

Even the judiciary thinks that adult women need parental guidance in choosing their partners. Some otherwise eminent talking heads on television shows after the reshuffle made barely disguised patronising remarks about the new defence minister.

Therefore, let us lustily cheer this true black swan event and wish Ms Sitharaman Godspeed in discharging her greatly enhanced responsibilities.

Others rewarded with promotions or additional challenges include Piyush Goel, Dharmendra Pradhan, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and a clutch of former bureaucrats including R K Singh, Hardeep Singh Puri and K J Alphons.

While they all are loyal members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, none of them fit the mould of party apparatchiks.

In fact, many of the latter kind have been shown the door or have been given reduced charges -- Kalraj Mishra, Bandaru Dattatreya, Uma Bharti, among others.

That goes to show the prime minister's comfort level in dealing with professionals and administrators and the trust he reposes in them. This arises from his long experience as Gujarat chief minister.

Very early on in Mr Modi's term as prime minister, I had observed: 'Mr Modi's strategy was to run (Gujarat) as a business entity.'

'For this purpose, he depended on two younger members of his team, both with business background and experience, Nitin Patel (present finance minister) and Saurabh Patel (present industries and energy minister).'

'Mr Modi trusted their acumen and gave them key responsibilities. Towards this end, Mr Modi depended heavily on the bureaucracy... Mr Modi is now trying to faithfully put into practice the maxim 'don't-fix-it-if-it-ain't-broke.'

'His equivalents of the two Patels in Gujarat are Piyush Goel and Dharmendra Pradhan, both young and reasonably business savvy, in the all-important energy field' ('Modi's true Gujarat Model in practice', Business Standard, August 4, 2014).

The substantive part of the reshuffle shows that Mr Modi still thinks the same way.

That said, one must enter some caveats. Mr Modi's belief in the model of bureaucracy appears complete.

The ruling tenet of the administrative service holding key levers of power is that well-trained, intelligent generalists can usually perform well in any role assigned to them. No hole is too round for these square pegs to fit in.

Despite protests from technocrats from time to time, the practice prevailing in India for long is to place generalist administrators atop decision-making positions in all spheres of activity.

Mr Modi has now extended this practice to ministerial positions as well. But there is a basic difference.

The bureaucrat knows that any charge he holds is not permanent but he has complete job security barring grave misdemeanours on his part. In the event of a failure he would most likely get a slap on the wrist or at worst, a punishment posting. He generally shrugs these off as a duck does water on its back.

Ministerships are by contrast high risk occupations.

Perceived failures could lead to virtual demotions or worse. Pity poor Mr Suresh Prabhu. He came to the railway ministry after a distinguished record as energy minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet.

He has been a loyal supporter of Mr Modi all along and was even his Sherpa at a G20 summit in Australia before joining the ministry.

He was one of the hardest working ministers and always responsive with many a new initiative.

Yet a series of derailments -- mostly not all his fault -- and the media clamour that followed cost him his job.

He would be quite justified in thinking the commerce ministry as a comedown although the task of reviving stalled exports could be considered equally challenging.

Even so, the assignment of some portfolios is puzzling.

For example, one would have expected that given their background and experience, Mr Puri, Mr R K Singh and Mr Alphons would have been given responsibilities related to diplomacy, internal security and urban affairs.

Instead, they have urban affairs, power and tourism respectively. That seems to defy conventional logic of finding a fit.

The generalist is expected to be the master of whatever trade he is given, which is a debatable proposition.

The rest of the new entrants and changes seem to be tied to the general election of 2019.

By now there should be no dispute that Mr Modi and Mr Amit Shah have no equals in their abilities to perform complex political math operations so there is no point in second-guessing them.

Mr Modi has displayed an enormous appetite for risks that would deter most other politicians and emerge the winner, demonetisation being the most prominent such instance. That is indicative of his uncanny ability to gauge what people will accept readily.

The reshuffle was undoubtedly long overdue and needed to fill vacancies. But given these features of it, perhaps we ought to also see it as Mr Modi's throw of dice in the face of a faltering economy and worrisome security situation.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, flanked by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Surface Transport Minister Nitin J Gadkari, interacts with a group of additional secretaries and joint secretaries in New Delhi, September 1, 2017.
On the prime minister's left can be seen Union Ministers Anant Geete, Prakash Javdekar, Piyush Goyal and Nirmala Sitharaman.
Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Shreekant Sambrani