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Modi's Surgical Strike

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
July 12, 2021 08:06 IST
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Modi seems to have an innate faith in his capabilities to handle the myriad challenges confronting the nation and would rather manage the affairs of the nation as a CEO would of a large industrial-business empire, observes Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi at the swearing-in ceremony of his new ministers, July 7, 2021. Photograph: Rashtrapati Bhavan
 

The reshuffle of the Union council of ministers last week bore the singular impress of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Broad in its sweep it surprised everyone not so much for whom he inducted as whom he mercilessly dropped.

Dumping as many as a full dozen senior and junior ministers must be a record of sorts.

Of this surgical strike too nobody had prior inkling.

Yet, undertaking such a massive shakeup long after quite a few vacancies had arisen following the exit of the BJP's allies with many ministers holding twin and triple charges, did not seem to have exactly set the Yamuna on fire.

After all is said and considered, a feeling of being underwhelmed is unavoidable despite all the hype that preceded and followed the shuffle of the central pack.

The media created the maximum buzz about the induction of the jack-of-all-trades, Ashwani Vaishnaw, as the super minister in charge of IT, Communications and Railways.

Hapless and loquacious Ravi Shankar Prasad's replacement can now be trusted to speak little, but his remit is large, indicating Modi's trust in loyal professionals to deliver rather than in conventional politicians in his own party.

Vaishnaw began as an IAS officer then became a private entrepreneur and in-between picked up a degree from the prestigious Wharton School of Management.

He now has too much on his plate. He may be able to resolve the immediate stand-off with Twitter and other social media platforms but whether he can bring about a tangible change in the Railways and neutralise the influence of a major business house in IT and Communications will be his real test.

Aside from Vaishnaw, there are at least half a dozen other ministers with bureaucratic backgrounds, a clear proof that for the prime minister running government requires fewer run-of-the mill-politicians and more professional managers.

Having virtually turned the democratic system presidential, with the PM and trusted aides in the PMO setting policy and direction of the entire government, Modi, albeit most reluctantly accorded not-so-significant slots to regular politicians for purely electoral considerations.

Without doubt, Modi seems to have an innate faith in his own capabilities to handle the myriad challenges confronting the nation and would rather manage the affairs of the nation as a chief executive officer would of a large industrial-business empire, that is, through handpicked professional managers with assigned tasks and clearly prescribed outcomes.

Hence, the inclusion of a record number of bureaucrats in key positions.

Unfortunately, a nation of over 140 crore people with diverse and often conflicting interests and each with a claim on scarce resources cannot be run like a business enterprise.

The democratic system that we adopted to govern our affairs presupposes the active participation of grassroots representatives regardless of their professional and socio-economic backgrounds.

Without the elected representatives of different segments getting a due share in power not only will the democratic spirit be impaired but the ruling party will run the risk of alienating its own support base.

Accommodating different caste and regional interests was a necessity.

Here the task was left to Home Minister Amit Shah who picked the winners in the ministerial lottery with an eye on the electoral arithmetic.

It is remarkable that the ruling party managers highlighted that a record 27 OBCs and 12 SCs and eight STs found place in the revamped Modi team.

Without doubt, their inclusion was a concession to the urgent electoral exigencies what with key battles beginning to loom large in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, etc.

Retaining UP is important for not only augmenting seats in the Rajya Sabha in the next biennial poll but, more importantly, to retain the aura of a winner commanding the support of voters in the Hindi heartland.

Caste and region were key factors in picking the large UP contingent.

Importantly, non-Yadav OBCs dominated the list while smaller caste segments among SCs and STs were rewarded.

In other words, the entire exercise of forging the new Team Modi can be divided into two distinct part.

One, that is purely aimed at toning up governance, and, two, the one that sits well with retaining and winning the electoral support of different caste and economic interests among the OBCs, SCs, STs, etc.

Thus, Dalits, Kurmis, Lodh OBCs, Koris were included from UP. Ditto for Bihar.

Pashupati Kumar Paras, the younger brother of the late Ram Vilas Paswan, who walked away with the party his brother had founded much to the chagrin of his son Chirag, was made a minister though there is little evidence that he could otherwise be considered ministerial material.

A significant development which may have gone unnoticed is the slow but certain shift in the constituency of the RSS-BJP.

Up until the Vajpayee-Advani time, the focus was still on the traditional Brahmin-Bania support-base of the parivar, and, to an extent, on urban middle class.

The advent of Modi has seen a virtual break with the urban-based upper caste-dominant BJP.

While Modi himself is an OBC, belonging to the 'telli' caste, the widening of the BJP catchment area to the rural hinterland, particularly in the Gangetic belt, has meant the rising influence of the OBCs, SCs, STs etc, at the cost of the relatively well-educated urban-based Brahmins, Banias and upper-caste Hindus.

The influence of the RSS, the main recruiting ground of the BJP, has shifted from the post-Partition urban centres with caste Hindus dominating its cadres to the periphery of big towns and cities which are home to the poorer sections dominated by OBCs, STs and SCs, etc.

You hardly see a RSS shakha in the middle class colonies in urban India but these are held in large numbers in rural parts in most states barring Tamil Nadu and Punjab.

That would explain why leaving aside the contingent with professional backgrounds there were few representatives of urban India in the newly revamped ministry.

Meanwhile, as if confirming that he treated running a government as if it were a business corporation, Modi in his first interaction -- though lecture would be a more apt description -- with the new ministers emphasised, among other things, the need for them to report on time in their respective offices.

Which reminds one of the response of senior ministers when asked about the difference being members of the Vajpayee and Modi governments: "In the Vajpayee government we were ministers, in Modi's we are employees, looking constantly over our shoulders lest we displease the Boss."

If you ask, fear of authority at this level is not conducive to independent thinking, initiative-taking and generally in being responsive to personal and public inputs.

A top-heavy PMO with the PM presiding like the master of all that he surveys does not make either for good governance or individual ministers shining in their own domains.

Dropping ministers for Health, IT and Labour did not quite absolve the government fully of all that had gone wrong in those ministries since the heavy hand of the PMO guided their every move.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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