Modi rejigs Cabinet with eye to 2019
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Modi rejigs Cabinet with eye to 2019

Last Updated: 04 Sep 2017 10:56 PM
With Team Modi 3.0 in place with about a year-and-a-half to go before India votes to elect a new Lok Sabha, it now remains to be seen whether there will be visible changes bridging the gap that separates policy from delivery.

Clearly Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have dropped Ministers, included new faces, reshuffled portfolios with an eye to 2019. Unlike State Assembly elections in which the Union Government's scorecard plays a limited role, a general election would necessitate answers to popular queries.

Sunday's changes have been structured at four different levels.

Performers who have shown ministerial success have been rewarded, as they should be, both as an incentive and as a carrot for those who missed the bus.

Non-performers have been punished, as they should be, both as a disincentive and as a stick for those who who missed getting deboarded this time.

Identity balancing has been done as it needs to be in a polity still driven in large measure by identity politics. It's not limited to inter-party politics alone but also extends to intra-party jostling.

Bureaucrats who know how to make an obdurate system inimical to change get going, have been inducted to achieve last mile objectives.

On Saturday, 'sources' told media that Sunday's exercise was tailored according to a new mantra of '4Ps' -- Passion, Proficiency, Professional, Political acumen -- to achieve a fifth P: Progress. Understandably, there was much frivolous mirth on social media platforms about yet another acronym whose likely author is Modi.

Frivolity apart, it would be useful to test the mantra's application in the changes made. A sample would suffice.

The promotion of Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is about the first three of the '4Ps'. The 'political acumen' is that of Modi and Shah: Their elevation is good political messaging.

The BJP aspires to power in Odisha where Dharmendra Pradhan is leading the campaign to dislodge Naveen Patnaik and the BJD. A Cabinet Minister's rank for him signals appreciation of his work. He has not only cleaned the Augean stables at the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas but also successfully implemented subsidy cuts as well as social welfare schemes like Ujjwala which has become a vote-spinner for the party in the hinterland. His promotion also signals how seriously the BJP views its electoral prospects in Odisha.

Piyush Goyal has cleansed and reformed two seemingly impossible cesspools of corruption, sloth and bureaucratic resistance. He retains coal. Modi hopes RK Singh will now deploy his considerable bureaucratic skills in implementing power sector reforms initiated by Goyal.

As India's first woman Raksha Mantri (Indira Gandhi looking after this Ministry twice is really irrelevant) Nirmala Sitharaman has to prove herself equal to the job. For the moment, the import of her appointment is not lost on the masses: Modi means business when he talks of women's empowerment. He also values unimpeachable integrity in a Minister tasked with handling a Ministry in whose corridors reputations lie buried under red Kota flagstones. No less important is the signal to the south that the BJP is no longer a party of the north.

As for Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the young Muslim who unfailingly turned up to wave the party flag at Ayodhya every time kar sevaks gathered in the 1980s and 1990s, he fills up a vacant slot in Modi Sarkar: The missing 'minority face'. So does the induction of KJ Alphons whose loyalty, it needs to be stressed, is of very recent vintage and is, at best, dodgy. Neither Muslims nor Christians will race to embrace the BJP. But it matters to showcase their presence.

Which brings us to punishing non-performers. It's a pity the Prime Minister waited for three years before shunting Uma Bharati out of river management and the flagship Namami Gange project. It was evident within months that she was unequal to the task given to her. Nitin Gadkari can at best get things going; a year is not enough to show results.

The pity is all the more that instead of being dropped from the Cabinet, she has now been given the crucial portfolio of drinking water and sanitation. There was a time till the UN's SDGs kicked in when being shunted to the Health Ministry was considered 'punishment'. It would appear drinking water and sanitation are the new police lines where cops are sent for failing in their duty or falling out of favour.

It is Suresh Prabhu's misfortune that despite his innovative ideas and reformist zeal the Indian Railways remains unreformed with terrible services and ghastly accidents. Getting a white elephant to roll over is no easy task. As a thinking Minister for Commerce and Industry, he could show better results. But will Piyush Goyal be able to get Indian Railways back on tracks? Will he push for corporatisation if not privatisation? Let's wait and watch.

As for identity balancing, it's pretty obvious. Sacking Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a Thakur, meant inducting another Thakur. He happens to be RK Singh. Ashwini Choubey and Shiv Pratap Shukla are the new Brahmin faces. Shukla's removal from Uttar Pradesh also helps neutralise what's referred to as the 'Gorakhpur feud'. Along with Mahendra Nath Pandey's appointment as UP BJP president, these inductions subtly balance the party's aggressive OBC and Dalit outreach.

Last, though not the least, is the induction of former bureaucrats and a police officer. The debate this has unleashed is not without reason. Ideally, political leadership should be in charge of Government, driving the bureaucracy, not more bureaucrats.

Does this mean a lack of talent within the BJP's ranks? The answer is both yes and no. The BJP lacks what the Congress has -- experience in handling file-handlers. Political vision is one thing, implementing that vision is quite another.

The deployment of Hardeep Singh Puri, former IFS officer, as Minister in charge of urban development is not without merit. Modi's grand schemes like Smart Cities and housing for all had begun to flounder. Hardeep Singh Puri, whose political loyalty was never a secret, is expected to use his experience as a bureaucrat to get the system working towards delivering these goals.

For every rule that will be cited to him why this can't be done, he will cite two rules why it can be done, another two as to how it can be done, and two more to let naysayers know what will happen if they continue to sit on their fannies. If he can stall urban atrophy, that by itself would be a huge achievement.

If Sunday was about Team Modi, we must now await matching changes in the BJP, without which frankly the reshuffle would be meaningless. In more ways than one, Team Modi and Team Shah would need to complement each other for the BJP to win in 2019. In some ways, the other reshuffle would be far more important.

Only when they are viewed together would we get to know how realistic is Modi's idea of a 'New India' with him as the leader for another five years. Till then, it's a job half done.

(Kanchan Gupta is Commissioning Editor & Commentator, ABP News. Columnist. Blogger. He tweets @KanchanGupta)

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First Published: 04 Sep 2017 07:14 PM
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