2015: The Cabinet Reshuffle That Wasn't
NEW DELHI: 2015 ends without the Cabinet reshuffle despite several false starts. The political grapevine in Delhi would be abuz every now and again with news of an imminent reshuffle of his Cabinet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi but this would subside within days without even a move being made.
Sources claimed that it was not because the Prime Minister did not want a much needed change of portfolios in his government, but that the Bharatiya Janata Party was singularly without the talent required for the jobs. A large Council of Ministers has seemed particularly ineffective in terms of key policy decisions, with ministers maintaining that all files pertaining to important policy decisions need clearance from the Prime Ministers Office. And as a senior bureaucrat told The Citizen recently, “once the files go there we are not sure when these will be cleared.”
A particularly sharp rumour, that even had sections of the BJP convinced, was that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar a little swamped by the onerous duties of his ministry would be shifted. Although there was no confirmation of this officially, the BJP was rife with speculation that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would be moved to Defence. Similar rumours mid-year had suggested a change in the portfolio of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. However, the question that seems to stymie the top brass is: who will replace Jaitley in Finance?
Key ministries---External Affairs, Defence, Home and Finance---can only be trusted to RSS and BJP leaders as these also constitute the Cabinet Committee for Security. The party does not have the personnel with the acumen or the experience to occupy these ministries, particularly as even the few persons in what passes now for the ‘old guard’ are not acceptable to the current dispensation. Yashwant Sinha, Ram Jethmalani, Arun Shourie, Shatrughan Sinha, Sushil Modi, MJ Akbar, remain on the periphery although the last is being tried out as a party spokesperson. The others are not trusted by PM Modi to follow his line, all being seen as too independent for comfort.
The BJP has for long been conscious of a dearth of public intellectuals within the party. The RSS tried to overcome this by setting up the Vivekananda Institute, with an all out effort made to draw in former bureaucrats, intelligence and military officials. At least two persons in the Prime Ministers personal team have been drawn from this Institute, his principal secretary Nripendra Mishra and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval both former government servants.
PM Modi himself has been too busy travelling abroad, with the files piling up for clearance in his office. The Defence Ministry has been unable to handle the anger and discontent amongst retired defence personnel about the One Rank One Pension scheme promised by PM Modi during the Lok Sabha election campaign. The Ministry of External Affairs is stretched beyond available resources in planning and organising the Prime Minister frequent travels abroad. As an official was heard saying, “what are you talking about policy? We are event managers now.” The Home Ministry is involved in a ding dong battle with the Delhi government with Minister Rajnath Singh following the path of ‘no intervention’ particularly in cases of communal violence such as the lynching in Haryana that shocked the world. The Finance Ministry has not taken sufficient decisions to make a difference to India’s growth with international watchdog bodies not particularly impressed with India’s fiscal progress during 2015.
Meanwhile the gag order is pervasive, and no Minister can speak to the media without permission. As most of the BJP’s vocal spokespersons ...Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Ravi Shankar Prasad and others---have been accommodated in the Ministry the gap is visible in party briefings and on television. The government thus moves into the New Year with little new, except a set of broken campaign promises, and assurances that have yet to convince.