A RSS-controlled cabinet reshuffle of Narendra Modi government, a more elaborate and the third since the NDA assumed power, took place on Sunday and there is little hope the government will proceed more fervently with the developmental process by fixing its shortcomings and mistakes.
It’s with the aim of achieving more triumph for the saffron squad in the Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held after 1.5 years that the strength of the union council of Ministers was raised from 73 to 76, six Ministers were expelled due to their poor performance and a few including four retired civil servants inducted. Loyalty towards Modi and the RSS background were the key parameters of cabinet expansion and reshuffle. Among those dropped due to poor performance include Kalraj Mishra, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Bandaru Dattatreya. With Uma Bharati limited to the charge of drinking water and sanitation, her absence at the swearing-in ceremony was an overt expression of her displeasure. However, it’s difficult to believe that it is mere performance that was behind assigning a high profile portfolio such as Information and Broadcasting to Smriti Irani who due to her ineptitude had earlier lost the Human Resource Development portfolio. In a first in history, complete control of the Defence portfolio has been assigned to a woman, and is being hailed as the biggest transition.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been handling the additional responsibility of Defence Ministry after Manohar Parrikar resigned to take charge as Goa Chief Minister. However able and efficient the Defence Minister is, it was obvious during A K Antony’s tenure as the Defence Minister in the UPA government, that it’s the military chiefs who have the complete control of the portfolio with no chance of any reforms to take place. The exception in this case is Indira Gandhi who proficiently handled the Home Ministry while being the Prime Minister. To say that Nirmala Sitharaman is least likely to become the next Indira is not because of the dearth of confidence in her expertise but due to the obvious truth that it will be the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo who will reign supreme no matter who handles the portfolios. Both take maximum efforts to not irk the RSS. When the former Bajrang Dal leader Virendra Kumar was appointed the Deputy Minister of Minority Affairs, it was the commitment towards the RSS itself that was evident. Assigning a cabinet rank to Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi might be to change the general notion that Modi government is anti- minority and to ensure minority support in the next election. Inducting Karnataka MP Anantkumar Hegde - who has 63 criminal cases charged against him and one who had openly remarked during a press conference that ‘as long as there is Islam in this world, there will be terrorism’- into the cabinet, might be to reiterate the message that there will no compromise on the extreme Hindutwa stance.
Another significant aspect is that Kerala has secured a representation for the first time in the Cabinet reshuffle. Alphons Kannanthanam, a former civil servant and a member of state assembly backed by the LDF has joined the union council of Ministers as the Minister of State (independent charge) of the Ministry of Tourism and MoS in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. While a bureaucrat, Kannanthanam who had earlier proved his proficiency, has been able to draw the Centre’s attention into the issues and demands of Kerala, as a member of the BJP national executive council. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had congratulated Kannanthanam saying that he expected the newly inducted Minister to become Kerala’s voice in the union cabinet. Let the CM’s expectations be fulfilled.
However, a Christian by faith, he cannot play any important role in the saffronisation process, and is least likely to get a sincere support from the BJP and the RSS. The Sangh Parivar leaders who have been expecting a Cabinet rank, haven’t been able even to accept the unexpected ‘jolt’. Even if the decision is seen as part of the religious minority appeasement ahead of the elections, they might have anticipated instances like inducting O Rajagopal into the erstwhile NDA government. The corruption allegations raised against those including the state president as well as the severe factional rifts within the Sangh Parivar coupled with the realisation that the state unit of the party lacked skilled leaders might have prompted Amit Shah to drop Kummanam and Muralidharan. At the same time, the question remains as to how far Kannanthanam can succeed in bringing the Christians, the prominent minority community in Kerala, closer to the BJP and change the statistics of traditional vote bank. The elevation of Kannanthanam who hails from Kottayam, to a Cabinet rank is also a setback to the dreams of Jose K Mani and his father. Beyond all the personal and organisational gains and losses, one is yet to see the kind of solution that will evolve for the complicated issues the nation faces due to the wrong stance and policies of the Cabinet reshuffle and favouritism.