Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his council of ministers Tuesday by inducting 19 new faces as junior ministers, promoting Environment and Forests Minister (MoS with independent charge) Prakash Javadekar with full cabinet rank while axing five under-performers and tainted ministers of state.
In terms of governance, the expansion to be followed by a rejig of his council of ministers, has been tepid affair, the exercise apparently aimed at bolstering the BJP’s electoral prospects in the poll-bound states of UP and Gujarat where the party has much at stake.
The biggest takeaway of the expansion is the non-induction of Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath. A rabble-rouser and polarising parliamentarian, Adityanath is among the BJP’s strong chief ministerial probables for UP, along with Varun Gandhi (who has been topping all recent surveys as the most popular CM candidate), Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani.
Yogi Adityanath’s Fate
With the BJP in a Catch-22 situation over projecting a CM face in UP, fearing factional rivalry, it had toyed with the idea of inducting Adityanath into the Modi cabinet to enhance his profile ahead of the polls. BJP honchos apparently had a rethink. His non-induction has sparked speculation that the party may declare him its CM candidate sooner or later.
BJP observers say the party has pressed the pause button with regard to its UP strategy amidst the buzz about a thaw in the relationship between the Gandhi cousins, Varun and Priyanka.
What About Governance?
Critics say the induction of caste leaders into the cabinet by itself necessarily may not bring the desired electoral dividends to the BJP, while Modi lost an opportunity to push his reforms and governance agenda half-way through his term.
Apart from some known entities like Vijay Goel, SS Ahluwalia, MJ Akbar and Arjun Ram Meghwal, all the others are rookies who bring nothing to the governance table. What is even more surprising is that contrary to expectations, highly-rated performers like Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan (Petroleum) have not been given cabinet rank while Javadekar was elevated despite being an average achiever.
Propping Up Javadekar
While a proactive Modi regularly monitors the environment ministry, Javadekar was recently in news for his run-ins with Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi. He has now been given the crucial portfolio of HRD, that was earlier with Smriti Irani. However, Minority Affairs MoS Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who has been expecting a promotion to replace his senior and bête noire Najma Heptullah, was not so lucky.
The induction of Ahulwalia, a Sikh, may send a message to poll-bound Punjab, while it could also be seen as a move to clip Jaitley’s wings in relation to the BJP’s Parliament strategy. A section in the party believes that Jaitley is soft on the Opposition vis-a-vis an aggressive Ahluwalia, who was earlier in the Sushma Swaraj camp.
- Brahmin-Dalit-OBC caste equation along with Patel
factor seems to have decided who would join the Modi cabinet from UP and
- Induction of SS Ahluwalia, lone Sikh face in the
cabinet is intended to woo voters in Punjab ahead of 2017 polls.
- Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel included in the Cabinet
with an eye on Dalit vote-bank in UP and erode BSP’s Brahmin-Dalit support
- There are chances that Yogi Adityanath whose name
was missing from the list of inductees, could be named as CM candidate of UP.
- Many leaders sworn-in today don’t have prior
experience of policy-making, thus putting a question mark on govt agenda of ‘minimum
government, maximum governance’.
Expansion Has Shah’s Stamp
More than Modi, the expansion has the stamp of BJP President Amit Shah. Efforts were made to effect the right caste mix of Brahmin-Dalit-OBC in the case of UP and Patels and a tribal leader in Gujarat to neutralise the popularity of Hardik Patel, who has been mobilising the community against the BJP.
As its political strategy in UP is yet to unfold fully, inducting Mahendra Nath Pandey (Brahmin), Anupriya Patel (OBC-Kurmi) and a Dalit, Krishna Raj (all from UP) is calculated to bolster its electoral fire power. Brahmins and Dalits are two key castes in UP wooed by Mayawati’s BSP and eyed by the Congress.
While a sulking Shiv Sena has been ignored, another ally from Maharashtra, RPI leader Ramdas Athawale, a Dalit, has been made a minister. Yet another Dalit MP who has been inducted is Karnataka’s Ramesh Jigajinagi, who is not in the best of terms with the party’s strongman BS Yeddyurappa.
BJP’s UP Plan
The promotion of 35-year-old Anupriya Patel (Apna Dal) is to consolidate the nine percent OBC Kurmi caste votes as well as to thwart the plans of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, also a Kurmi, to campaign in eastern UP. Efforts are on to get the Apna Dal merge with the BJP. However, the soured relationship between an ambitious Anupriya and her mother Krishna Patel may split the Kurmi votes to the BJP’s disadvantage.
After the death of her husband and Anupriya’s father Sone Lal Patel, founder of Apna Dal, the mother and daughter fell out and last year Krishna Patel stripped Anupriya of all party posts and suspended her from Apna Dal for six years for anti-party activities. The UP potpourri is far from being cooked.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached at @benedict18)