PM Modi’s Cabinet Reshuffle Belies Expectations

Modi’s credibility remains high, but there’s a mismatch as far as the performance of his ministers is concerned.

4 min read
Hindi Female

For a Cabinet reshuffle that was billed as an attempt to spring clean the Modi government by applying a fresh coat of paint, it appears that the job is only half done.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi weeded out some ministers and rewarded those who have performed like Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Nirmala Sitharaman. But, in the ultimate analysis, the reshuffle is unlikely to address the mismatch between perception and performance.

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Politically, it marks the assertion of BJP at the cost of the allies, who have been effectively neutered and put in their place. Allies like the JD(U) and Shiv Sena were hopeful of making it to the Cabinet, but in the end, if they are to be believed, they failed to get even an invite for the oath-taking ceremony.

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi was also in for a rude shock. It had built its hopes of being rewarded for supporting the ruling party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates, but it now transpires there were not even in contention.


BJP’s Aggressive Expansion Plans

The underlying message of the reshuffle is that it unambiguously signals the emergence of a strong and an expansionist BJP under Modi and Amit Shah, which was a far cry from the time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were at the helm.

Under the current dispensation, the BJP is aggressively going about expanding its footprint across the country. Under Vajpayee and Advani, the BJP was careful not to encroach into areas governed by its allies. Now, that has changed. The BJP is no longer willing to play the junior partner.

As far as the performance of his government goes, the Prime Minister is up against a peculiar problem. While his personal popularity and credibility levels remain high, there is a huge mismatch as far as the performances of his ministerial colleagues is concerned.

He has tried to address the issue by pulling out some ministers, elevating three of his colleagues and bringing in new faces, but the exercise is not clinical enough and falls short of expectations. Suresh Prabhu, an honest and amiable person, had to go as the railway minister, but will now head the Commerce Ministry.

Uma Bharti, too, has been retained despite her lacklustre performance.


Talent Deficit Within the BJP

The Prime Minister has sought to kickstart two of flagship programmes ‘Skill Development’ and ‘Namami Gange’ by entrusting it to Dharmendra Pradhan and Nitin Gadkari, two of the better performers in his government.

The fact that the Prime Minister had to bring in technocrats shows that he was not spoilt for choices and underlines the talent deficit within the party. He has sought to address the under performance of some of his ministers by removing some of the dead wood and elevating others. The replacements, some of whom are former technocrats, are not the kind that will add any political heft or even provide a fresh momentum to their respective departments.

The one big worry for the government has been the economy. Unemployment is on the rise and as a result of ill-advised decisions like demonetisation, the economy is currently facing a downturn.

Coupled with that is the fact that some of the flagship programmes of this government like ‘Skill India’ and ‘Namami Gange’ have failed to generate the kind of momentum and traction that the Prime Minister was hoping they would.

Both these flagship programmes were launched with great fanfare and admittedly have failed to come up with tangible results. Nitin Gadkari, considered by many as one of the most proficient ministers, has now been given charge of Water Resources Ministry in addition to heading the Shipping, Transport and Roadways Ministry. Dharmendra Pradhan has been put in charge of the Skill Development Ministry, but given the short time left before the election season, making success of their new responsibilities will test the skill sets of both the ministers.


Less Focus on Performance

Nirmala Sitharaman’s elevation as the new defence minister, is not just a huge leg-up for her, it will mark the second time that a woman has held this key portfolio, the first being Indira Gandhi.

Arun Jaitley is expected to resign as the defence minister once he returns from his visit to Japan in the next couple of days. For the first time in many years, the all important CCS will have two woman as its members, the other being the Minister of External Affairs – Sushma Swaraj.

In the ultimate analysis, the exercise was more about continuity and less about performance. Perhaps he was hamstrung by the need to balance and reconcile political interests. That in a way explains why he had to retain the vacuous Radhe Mohan Singh as the agriculture minister, despite his less than average performance.


Similarly, Suresh Prabhu was out of his depth as the Railway Minister, but will now head the Commerce Ministry and Uma Bharti, too, has been retained.

The government is now in the final stretch of its term and the time for grandstanding is over. Notwithstanding the goodwill and popular support that he enjoys, the Prime Minister realises that his ministerial colleagues will have to match the expectations of the people who stand by his government. Failure to do so, could entail a big political cost come election time.

(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached @javedmansari . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  PM Narendra Modi   JD(U)   Defence Minister 

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