Finally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reshuffled his Cabinet. The exercise has set up in place an edifice of maximum government. But will this revamped entity now deliver maximum governance? Are the critics right when they claim that the expansion focused more on politics than administrations?
In what is seen as an unusual move, an unofficial press note was circulated on the day of the reshuffle that highlighted the fact that as many as 20 SC/ST leaders were being sworn in, along with 27 OBC ministers. The note also went on to list the sub-castes of the OBC ministers. This is probably the first time that such a listing has been done for a council of ministers, said Dr Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to Dr Manmohan Singh. What also surprised Baru (and many others) is that the BJP has always prided itself as a party that appeals to the Hindus as a monolithic bloc rather than dividing them into castes. In fact, the BJP has been critical of the SP, RJD, BSP and other parties for doing the same.
Clearly, the target here is the Uttar Pradesh elections but is there also a move away from the Brahmin-Bania image of the Advani-Vajpayee BJP of old? Certainly, with the exit of Ravi Shankar Prasad, there are very few faces left from the Vajpayee Cabinet apart from Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari. And even the latter’s portfolio has been downsized.
There is a great deal of dependence on bureaucrats in the new ministry—from Ashwini Vaishnaw, Hardeep Puri, R.K. Singh to S. Jaishankar. This is also PM Modi’s preferred style of working and for the most part the bureaucrats have been efficient executors, performing better than some of their political counterparts.
But despite the mammoth exercise and the breathless reporting, has the PM addressed the key problem areas? These are the economy, health and national security. With China looming large at our borders and now the situation in Afghanistan, the neighbourhood is going to keep the External Affairs Minister extremely busy. This leads to the obvious question here: Has he done a good enough job so far with even an ally like Nepal estranged from us? Ditto for the economy. As for health, there has been a change of guard but the Opposition is asking (quite rightly) as to whether the former health minister was just a convenient scapegoat. Was he the only one fronting the Covid management? Was not the MDMA involved as well as other senior babus from Niti Aayog to ICMR?
Important questions that need to be answered, and not deflected, as we face a possible third wave. The PM has shown that under him the government is great at politics and has an enviable track record of winning elections. Now let’s see the governance track record. He has nearly three years to make good on that.