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09 July 2016

Media Waffles On Modi's Shuffles - 2

Here's why Modi transferred, demoted, promoted and left untouched some of his ministers and MPs of BJP

Continued from Part 1

Subramanian Swamy

A transfer that would have been just short of a revolution was Arun Jaitley’s from the Finance Ministry. Accept it, no BJP supporter likes him. While the Subramanian Swamy camp makes no bones about their disapproval of Jaitley, supporters who are more loyal to Modi stay silent on his performance, camouflaging their disaffection for Jaitley with invectives showered upon Swamy like “he is a maverick”; “he was once with Jayalalithaa and then he went after her”; “he wrote an article against the RSS once upon a time”; “he was behind the Vajpayee government’s fall in 1999”, etc [Click on this link for Swamy’s rebuttals].

Modi knows better than any of us what Swamy is. If it is not the 75 years age limit that went against Swamy, it is also a good idea to keep a rabble rouser out of ministries. This is not to say Swamy has no utility; he is actually of immense political use, especially as a one-man demolition squad against the Nehru-Gandhi family. But if he has to do justice to his litigious self, it’s better to not push him into administration for the sake of all the ongoing trials where he is the most visible plaintiff. The cases, when concluded, might well come in handy in the nick of time for the BJP’s renewed bid for power in 2019.

Arun Jaitley

Modi knows him, too, better than we do. The impatience of BJP supporters notwithstanding, the current Finance Minister’s stature has not grown in the government in its first two years. First Jaitley lost the Defence Ministry to Parrikar. Now he has lost the I&B Ministry to M Venkaiah Naidu. This is over and above the insider account Swarajya had shared with its readers about how Jaitley’s powers were gradually getting delegated to top economists in the Finance Ministry and NITI Aayog in the very first year of this government — after he read out the Vote on Accounts speech that sounded, beyond the first paragraph, like a draft prepared by bureaucrats. Not quite satisfied with this much of clipping of Jaitley’s wings, Modi further ensured that the Finance Minister called on him time and again in course of the preparations for Budgets 2015-16 and 2016-17 to get the boss’s vision translated as per the boss’s roadmap. This much is enough, Modi would believe, being a leader who never experimented with drastic changes in Gujarat.

As an additional reason, one may factor in the dreaded Lutyens’ network, most significantly comprising the Delhi-based media, which never wrote or spoke a word against Jaitley throughout his career. But the legendary Lutyens’ metaphor has shrunk in the new council of ministers, too. The new ministers hail from areas that are too far-flung, minding their regional businesses so far, to be part of the capital city’s elites.

Talking of the present government’s communication mechanisms, one would say that, mercifully, the Congress-led UPA’s appointees no longer decide how the BJP-led NDA government should be projected via Doordarshan, which was the scene for a long time after Modi assumed Prime Minister’s Office and moved to 7 Race Course Road. There were some glitches, of course. A journalist who was seen as close to the BJP and Sangh Parivar was made a senior consulting editor of DD News last year to usher in pro-government changes. Unfortunately for the right wing narrative, it is not as shrewdly disciplined as the left wing is. Mutual envy and rivalry surface in no time in the right wing. This journalist turned insecure in the new position soon, telling the staffers of the channel that none of the known BJP sympathisers should be invited to the channel’s talk shows. Those who were his friends till a day before changed overnight, in his perception, to threats of competition! The scenario changed only after he was moved from Doordarshan to a school of mass communication.

Though Jaitley with a formidable experience in keeping journalists in good humour could handle such puerility, finance was his prioritised portfolio from which he couldn’t be expected to spare too much of time managing the psychology of pro-BJP journalists. And Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, his deputy, does not have the foggiest of ideas about how to manage the fourth estate. So, in comes Naidu as his new senior.

M Venkaiah Naidu

How successful will Naidu be in managing journalists? Here is another insider’s account. It’s an informal meeting of scribes with some ministers during the NDA-1 government. While our fellow professionals are enjoying what is known as “high tea”, a friend and former colleague approaches Naidu, first shakes hands with the politician, saying, “Aur sir, kaise hain (how do you do, sir)?” Naidu smiles back. So far so good! Next, this journalist puts his hand on Naidu’s belly and, making circles on the leader’s belly with his hand, asks, “maamla theek hai na (everything alright)?” The BJP’s then media manager and head of intellectual cell is stunned. Other journalists in the hall look on for a few seconds with disbelief, perhaps envying this man’s equations with the leader. But Naidu does not mind the scribe’s crude display of proximity to him. The two are still good friends.

In the meantime, another good networker from the D4 of LK Advani’s era gets Naidu’s Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs: Ananth Kumar. “D4” or “Delhi 4” was a deprecatory term used to refer to four BJP leaders who were believed to form Advani’s coterie: Jaitley, Naidu, Kumar and Sushma Swaraj.

Sushma Swaraj

The last of the quartet has been away from the humdrum, managing external affairs without fuss and turning into an object of silent admiration of NRIs, PIOs and this country’s frequent international travellers. She addresses their concerns with alacrity first via Twitter and then ensures their safety and security by alerting the foreign missions and, if need be, making personal visits to disentangle the knots. The issue that the Congress had raised about her daughter being in the battery of lawyers of Lalit Modi was effectively countered by the minister in Parliament; it is now a settled debate.

Ravi Shankar Prasad

Not as high profile like the four above, but quite a recognisable face, Ravi Shankar Prasad could not solve the call drop issue while working as the Minister for Communications. Forget known critics of the BJP, the party’s own supporters, some of them with a massive following in social networking sites, had begun saying Prasad couldn’t figure out the head or tail of telecommunication technology. Jogging the memory, one would say this is his second failure in a technical field of work. In the NDA-1 government as the then I&B Minister, he had failed to persuade cable operators to switch to the Conditional Access System or CAS.

DV Sadananda Gowda

A lawyer, Prasad replaces DV Sadananda Gowda in the Law Ministry. Gowda may be a Good Samaritan, but that is not enough to succeed in administration. While losing his Railway portfolio to Suresh Prabhu earlier, he was allegedly found to be devoid of the tact needed to manage bureaucrats, as few completed the tasks given to them by Gowda within the deadlines. In the Law Ministry as well, some representations of the government in the court have caused a loss of face once in a while. Recall the stand taken on the Kohinoor issue recently, for example. In fact, awkward affidavits filed in the Supreme Court have been a nagging problem with the current government, and the entity to be blamed for that is the Law Ministry. Gowda had to go.

Faggan Singh Kulaste

Well, these were the big names. I will specially mention just one new minister whose work in the Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh belt was explained to me during the recent Simhastha Convention in Indore-Ujjain. Working with an NGO headed by a descendant of Lahiri Mahasaya, Faggan Singh Kulaste has transformed Adivasis with militant tendencies, touched their poverty-stricken lives with compassion and brought them from Maoism to the Hindu fold. The Mandla district is one place where no tribal man, woman or child doubts that Adivasis are Hindus. Few ministers in past and present governments can boast of bringing about such a social transformation at the grassroot level. Delhi-based media does not even know about it. How can they report it?

Experts not required

Other new ministerial appointees will narrate their stories in some months. No doubt, these are no political big wigs. Their personalities certainly do not permit making decisions or sticking to them, let alone look the boss in the eye. But you must be uninitiated to believe Modi would have an Atal Bihari Vajpayee-like Cabinet. After a respite of 14 odd years between PV Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee, India has gone back to singular persona-driven political parties in the last 12 years. Imagine the Congress without Sonia Gandhi, the SP without Mulayam Singh Yadav, the BSP without Mayawati, the TMC without Mamata Banerjee, the AIADMK without J Jayalalithaa, the DMK without M Karunanidhi, the NCP without Sharad Pawar, the AAP without Arvind Kejriwal… Hell, the JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar couldn’t stand even an ailing George Fernandes who, the current Chief Minister of Bihar thought at the time, was breathing down his neck!

As for expertise, if an ex-FICCI Amit Mitra cannot turn the fortunes of West Bengal under Mamata Banerjee — Manmohan Singh’s futility under Sonia Gandhi is too well known for reiteration — of what use is a minister’s domain knowledge? Ergo, Dr Harsh Vardhan, among the few ministers in Modi’s first Cabinet who knew the department he was given, saw himself removed from the portfolio in the first shuffle. Thereafter, expecting experts of domains to head the respective ministries was callow.

Yes, this is Modi’s show, a one-man show, which journalists sometimes get right, but then forget again as they did in the last three days. This is Modi’s gamble. Come 2019, he gets credit for everything good from the supporters and all the brickbats for everything the detractors believe has gone wrong.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.