The cabinet expansion reflects caste calculations to fix emerging weaknesses in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. It hardly has anything to do with merit even as there is consensus that the cabinet suffers from a considerable talent deficit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet expansion and the calibrated interviews he gave to various newspapers betray a certain anxiety about how the BJP’s performance might be perceived by the people, even as it gears up for elections next year in some crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat.
For one, Modi admitted that the government making claims about the success of various programmes and schemes is not enough, and that people must experience the transformation. Indeed, if this were taken as the main barometer, the BJP has miles to go, notwithstanding the excessive self-congratulatory exercise one witnessed upon the NDA completing two years in power last month. Of course, one does not need Modi to tell us that real socio-economic change must be experienced on the ground rather than just propagating half-baked achievements through the media. The prime minister even added that he would not be happy if the people perceive only some programmes as successful at the end of his tenure in 2019. In saying so, Modi has signalled that he hopes for a comprehensive transformation in the socio-economic situation. This will happen only if he is seen as working sincerely towards this goal while taking regional leaders along in a framework of cooperative federalism.
Is he sincere about this effort? The test of such sincerity is also whether Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah believe in eschewing the politics of vendetta and the evidently selective use of investigative agencies to target political opponents, NGOs and the like. Is it just a coincidence that on the day Modi talks about his government’s sincere approach, the CBI arrests Rajendra Kumar, principal secretary to the Delhi chief minister? Does Modi think this will boost the morale of the IAS cadres? There is a consensus that the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and other agencies are being used most selectively even as the BJP merrily weakens or drops chargesheets that these agencies had filed after rigorous court-monitored investigations, whether in the Hindutva terror cases, fake encounter killings in Gujarat or serious economic offences involving massive diversion of funds abroad by well heeled corporate groups. Available evidence does not suggest that an honesty of purpose, as Modi has described in his recent interviews, exists. On the contrary, there is growing evidence of the Machiavellian nature of the Modi-Shah duo’s politics as the party loses political capital as compared to its peak performance in May 2014.
Modi has said his regret is that he could not persuade sections of the media about the sincerity of his efforts. The problem is not just that large sections of the media are unconvinced about the way the government is selectively using the investigative agencies to target political opponents and those they find inconvenient, but that many do not believe that the prime minister has really punished the members of his party or government – not fringe elements by any stretch of imagination – for communalising the political atmosphere and making the minorities feel ever more vulnerable. The manner in which the Uniform Civil Code is being pushed, just eight months before the UP polls, also reflects a lack of sincerity of purpose.
The problem with Modi and Shah is they essentially view politics from a very cynical lens – recall Modi telling OBC voters in Bihar that their quotas would be stolen and given to backward Muslims. We haven’t had a prime minister speak such language in decades.
Even the current cabinet expansion essentially reflects caste calculations to fix emerging weaknesses in the crucial states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The expansion hardly has anything to do with merit even as there is consensus that the cabinet suffers from a considerable talent deficit. Modi is happy to live with such deficit and use a centralised bureaucracy to implement top down policies and programmes. How the people experience such programmes will eventually decide the fate of the NDA.