Narendra Modi’s first cabinet reshuffle

Instead of going into names of Ministers, their castes and regional backgrounds, it might be better to have a general over-view of the positives of Cabinet expansion and the limitations that Narendra Modi faced. Barely 5 months have passed and Prime Minister Modi had to go in for a major re-shuffle of his cabinet. There is nothing wrong for a Prime minister in a parliamentary system of government to re-shuffle or expand his cabinet. It is obvious that in the last 5 months some weaknesses have become obvious in the functioning of the government. The existing cabinet was in-adequate both in numbers  and quality to deal with the problems.

Pullarao Pentapati
The Prime Minister naturally cannot change every appointment in his cabinet since that would mean that his decisions were made without adequate fore-thought. But circumstances have compelled him to expand his government.

The other problem that an Indian prime minister faces is that Ministers must be a Member of Parliament. It is not easy to find places in Parliament and hence the Prime Minister has to naturally find only MPs to fill up the cabinet. This inhibits the potential quality of people who can become Ministers. The Prime Minister cannot throw his net wide.

Few political heavyweights:

The main weakness of this government has been that there have been too many newcomers in his cabinet. Moreover, there are no political heavyweights in Modi’s Cabinet. Political heavyweights might not be great administrators. But politically, they are needed. In a parliamentary democracy, Ministers have to answer parliament and they must have stature to get the grudging support of the Opposition. Narendra Modi is the political heavy weight in his cabinet. True, there are Ministers Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj. But while these 3 have long political careers, they are not mass leaders. This  absence of mass leaders in the cabinet will be felt in the days to come.

Every cabinet in India had had political heavyweights. Even at the height of her power, in 1972, Indira Gandhi had Jagjiwan Ram, YB Chavan, Swaran Singh, Fakrhuddin Ahmed, Brahmananda Reddy and others in her cabinet. She could not avoid including such leaders in her cabinet.

There is no doubt that when Narendra Modi formed his government in May, 2014, many misfits found a place. Those who were appointed Ministers might have been loyal BJP workers, or loyal to Narendra Modi personally. But that is never enough. Critical Ministries are manned by total misfits. A correction was urgently needed and hence this early expansion or re-shuffle within a period of 5 months was needed.

One of the greatest British Prime ministers Harold Macmillan said over 60 years ago “A good Prime Minister must be a good butcher“. Macmillan meant that a Prime Minister should never hesitate to sack or dismiss a Minister who had become a liability in any way to the government. Time will tell whether Narendra Modi will be a good prime Minister as Harold Macmillan said was necessary.

Narendra Modi cannot manufacture political heavyweights. But surely, he can include highly qualified people in his cabinet and find them places in the Rajya Sabha. That has not been done. Time will tell whether the cabinet re-shuffle of November, 2014 solved any problems. But it is definitely disappointing that Modi did not induct intellectual stars in his government. Parikar, Prabhu and others are good politicians and they might have many attributes. But they are no stars who raise the cabinet to high levels.

As a government becomes pedestrian, it loses steam. Modi can avoid that by inducting some stars into his cabinet. Why not Azim Premji of WIPRO ? Why not some great economist? One of the reasons that President Barack Obama of USA has failed in the  USA is that his cabinet has too many mediocres. True they never got into scandals. But they are boring. The oratory of Barack Obama has become boring to the ears of Americans. Modi should be cautious in depending too much on his oratory. It will backfire eventually unless he is careful.

Modi cannot keep a government going on his star-power alone. He needs supporting stars and there are few in his government. Let us hope in the future Modi will meet this need.

By Pullarao Pentapati


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