One of the most quoted political slogans of the last decade (Perhaps other than Rs. 15 Lacs in every bank account and Acche Din); by Modi supporters and his detractors alike is “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”. The only difference being, his supporters were quoting this for first few years of he winning a famous victory in 2014; and the other side is using the same slogan to hit back for last few years.
After taking over as PM, Modi made a serious attempt to keep the size of ‘Government’ small. He had only 46 ministers in his first team. Many of them were handling multiplying portfolios. 7 years on, realpolitik has kicked in! The dreamy reformer of yesteryears is defeated by pragmatic politician. Post the cabinet overhaul, Modi has 77 ministers now. From 46 to 77!
Now this Modi overhaul has two clear cut administrative and few political messages.
First administrative message being – Centralization of power in few hands can’t deliver! If that’s what Modi meant by “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”, then it has bombed. Second appointing political lightweights and green horns (Babul Supriyo, Dr. Harshvardhan, Ms. Smriti Irani) may be or may not be helpful in getting votes, but they are sure to fail you when testing times arrive, such as Covid-19 pandemic.
In a bit will discuss Ms. Smriti Irani’s demotion in more detail because it is important. But before that, I want you to look at the political message emanating from this rejig, which is far more important. And actually is the crux of the whole exercise.
Most media outlets did promptly show how many Dalits, NT and OBCs were inducted in this cabinet; which surprisingly, was given out by BJP itself! Leaving no doubt that the reason behind having such a large cabinet is to accommodate as many castes as possible; pointing to the obvious unease in the BJP high command. It’s not difficult to understand why this unease. I think there are mainly because of 2 reasons for this; 2.5 actually!
First, common man is wounded…mortally, economically and emotionally! Pandemic has hurt people on both the counts – Life and Livelihood! In second wave, a large portion of population has either lost a friend or a relative or someone in acquaintance. Lots of them have also lost jobs or suffered economic losses.
Second, between 2022-2024 there are 23 state assembly elections going to be fought other than of course the General Elections in 2024. Off which 15 are scheduled before the General Elections. This includes UP, U’khand, Gujarat (2022) and CG, Rajasthan, MP and Karnataka (2023).Totaling close to 225 Parliamentary seats. And out of BJP’s 303 seats, around 200 come from here. And that’s why maximum representations to electorally powerful castes in these states.
To win maximum elections, Modi has deployed maximum government! The fairy tale, run of Minimum Government Maximum Governance – has ended!
Also post second wave, if PM Modi’s popularity rating drop from high sixties to mid-thirties is anything to go buy, it’s clear there is anger against the Government. Hence Dr. Harshwardhan was made the fall guy! Hoping that voter’s wrath is satiated by that and will not affect BJP in coming elections.
So the blame for pandemic deaths has been fixed. And message sent out, that PM Modi’s is a tough task master. In this BJP it’s either Perform or Perish.
I have given 2 explanations here; will tell you the balance half, at the end.
You see, most analysts are fixated on UP and Gujarat elections which are going to be held in 2022. And hence are looking at new appointments from cast equations and administrative lapses in these two states. Overlooking two other very important states; Maharashtra and J&K. Now you may say the elections are neither scheduled nor announced in these two states. So why am I counting these two states?
Because the way things are moving, I see elections taking place in these two states in 2022.
We will discuss Maharashtra in some detail here. If this MVA government lasts 5 years then, the elections will be held in 2024. But my hunch is, this three party alliance will come off sometime before or after BMC elections, scheduled in February 2022. This MVA government is having a breather because all the local body elections are avoided by citing Corona restrictions. Otherwise, the fierce contests in ZP and Municipal bodies would have put immense pressure on the ties.
Now with Corona numbers going down and vaccinations picking up steadily, save for the third wave, these all the local body elections along with BMC, with little delay, will have to be held. Once that happens, knives will be out and NCP-Sena-Cong will be at each other’s throat. Hence, sometime in 2022 Maharashtra state assembly will have to be dissolved and elections will be held.
With that consideration now look at demotion of these two very popular ministers – Nitin Gadkari & Smriti Irani and exit of Prakash Javdekar. Gadkari, who had Road Transport & Highways, along with Micro – Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME), has been stripped off the MSME. Ditto for Ms. Irani. Of Women & Child Development and Textiles ministry, the Textile has been taken away from her.
Now, there are some striking similarities between these two. Both are very high profile and popular in their individual constituencies and on SM. Both had ministries which could have been game changers, when it comes to generating employment. And both these portfolios have been given to MPs from Maharashtra. MSME, given to new Shiv Sena defector Narayan Rane and Textiles to one of the most efficient – Piyush Goyal.
To me, this means three things.
First, both Gadkari and Ms. Irani have failed to use their portfolios to rejuvenate industry. Both these sectors saw massive unemployment during the pandemic. They neither could assuage employers’ fears, leading to large scale retrenchment, nor could they stop laborers from fleeing. So they must take the blame.
This is very important because, Maharashtra remains the most industrialized state in the country. It has both, MSMEs and Textile factories in big numbers.
To repeat, this will be used again to fortify PM Modi’s image. He is a no-nonsense, tough taskmaster.
Second, taking away a portfolio from Brahmin minister as powerful as Gadkari and giving it to a Maratha, Narayan Rane has a loud political message – Marathas will continue to have more heft in Mah BJP; this is line with the policy shift made by Devendra Phadnavis. Javdekar’s exit must also be looked at from that angle.
And lastly the most important in the current political context, is that defectors have been rewarded handsomely; Jyotiraditya Scindia and Narayan Rane to name. Of course this is not the first time. Few months back Himanta Biswa Sarma an ex-congress was made Assam CM. And even before that, in smaller states, leaders who have shifted en-masse with MLAs have been made CMs. But perhaps for the first time defectors have been given prominent ministries.
This will surely have other political parties worried. In the run up to big elections season ahead, this will trigger defections to BJP.
In conclusion this Modi’s Cabinet overhaul was aimed at giving a stern message to his ministers, rejigging the caste calculus and rebooting Health & Industry. The first two have been discussed by most analysts in granular details, overlooking the most important one. Hence chose to discuss that here.
I had promised earlier, that in the end I will tell you the balance half reason why BJP High command is worried. The reason is President Ramnath Kovind’s term comes to an end in 2022. And you can bet your shirt on this, that there will be a contest. Sharad Pawar, the man who surprised Amit Shah in November 2019 by forming government with Shiv Sena and Congress in MH, is rolling up his sleeves in anticipation of another fight. If 2022 and 2023 assembly elections don’t go all that well, Modi may have to spend last leg of this term with his Political Guru as his Administrative boss. I am sure Modi is not ready for it!