#CabinetReshuffle: Modi’s desperate move before 2019

Jaitley protégés, Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal, big winners, old guard cut to size and former bureaucrats inducted to beef up governance.

WrittenBy:Anurag Tripathi
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The third major Cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi before 2019 highlights the fact that he is still struggling to find the right person for the right job in the government.


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The induction of four former civil servants, the elevation of leaders like Piyush Goyal to railway minister and Nirmala Sitharaman to defence minister, who are part of Arun Jaitley’s coterie, the exit of old guard like Kalraj Mishra and the absence of any member of the Mardarshak Mandal at the swearing-in ceremony are a few things that indicate a trust deficit and a power struggle in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rank and file.

Let’s begin with the resignation of the BJP’s old guard. Though most of the ministers who were asked to make way for new candidates on the grounds of non-performance, the resignation of Uma Bharati and Kalraj Mishra from the portfolios they held before the reshuffle bears the stamp of Modi’s style of settling scores. In the reshuffle, Bharati has been cut to size. The Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation portfolios she held have been assigned to Nitin Gadkari, whose fiat will now run over road and water. But Bharati, who skipped the swearing-in ceremony, has been accommodated in the Cabinet with the Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio.

Relations between Uma Bharati and Modi have always been turbulent. It reached its crescendo after she was expelled from the party in November 2004 when Bharati had a public falling out with L K Advani. Since then, till her re-induction into the BJP, Bharati was known for gunning at senior BJP leaders with Modi almost, every time, in her firing range. After she founded the Bharatiya Janshakti Party in April 2006 in Ujjain, she even called Modi “vinash purush” (man of destruction). She alleged that the people in Gujarat were “fear stricken” under Modi’s government. People close to BJP president Amit Shah and Modi swear to the fact that these two men from Gujarat are not known for their “forgive and forget” policy.

“Uma Bharati was handed a cabinet portfolio by Modi only because he didn’t want her to create some trouble during the early period of NDA government formation,” a senior BJP functionary told Newslaundry. “Modi was looking to boot her out and decided that this the right time.”

Bharati, on the other hand, was not happy with her portfolio and was miffed at not being given enough importance within the party. But to avoid public embarrassment, the party leaders are maintaining that it was Bharati who offered to resign citing health issues.

Similarly, Kalraj Mishra, an old Advani loyalist, was not on good terms with Modi and was shunted out for the same reason. Mishra is likely to be pacified with a Raj Bhavan posting.

The absence of veterans and members of the Margdarshak Mandal, including Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, from the swearing-in of new cabinet members, shows the old guard and Advani loyalists have no place left in Modi’s inner circle.

The expansion also points to the fact that Finance Minister Jaitley still wields enough clout in the party. Goyal and Sitharaman, who have got the important portfolios, are Jaitley’s recommendations.

Talking about bureaucrats handpicked by Modi, it’s an indication that he is struggling to find, within the party, leaders who could help him stabilise his cabinet.

All the nine ministers of state are new faces and include Shiv Pratap Shukla, a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, a BJP Lok Sabha MP from Bihar, Virendra Kumar, a BJP Lok Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, Anantkumar Hegde, a BJP Lok Sabha member from Karnataka, RK Singh, former IAS officer and a BJP Lok Sabha member from Bihar, Hardeep Puri, a former IFS officer, GS Shekhawat, a BJP Lok Sabha member from Rajasthan, Satyapal Singh, a former IPS officer and a BJP Lok Sabha member from UP, and KJ Alphons, a former IAS officer.

After epic failures like demonetisation, this expansion is seen as Modi’s desperate attempt to make good on his promise of good governance.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @anurag999.


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