The creation of a new ministry, the ministry of cooperation, which is mandated to strengthen the country’s cooperative movement, has led to considerable speculation about the real purpose behind this move. The fact that it is headed by home minister Amit Shah, the second-most important leader in the Narendra Modi government, is a sure sign that the new ministry is politically important for this dispensation. It is said the new ministry is aimed at checkmating state leaders like Sharad Pawar, who derive political clout from these cash-rich cooperatives. Mr Shah is not new to this game. He has had a long association with the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank which was embroiled in a controversy post-demonetisation when RTI replies revealed it had received the highest deposits of banned old currency notes. Mr Shah has been a director with the bank and also served as its chairman in 2000. He even fought a bitter court battle to gain control of the bank. Tushar Mehta, the present solicitor general of India, was his lawyer. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has already sounded alarm bells, saying cooperative societies are a state subject that the new ministry will be encroaching on their rights.
It clearly pays to be visible on social media. The newly-promoted petroleum and urban affairs minister Hardeep Puri can testify to that. Mr Puri was hyperactive on Twitter in the run-up to the Cabinet reshuffle. While he took care to amplify Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s messages, speeches and articles, describing him as “Karmayogi PM” and his writings as brilliant, Mr Puri was equally busy trolling his opponents, especially those who dared to criticise the Central Vista redevelopment project. Mr Puri even persuaded friendly media-persons and former bureaucrats to pen articles praising the project and castigating those who dared to quiz the government on the need to line the three-kilometre stretch on Rajpath with aesthetically questionable concrete structures. Mr Puri’s efforts clearly paid off as he was rewarded with an upgrade as a Cabinet rank.
While health minister Harsh Vardhan’s exit from the Cabinet did not come as a surprise given how the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic was mismanaged, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar’s resignation was a bolt from the blue. Mr Prasad, who was heading the law and information technology ministries, assumed it would be business as usual for him. He believed he had successfully filled the vacuum created by Arun Jaitley’s death as he was often called upon to take on the Opposition and defend the government and the party. It was, therefore, a shock for Mr Prasad when he received a phone call on Wednesday morning asking him to put in his papers. No one, not even Mr Prasad, knows why he was shown the door. It is being assumed that his running battle with Twitter cost Mr Prasad his job but it is well known that in this government, a minister cannot go so far without permission from top bosses.
Stung by criticism that there is a talent deficit in the Modi government, its media managers were at pains to point to the educational qualifications of the Prime Minister’s ministerial team, including the foreign universities they attended. But a study of the list of ministers shows the talent deficit persists as Mr Modi has entrusted key ministries to leaders who are not from the BJP ranks. The all-important civil aviation ministry is headed by Jyotiraditya Scindia, a recent entrant to the BJP. Ashwini Vaishnaw , a former career civil servant , is in charge of the ministries of railways as well as information technology. Kiren Rijiju, now promoted as law minister, is originally from the Congress and Maratha strongman Narayan Rane, the new MSME minister, was with the Shiv Sena and had a brief stint in the Congress before he joined the BJP. Not to forget S.Jaishankar, Hardeep Puri and Raj Kumar Singh, all former bureaucrats, who head the important ministries of foreign affairs, petroleum and power, respectively. Even the Janata Dal (United) nominee RCP Singh, the new steel minister, is a former bureaucrat.
The inclusion of Uttarakhand’s Ajay Bhatt in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet and the appointment of Pushkar Singh Dhami as chief minister of the hill state has baffled many people. Both Mr Bhatt and Mr Dhami hail from the Kumaon region while the BJP has its base in the Thakur-dominated Garhwal region which has shown a marked preference for the saffron party. It was expected that leaders from Garhwal would be accommodated to send out the right message before next year’s crucial Assembly election. But the BJP leadership in Delhi apparently believes the Thakurs are loyal to the party and will not desert the saffron camp. It, therefore, decided to focus on the Kumaon region to take on Congress leader and former chief minister Harish Rawat who, in BJP’s reckoning, needs to be countered as he is the Opposition’s only tall leader in Uttarakhand. Time will tell if the BJP’s change of tactics will pay electoral dividends.