The Bigots, The Loyal & The Bureaucrat — Meet Narendra Modi’s New Cabinet
There is enough indication that the PM generally rewards MPs who have made communal statements or have goaded mobs into action.
A new cabinet has been announced and after 24 hours of unprecedented suspense, portfolios were allocated. The big news, of course, was that someone with a colourful history of hate, loyalty, crime and punishment has been made Union Home minister. Amit Shah takes charge of beef bans, lynchings, prosecutions, immigrants and FIRs. He will also supervise the collection of nationwide data for the Census 2021 and will implement the National Register of Citizens throughout the country, as he has repeatedly stated during his election speeches.
What is also interesting is that Nirmala Sitharaman has been made Finance minister, the second woman Finance minister since Indira Gandhi. She was made Defence minister without any specific qualifications for the job, but stood her ground well. She aggressively defended the Prime Minister in her characteristically unsmiling manner, shouted when she had to and made strong nationalistic speeches.
Her loyalty, a no nonsense approach, clean hands and hard work have ensured she gets a big promotion. She will now present a budget next month, tackle sluggish growth, falling consumption demand, historic levels of joblessness, slowing growth, falling exports, a weak rupee and a banking sector struggling to survive NPAs and sluggish credit offtake.
Prakash Javadekar, like Rajnath who moves from Home to Defence, has been pushed downwards and Ramesh Pokhriyal, a former RSS school teacher, has been made the HRD minister. Pokhriyal’s claim to fame is his rather remarkable statement made in Parliament that “Science is a dwarf in front of astrology”. He had also claimed that India had conducted nuclear tests lakhs of years ago, under the guidance of Sage Kanad. Our Vice Chancellors now will be answerable to this venerable leader. The original HRD Minister in Modi’s 2014 cabinet. Smriti Irani has replaced Menaka Gandhi in the rather low profile Ministry of Women and Child Development. She was expected to be awarded with a big ministry after her giant slaying efforts in Amethi.
The list of other ministers is lackadaisical, though a few former blue-eyed boys were eased out, without explanation. Suresh Prabhu, Harshvardhan Rathod, KJ Alphons and Jayant Sinha stand out for being sacked and stripped of their ministries. The one new inclusion however that stands out is Pratap Chandra Sarangi. He headed the Bajrang Dal in Odisha, when a mob brutally burnt down Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two children in 1999. Sarangi was arrested for rioting in 2002 and has always maintained a very strong stand against conversions and Christians.
Similarly Sadhvi Niranjan Joshi, Minister for Food processing, who gained international fame for having made the Haraamzaade remark against the Muslim community in Delhi. There is enough indication that the PM generally rewards MPs who have made communal statements or have goaded mobs into action. Giriraj Singh who was reprimanded by the Election commission for his qabrastan remarks has been promoted.
Also promoted to his original position is Harshvardhan, Delhi’s Health Minister 25 years ago and India’s four years ago. In 2014, the good doctor came in and started in earnest. Working against corruption at AIIMS, increasing taxes on tobacco and banning sales of loose cigarettes, Harsh Vardhan became a celebrity among those of us working in the health sector. All of a sudden, unceremoniously, our hero was sacked and packed off to the Science and Technology ministry, and for the next four years disappeared from public view and news headlines. He is back again in his Health ministry and hopefully will stay here for a while.
He will have to shepherd Ayushman and for that, ensure increased supply of skilled medical staff. Will Harsh Vardhan take on the might of Medical Council of India? Will he then also grapple with air pollution in the National Capital Region? As environment minister, he has simply rubbished all reports and denied the pollution problem, referring to it as the fashionable panic button being pressed by those opposed to the nation. As Health Minister, he will hopefully accept reality.
Finally Jaishankar. Catapulted from post-retirement life into the hot seat of India’s foreign policy, Modi’s favourite IFS officer has taken on a tough job. His long stint as Foreign Secretary saw improvements in relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but huge deterioration in ties with the US. The trade war that Trump has launched, after the serious curbs on visas and green cards, is ominous. The US President has increasingly become belligerent against India and our Prime Minister. He has singled out India for withdrawal of trade benefits that the US provides to all developing countries.
Jaishankar is known to have a close relationship with the PM from Modi’s days as CM and his visits to China at the time, where Jaishankar helped Gujarat get some heavy duty investments. As PM, Modi wasted no time and made Jaishankar the Foreign Secretary. However, this started on a sour note when the then Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh was abruptly removed. Bypassing other seniors, Jaishankar got the top job and stayed there for three years during which India’s relationships with China plummeted resulting in the Doklam standoff. Donald Trump snubbed the PM when he refused to accept an invitation for the Republic Day celebrations. Will Jaishankar be able to brush these setbacks aside and start his new inning on a positive note?
The general feeling in Delhi is that no minister has any real say. Everything comes directly from the Prime Minister. Will Modi 2.0 be any different?