NEW DELHI: I can't even remember when a Prime Minister sent a message so loud and
clear through an exercise that is his sole prerogative: Cabinet
Of course, Manmohan Singh never had the freedom: His
council of ministers was a mix of diktats he got from Congress chief
Sonia Gandhi and coalition supremos like K. Karunanidhi, Sharad Pawar
and the gang. Atal Behari Vajpayee too exercised this prerogative
sparingly, like when he insisted and got Jaswant Singh as his finance
minister despite opposition from the Swadeshi lobby and the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Mostly it was a consultative exercise between
Vajpayee, Advani, RSS chief Rajju Bhaiya and alliance partners.
United Front Prime Ministers -- Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral -- were
hardly prime ministers in that sense. The last time someone behaved like
a Prime Minister was P.V. Narsimha Rao, who ran his minority government
with a fair degree of independence and authority through a mix of
cunning, corruption and real politik. That was more then 20 years ago
and for all his brahmanical guile Narsimha Rao had to constantly watch
over his shoulders and thus was not always his own master.
suffers from no such handicaps. He has used this cabinet reshuffle both
to reiterate a few points as also to make a few new ones.
is his own boss is something we all knew. He has re-emphasised this
succinctly by virtually sacking Smriti Irani; by clipping the wings of
Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shanker Prasad; by demoting the likes of Jayant
Sinha, Mahesh Sharma and Sadanand Gowda, and promoting the quiet doers
like Prakash Javdekar and Manoj Sinha.
Piyush Goyal may not have
got a cabinet rank but he will be looking after important
infrastructure portfolios like coal, power, renewable energy and mines.
message is clear: Proximity, sycophancy, media management won't work in
Narendra Damodardas Modi's cabinet. Performance will count and merit
will be rewarded. Most of the new inductees are educated and
professionals -- doctors, lawyers, conservationists, ex-bureaucrats and
That someone like M.J. Akbar, a bitter critic
of Prime Minister Modi not till long ago, will now be India's voice and
face across the world as Minister of State for External Affairs is a
signal for me. As credentials go, I can't think of anyone more suited
for the job than Akbar, the suave, sophisticated, articulate and the
liberal modern face of Indian Muslims. The PM could have been petty
minded -- as many remain convinced that he is -- but the fact that Modi
is willing to forget, forgive and move on bodes well for his government
as well as the country.
The other message is don't mess with him
and don't take him for granted. And definitely, don't become an
embarrassment for his government. Smriti Irani learnt it the hardest way
possible. She got into the habit of getting into wholly avoidable slug
fests and slaying imaginary demons. Also, proximity to corporate houses
will not be appreciated. Ravi Shanker Prasad lost Telecom Ministry
because he was seen as being soft on Reliance.
Jayant Sinha had
become a bit snooty and arrogant too early in his political innings. He
also paid the price for speaking out of turn. Sinha also lulled himself
into believing that nothing will ever go wrong with him as he was
amongst the chosen ones and someone who had the Prime Minister's
It will take a while to fully appreciate how much --
if at all -- Arun Jaitley has lost out in this cabinet reshuffle. He
still retains finance and in today's world that remains the most
important portfolio after the Prime Minister's. Has he been divested of
I&B because the Prime Minister wants someone to do a better job
there or is it simply a case of Modi wanting Arun Jaitley to give his
undivided attention to finance?
My guess is that while Jaitley
still remains part of the inner circle with Amit Shah and enjoys the
Prime Minister's confidence, his influence, power and position on the
high table has certainly lost some of its earlier sheen. By how many
notches? Nobody knows.
The final message: Only one man seems to
be enjoying the complete trust of the Prime Minister as of now and he is
perhaps the only one -- apart from a couple of senior PMO officials
--who knew and perhaps had a say in this exercise. Amit Shah. Fellow
traveller from Gujarat and Narendra Modi's 'Hanuman'.
Srivastava is Delhi-based senior political commentator and former India
Editor at the BBC. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
Modi Expands Council Of Ministers, Javadekar Elevated
Disclose Undisclosed Income By September 30: PM Modi
Modi Doctrine: 'A Mix Of Personal Victory And Breaking Old Barriers'
DU Rejects Another RTI Query Over Modi's Degree