A Prime Minister’s Prerogative
It is after decades that membership of the cabinet has not been dictated by ones who wield power without responsibility or accountability. The leap from a state of impotency and puppetry to authority and energised activity took just 70 minutes. The culmination of the democratic process of election, the oath-taking ceremony and formation of the cabinet, starting at 6pm, took place at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan in front of 4,000 invitees, who included heads of the SAARC member states.
It ended at 7.10pm–70 minutes in total–affirming that a prime minister’s prerogative to choose cabinet members had replaced the recent decades’ practice of “consultation” –read dictation—with 10, Janpath. Democracy was restored within those 70 minutes.
And this cabinet bears the Modi stamp: maximum governance, minimum government. The bulging body of 71 ministries under Dr Manmohan Singh was trimmed to carve a leaner cabinet of 45 ministers–22 in the cabinet. As one after the other newly chosen minister was called to take oath, one could discern Modi’s absolute authority in the selection and formation of the cabinet.
The cabinet, with an average age of 57, includes a textile designer, an ENT specialist, a sadhvi, a royal scion—an excellent collection of members with different background and talent. And there are 25 per cent of women in the cabinet, seven, of whom six are cabinet ministers.
It is also an amalgam of the experienced with newcomers who have shown their commitment and ability to take pressure. Retd General VK Singh won by record margin, Smriti Irani almost pulled off a victory against Rahul Gandhi, Nirmala Seetharaman could stave off onslaughts from the likes of Manish Tewari and Mani Shankar Aiyer.
The oldies, above 75, were ‘rested’– LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi–while technocrats Arun Shourie and Subramaniam Swamy, who the media was allotting different portfolios, were ignored, at least for the time being.
Modi thus reclaimed the prerogative of a prime minister to form the cabinet of his or her choice, after decades. Dr Manmohan Singh was rendered into a puppet whose strings were controlled by 10, Janpath. It is said that he did not even know that Pranab Mukherjee was being inducted as Finance Minister.
The authority of Dr Singh was so badly eroded that most senior ministers like Chidambaram, Mukherjee and Anthony had direct access to Sonia Gandhi. Dr Singh for his own self-respect kept quiet. In a way, the cabinet hardly functioned; decisions were, as affirmed by Sanjay Baru in his book The Accidental Prime Minister, taken at 10 Janpath. Dr Singh was like a post office. In contrast, Modi has signalled that he is the Prime Minister and boss. The ministers have been told that they can draw their personal staff from the pool only. This eliminates relatives being picked up.
More importantly, ministers have been cautioned that once a policy has been formulated, it cannot be changed. The communiqué announcing portfolios said that Modi would take a call on “all-important policy issues and on other portfolios not allotted to any minister”. This decision to monitor implementation of policies, indicating his desire to keep a complete hold on the administration will help. Apart from ensuring transparency, this system and processes would be relooked to make them people friendly, corruption free and accountable.
Modi can do it. A man, who gets up at 4am, has plenty of time. He has also conveyed to Jayalalithaa that he would not allow any pressure on his policies.
INDIA HAS HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Six days of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister have signalled an epochal change, a Teutonic shift in Indian politics. His energy in translating ideas into policies and instant implementation and execution of those policies has evoked hope for a new India, a tryst with a new destinyNarendra Modi seems to be a Prime Minister, who is all business and in a hurry to reinvent India. His zeal and commitment has kept the youth and the middle class, his main supporters, full of beans as Bertie Wooster would have said. He knows there are forbidding challenges while the need is also to cleanse the Augean Stable left by the UPA.
He has re-structured the ministries and is energising the Babus who had been enjoying the indolent times under the UPA. They are being made conscious of completing assignments within the laid budget and time specified. Modi has the moral authority, himself being at least an 18-hour worker, to make the Babudom come out of inertia.
Then the restoration of economy, generation of jobs, infrastructure and manufacturing to kickstart the sluggish economic growth, re-creating confidence in investors, to control inflation by addressing the supply position, power, housing and health, malnutrition problem, planning price support system, investment in irrigation and above all defence requirements and manufacturing of equipments domestically and creating in the first phase 100 cities out of clusters of villages are on the priority agenda. The idea is to build amenities of cities in villages. This would uplift villages and the quality of life of villagers. Modi’s great advantage is that he is unburdened of any heritage. He has campaigned for development for all of the 1.25 billion people. The baggage of 2002 which was being flaunted by all parties, media and most political commentators, not only was swamped by the development theme of Modi but was rejected overwhelming by the young and the middle class, the main architects of Modi’s victory.
An unburdened Modi has got down to policy formulations and governance even before he was sworn-in on May 26. The 282 majority win, he managed, and the devastating rout of the Congress and its allies he effected, was almost a revolution in the sense that the unethical practices, immorality in polity, institutionalisation of corruption, destruction of institutions and twisting the meaning of secularism to create vote-banks that were injected into the polity have had a severe setback.
In many ways, India is on the threshold of a renaissance, just as it was in 1952. Like Nehru, Modi is in command, there is no opposition like then, although without an opposition leader from 1952 to 1969, the restraint and brake that those sitting on the opposite of the Treasury Benches applied were far more effective than of the Opposition of recent years.
In any case, Modi, working 18 hour a day, has been moving at multi-levels. Within 24 hours of the swearing-in ceremony, he held a cabinet meeting where several decisions were taken, the most important being the setting up of Special Investigation Tribunal (SIT) as directed by the Supreme Court to investigate and recover the black money.
If even part of the money stashed abroad ($463 billion –plus) could be recovered it would fund several schemes. This booming parallel economy is the root of corruption. Modi needs to be complimented for taking up the issue quickly—within 24 hours of forming his government.
The Modi government is expected to announce its estimate of black money. But in any case the size of the black money economy is said to be one-third of the current GDP. The BJP in a report in 2011 has said the black money abroad is between $500 billion and $1.4 billion. Imagine if hidden money was disclosed around Rs 25 lakh crore, after 30 per cent tax deduction, it would generate Rs 8.5 lakh crore which is enough to build 2000-bed super speciality hospital in every 626 districts in India.
The present euphoria is justified. But it would not last forever. The hard ground reality is that a large segment of population is apprehensive. Their fear is fanned by the elite, members of the Lutyens Club, the intellectual liberals called variously, intellectual mafia and intellectual morons, the leftists and the NGOs, who have received Rs11200 crore foreign donations. They all fear that they would be divested of their “stature” and their firm hold on the powers that be.
Is there any fear of the new India crafted by Modi becoming divisive and dictatorial? There are no signals for such a development. In every meeting he has been talking about development of 1.25 billion people. There is no reason to suspect Modi turning into a Hitler. Of course, the intellectual mafia and morons would continue to drum such fears, for they fear they could be history.
The problem with these intellectuals is that they cannot fathom Modi. They believe he is a Hindu Hitler, a fundamentalist. Just because he is a Hindu, does not mean that he is Hitler.
The Huffington Post has analysed rather well and it is a fitting reply to the so-called intellectuals. “The mandate that Mr. Modi has won, in other words, is not just for either good governance, or for dismantling secularism, but for embodying a new, emerging idea of what it means to be Hindu, and Indian, in the world today.
“…..This mandate, simply put, is about Hinduism even more than Hindu nationalism, or secularism. It might sound paradoxical, but by running on a promise of universal good, rather than on divisive identity-rhetoric, Mr. Modi has re-established a very Hindu way of looking at the world.
“This is important to recognize, because the anointed secular position against Mr. Modi, though seemingly a good thing–for secularism is a good thing in my view — has very little intellectual, emotional, or moral purchase in large sections of India’s young today. We need to recognize that, and to respect that.
“Young people in India today, growing up in a rapidly globalizing cultural environment…(are) for the most part, accustomed to diverse, multi-religious coexistence in India and therefore not inherently hateful to other communities, find a tremendous contradiction between how they see themselves and how they are represented in the global discourse.
“Young Hindus see themselves as part of a great civilizational heritage, and value it not just for its ancient glory, but also because they see its spirituality as being the core of their civilizational ethic of coexistence and respect for all religions.
“If Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and so many different kind of Hindus divided by language, custom, caste and history still share a land and history so deeply, they know it is not simply because of India’s secular constitution, but because of Hinduism’s ancient legacy of respecting all faiths.
“…Unfortunately, even if Hindus have moved on for the most part from the extremism and jingoistic pride of that period, the secular commentary has not. In fact, it has only become worse, if such a thing was possible.”
Are “secularists” listening? Even if they are their mind is so closed that nothing gets drilled into them. Modi has to go on with his programmes, the intellectuals would become irrelevant and then fade away. They are not intrepid. They live in constant fear of losing their place in corridors of power, which brings them foreign jaunts, hefty cheques from speaking at seminars and what not–and of course proximity with the power-holders. After the electoral revolution one expects Modi to usher in renaissance. He has begun with much promise. One hopes he keeps himself on the right track.
And in a hark back to Indira Gandhi days when she took decisions on her own to create Bangladesh or bank nationalisation, Modi’s decision to invite the heads of SAARC member countries was out of box. He converted the oath-taking ceremony into a means to kickstart the interaction with the SAARC members and re-position India to establish its leadership in SAARC.
And one can be sure that this invitation was not just a single-time move. Various proposals including setting up a SAARC Bank like the Asian Development Bank are in the pipeline. Modi with his robotic memory will surely pursue them.
The invitation to heads of SAARC member countries also helped in people noting about it and the likely advantages from the membership. SAARC can progress and become something like the European Union, if people of different member states pressure their respective governments for greater inter-mingling.
His calculated risk in inviting Nawaz Sharif paid off. Luck favours the brave. Many in India would have scoffed at him if Sharif had declined the invite. But because he came, India’s stock (now synonymous with Modi’s) rocketed. The Muslims’ apprehension and suspicion about him would go down several notches.
Also relations with Dhaka could really improve, if Modi signs the Teesta water sharing agreement with Bangladesh which his predecessor Manmohan Singh wanted to but could not because of opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
“Modi has been in touch with the foreign ministry over inviting South Asian heads of government to his swearing-in ceremony. He also asked them to find out how the Teesta water agreement can be taken forward in the shortest possible time,” the New Delhi correspondent of bdnews24.com quoted a senior BJP leader as saying.
Modi assured Hasina that he would take “concrete and meaningful steps” for a robust bilateral relationship. Modi might also convince Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling to share Teesta waters with West Bengal so that the state has enough waters for its use. Mamta can then hardly take to the street shouting anti-Modi slogans.
The Teesta water sharing treaty could well be Modi’s first step towards business-like and cordial relations with India’s neighbours and might bolster his image as a strong and decisive leader, the bdnews24.com report said.
Having shown that he can think differently, he has signalled that the buzzword would be effective and efficient functioning of all ministries. Modi would, it appears, monitor the implementation of policies and progress in projects through the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is set to be hub of key policies. Succinctly put, the government, governance and policy formulations, implementation of these policies and projects, all would be under Modi. The cabinet members would be under constant watch of Modi.
And this is crucial. It is Modi who has promised development, increased job opportunities and a corruption-free environment, raising ‘cities’ from cluster of villages, controlling inflation and prices amongst a bundle of other assurances. And these need full-time commitment, persistence and the ability to sweep aside any hindrance.
Modi has constituted the cabinet to be its most potent instrument to help him fulfil the high expectations he has evoked. In old days, cabinet meant the room where king’s advisers would meet. Modi’s cabinet somewhat resembles it, ministers nee advisers would meet and function within the strict regimen and parameters laid down by Modi.
India is back to the cabinet system, headed by a Prime Minister, who is in authority. Democracy ke acche din aa gaye hain.
By Vijay dutt