Sunday, November 9, 2014

New Realities of Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed the much-awaited cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion today, increasing his Council's strength by a third including some very prominent faces in the Union Cabinet. Some, such as Manohar Parrikar's appointment as Union Minister of Defense (relieving Arun Jaitley of the charge), were expected in the gossip circles of Lutyen's Delhi. But others went down to the wire.

Suresh Prabhu in particular, is an interesting case. His appointment as Railways Minister - when was the last time an MP from Maharashtra held that portfolio? - is nothing short of poetic justice and could signal the beginning of the end of the Shiv Sena as a major force in politics anywhere in the country. It was in 2002 that Bal Thackeray had ordered Prabhu to resign, essentially for doing a good job without indulging in corruption, despite Prime Minister Vajpayee's protests. It was coalition compulsions then that allowed the Sena to dictate terms to the PM. Today, in this BJP-majority government, Modi has brought back Prabhu (he has been doing some background work with Modi for the G-20 summit) by engineering his defection from the Sena while ignoring the Sena's nominee and forming a minority government in Mumbai. The Sena is totally left in the mud and under Uddhav Thackeray's ineffective leadership, it is in a pitiful state before Amit Shah's BJP. Meanwhile, with a proven track record, Prabhu's appointment shows Modi's commitment to cleaning up the railways and ushering an era of high-speed trains. This is the most important appointment of all.

The Cabinet expansion certainly shows that this is the most Presidential form of government this generation has ever seen: despite his 282 MPs in the Lok Sabha and those in the Rajya Sabha, as well as the tally of the NDA partners, Modi has brought in Parrikar, who will be a Rajya Sabha MP from UP. In his quest for truly deliver on his promises (and thus ensure a second term), Modi is not afraid to tread any path, even if it is on the toes of allies (Rajiv Gandhi was the last PM to have that luxury). His choice of a Dalit face from Punjab is the clearest indication yet, after the Haryana elections, that the BJP is looking to finish the Akalis and become the biggest force in Punjab. Appointments from UP, Bihar and even West Bengal point to similar plans.

In the end however, electoral politics is only a means to a much larger objective of running a government. Manmohan Singh and his team have shown that merely having fancy degrees does not mean you can do that. Nonetheless, fancy degrees are the only reason we can hope for acche din: and this Cabinet has a fair share of them, including two doctorates, one doctor and two IITians (Parrikar and Jayant Sinha, who has a resume that is as impressive as that of RBI Gov. Rajan).

With the cabinet expansion completed, Modi will be out for sometime on foreign tours to Myanmar, Australia and (surprise!) Fiji. His new team will have to work overtime to prepare for the Winter Session of Parliament. With the Congress having diminished numbers and the NDA with a large majority, it should be smooth sailing in the Lok Sabha. And if the Rajya Sabha proves impossible to handle, Modi always has the option (constitutional) of holding a joint sitting and passing all bills but constitutional amendments. The task of maximum governance has started. 

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