by Ratnakar Tripathy
There are probably two mutually compatible ways to decipher the great enigma of the recent cabinet reshuffle by PM Narendra Modi and the announcements on portfolio allotments on the night of 6th July. One may of course look for signs of long-term policy shifts in the key decisions on portfolios against the backdrop of the forthcoming assembly elections in 2017. A simpler and somewhat gossipy but nevertheless substantial approach is to determine who has been elevated or rewarded and who has been punished. The biggest loser in the current round arguably is Smriti Irani who saw a spectacular rise in 2014 probably in appreciation of her pugnacious style of doing politics. Even her critics will admit that she is a great fighter with unlimited stamina over major or minor, wrong or right issues and stances without much discrimination. No wonder she was chosen to take on the likes of Rahul Gandhi and Kumar Vishwas of AAP in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh.
The trouble is PM Modi and the BJP president Amit Shah both are currently in a placatory mood, using the rhetoric of reassurance towards a broad range of constituencies including Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. Some of the current mellowness has to do with the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections where the BJP sees Mayawati’s BSP as the chief adversary and will do anything to wean away Dalit votes from her. But the new tone may be seen as part of a constantly evolving rhetoric of Modi-Shah duo whose main concern seems to be what to say and how to say it without changing anything much on the ground. It seems then that Irani was punished for the same traits that brought her centre stage a couple of years ago. There has not been a day since 2014 when Irani has not been in the news for her non-stop controversial remarks and actions, which by now may make a long rota of follies. She has been constantly under attack and has given it back in good measure to all who attack her. But such belligerence seemed completely out of whack in the case of the University of Hyderabad agitations over Rohit Vemula’s suicide. A series of developments on a number of campuses in Delhi, Allahabad and Hyderabad not to mention other major and minor campuses have eroded the image of the BJP in the eyes of the youth as well as the Dalits. The need of the hour from BJP’s viewpoint is to woo these segments back. Irani known for the utterly angelic smile that accompanies her ruthless stridency is hardly a person fit for the role of courtship. She has not been in sync with the Modi style of kind words accompanied by scorching action, letting her words hurt the voter unnecessarily and repeatedly.
Javadekar and Venkiah Naidu on the other hand would seem to be the greatest winners of the day. Javadekar proved to be a pliable and meek minister who worked in full consonance with the PMO, unlike Irani who has been in the attrition mode with the PMO for some time according to several reports. He has made himself unpopular among environment groups by rapidly issuing the ministry’s consent to scores of industries without taking into account the core environment issues. Some Environment Minister! Similarly, Venkiah Naidu who has received the charge of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has proven a great support with his daily bytes on the TV and the press providing a ceaseless source of spin on the Modi government’s policies, and a frequent lambaster of the opposition leaders on a wide range of matters. Naidu indeed is the talking machine of the BJP government known for his ability to being ready with a statement on anything you may name.
That out of the nineteen ministers inducted six including Ramdas Athawale from Maharashtra are Dalits clearly sends out a message to Uttar Pradesh. These ministers are likely to canvass for BJP in UP in 2017 by way of fulfilling the role affixed for them. Mayawati may find in them an irksome but unavoidable target. All this puts a big question mark over the real administrative significance of the big move that may be just a well-punctuated drama to reassure the impatient citizen and the diminishing body of Modi supporters. Indeed in a rare interview given before the reshuffle PM Modi’s response to a question about the difference between his regime and the predecessor UPA’s was quite illustrative – Modi claimed rather elaborately that he has succeeded in lifting the pall of gloom that hung before the nation. While a good and effective leader is surely expected to motivate and inspire a weary citizenry, a government cannot confine itself to the role of a mood enhancer and continue for long to enjoy the goodwill of the voter.