Modi's Cabinet reshuffle: What about minimum government, maximum governance?
This government is merely old wine in a new bottle.
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The cabinet reshuffle that kept the rumour mills churning has finally taken place. With 19 new inductees and five resignations from the council of ministers, India now boasts of a jumbo council. The impression that this cabinet reshuffle is a big disappointment is hard to shake for the following reasons:
No more a small government
The message that emerges clearly from the reshuffle is that we have been dragged back to the days of jumbo councils of ministers. When the prime minister was sworn in, the relatively small council of 45 was trumpeted as a big reform by Narendra Modi as a commitment to small government.
To put things in perspective, while Manmohan Singh led a 67-member council of ministers in his first term, his team increased to 78 during his second term.
But with the size of the council now increased to 78 - the maximum it could have been is 82 - all hopes of minimum government and maximum governance has been dashed.
Modi's decision to have a small council of ministers when he was sworn in was applauded on Twitter thus:
The large council now is a betrayal. Prime Minister Modi's promise to prevent government coffers from being bled by large councils and ensure speedy governance is now a thing of the past.
Governance sacrificed at the altar of political expediency
The reshuffle makes it abundantly clear that political expediency trumps all governance considerations. No measure has been taken to bridge the talent deficit that the government is suffering from.
There are no Sam Pitrodas, Nandan Nilekanis and other such giants from specialised fields whose infusion could have brought in a much-needed change from the Giriraj Singhs and Smriti Iranis who love to hog the limelight with meaningless controversy.
Instead, sycophancy, and caste and regional equations are given a lot of importance in choosing ministers.
Take the case of Mahendra Nath Pandey. He doesn't exactly have a governance feat to boast of, but has been inducted as the Brahmin face from Uttar Pradesh - the state that would go to polls next year. Similarly, Ramdas Athawale and Subhash Bhamre's have been inducted more as Maharashtra's representatives in the council than for their abilities to govern.
Old is not gold
The government has also failed to uphold the much-touted retirement age - 75 years - for its ministers. Why have Kalraj Mishra and Najma Heptullah not been dropped despite having turned 75?Was this just another convenient exercise to cut to size old BJP hands?
It's inexplicable why a young nation like India should be ruled by politicians who are well past the retirement age that the government had set for them, are too conditioned by old ways of thinking and prevent the new generation from getting a share of power.
The nation cheered when Modi fixed 75 years as the retirement age for ministers, but why has he dropped this good practice so soon?
Are there no non-performers?
Being a minister in the Modi sarkar is turning out to be an even more secure job than what most babus enjoy. Corruption, crime, and non-performance - it seems, nothing can get you out.
Any organisation over time must get rid itself of deadwood. But what has stopped Modi from dropping the non-performers?
Take for instance Sadananda Gowda, the non-performing law minister. He has overseen a deteriorating relationship between the government and judiciary, has done little for judicial reform so much so that even the chief justice has had to cry in exasperation at his lack of initiative. His son has also been embroiled in criminal cases.
So it was widely expected that Gowda may be eased out but he has stayed. So has agricultural minister Radha Mohan Singh who has been found lacking to deal with the humongous challenge posed by rural distress.
What's even more surprising is that star performers like Piyush Goyal have not been rewarded. The non-performers and performers being treated equally is a disincentive for the performers. The government had a golden opportunity to send out a clear message and improve its declining image. But if anything, it has only reinforced that the Modi government is merely old wine in a new bottle.