At the time of writing the new inductees into the Union Council of Ministers were yet to be assigned portfolios. In fact, there was no ruling out changes in the portfolios of old ministers.
The announcement allocating portfolios was expected late in the evening. Yet, from the regional, caste and community representation effected earlier in the day it was clear that the Modi Government gives top priority to the UP Assembly poll, due early next year.
As many as 16 ministers now find place in the central government. Partly it is because the ruling BJP along with its allies holds 73 of the total 80 seats in the State. But the main factor for a disproportionately high representation is the proximity of the poll. The huge win in the Lok Sabha election was due to UPA’s terrible image and Modi’s promise of a positive change.
Organisationally, the BJP was unevenly spread in the State. The formation of the Modi Government has helped BJP strengthen its organisational set-up. Winning UP can also help the party bolster its numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Hence, a concerted focus on giving additional attention to Dalits and OBCs in the expanded team on Tuesday.
Even the inclusion of Apna Dal leader, Anupriya Patel, a Kurmi, is aimed at caste consolidation behind the party. Patel is most likely to merge her Dal with the BJP and thus play a bigger role in the election next year. Another State which has got high representation in the expanded ministry is Gujarat.
Of the three inducted on Tuesday, two are Patidars, one each from the Leuva and Kadva sects. This may be an attempt to appease the powerful Patels whose youth have been agitating for reservations under the now imprisoned Hardik Patel. Rajasthan, another State where the party swept the board as it were in the LS poll, has got three new ministers. MPs from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Assam too have found berths in the ministry.
However, all these new inductees were of the Minister of State rank. The only one to be promoted was Prakash Jawdekar, the Minister for Forests and Environment. Other MoSs who were widely expected to get promotion would be disappointed. Among them was Power Minister Piyush Goel and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, both known to have acquitted themselves competently in the respective portfolios.
On the whole, the much-ballyhooed reshuffle-cum-expansion did not quite set the Yamuna on fire. Individual fortunes were made and unmade on Tuesday but whether these would have a bearing on the overall performance of the Government remained to be seen. Also, without any change in the big ministries, the exercise remained one of caste, community and regional representation rather than any real restructuring undertaken to reward the performers and penalise the laggards.
Though the prime minister said the criterion was ‘energy, excellence and execution’, the new inductees, barring a couple of names such as M J Akbar and P P Choudhary, were unknown commodities. As Modi said, at the second tier of the ministry, they would get requisite experience to be able to contribute more purposefully later. The complete absence of the allies among the new ministers is bound to rankle, with the Shiv Sena already making peevish noises. There was also criticism that the Modi team is now unduly large, just a few short of the total permissible strength of 81.
But it is wrong to mistake ‘minimum government’ with the strength of the ministry. Minimum government involves getting the bureaucracy off the back of citizens, as far as possible. A small, compact ministry, on the other hand, needs talent in the ranks of the ruling coalition. Besides, it requires the courage to defy the usual factors such as caste, community, region, personal loyalties, etc., which come into play in ministry-making. It is hard for any prime minister to fully sidestep the electoral considerations while constituting his ministerial team, Modi being no exception.
Eventually, the test of the ministry lies in whether it delivers good governance. Delivery of public goods such as law and order, justice, welfare packages, and other deliverables, including the ease of doing business, a healthy growth rate, etc., are far more important than the inclusions in and exclusions from the ministerial team.
After a little over two years, the PM has confirmed that it is possible to perform without having too many talented ministers in the team. Since he is the anchor around whom the entire team is constituted, his own performance is key to the overall performance of the Government. Thus far, the PM has acquitted himself creditably, regardless of the generally lacklustre team.