So, you think getting a Cabinet berth in India has something to do with merit and competence? Here is an insider’s guide on how to become a mantri in India.
On Monday, as news of veteran politician Sanwarlal Jat’s imminent exit from Narendra Modi’s team reached his home state Rajasthan, the local BJP worked itself into a caste convulsion.
Sanwarlal, as his surname suggests, is a prominent Jat leader. His community, considered 12-15 percent of the electorate, is believed to be the gamechanger in the state’s politics. Dropping Jat, BJP leaders argued, was a terrible idea since it would send out a wrong message to the electorally powerful community.
But the Central BJP was unable to figure out what the fuss was all about. In its initial list, the PMO had already cleared Rajasthan parliamentarian PP Chaudhary’s name as Jat’s replacement. On paper, the transaction looked kosher: One Chaudhary (Jat) out, another Chaudhary in.
What’s in a name, the Bard of Avon once asked? Plenty, as the BJP high command was to find out soon.
PP Chaudhary, a first-term MP, is considered close to Baba Ramdev. Political grapevine suggests, like West Bengal’s Babul Supriyo, Chaudhary got his Lok Sabha ticket in the quota reportedly allotted to Baba.
But, Chaudhary isn’t a Jat. He belongs to the Sirwi community of western Rajasthan, which has just a handful of voters in the state. So, it soon dawned on the BJP’s ken that its arithmetic was wrong: One Jat was going out, but none was coming in.
A series of frenetic calls between Rajasthan’s Jat leaders, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the Central leadership on Monday finally remedied the situation. To appease the Jats, another Chaudhary, this time CR, was identified and included in the ministry.
And, thus, a Jat minister was born.
I have recounted this tale, dear reader, for the benefit of those who are obsessed with routine government exercises like Cabinet and bureaucratic reshuffles. And to point out that who comes in and who goes out, but for a few exceptions, are mere functions of caste, region, quotas and camps. Who becomes a minister in India is rarely incumbent on merit or ability.
Consider Modi’s latest Cabinet colleagues. Most of the 19 new faces -- Faggan Singh Kulaste, SS Ahluwalia, Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, Vijay Goel, Ramdas Athawale, Rajen Gohain, Anil Madhav Dave, Parshottam Rupala, MJ Akbar, Arjun Ram Meghwal, Jasvantsinh Bhabhor, Mahendra Nath Pandey, Ajay Tamta, Krishna Raj, Mansukhbhai Mandavia, Anupriya Patel, CR Chaudhary, PP Chaudhary and Subash Ram Bhamre — owe their inclusion to the BJP’s compulsion to adjust caste equation in some poll-bound state or to counter the threat of a rival politician. None of them, perhaps with the exception of MJ Akbar, got a ministry because of proven ability or talent that cries out for attention.
Anupriya Patel, for example, is a Kurmi from eastern Uttar Pradesh. She is fighting a tough battle with her own mother for control of her fledgling Apna Dal, the BJP’s ally. Patel has got a look in this time because Nitish Kumar, a Kurmi, has been actively campaigning in UP, where Assembly polls are scheduled in March-April. So, to counter his threat, the BJP has raised Patel’s stature before elections.
Since the entire rigmarole is aimed at adjusting a wide range of equations, the typical Indian obsession with such exercises verges on the comical. Except for satiating our feudal mindset, which makes us obsess about who would be our new political master, and the craving for public spectacles, it serves very little purpose. Except for the big two, three in the Cabinet, and the PM, most of them just make up the numbers and, as history testifies, are rarely remembered for any significant contribution.
In fact, it is amusing that such adjustments are carried out with so much fanfare in India. Instead of turning an expansion into a mega event that comes once in a few years like the Kumbha Mela, why can’t the PM treat his Cabinet as a dynamic entity where additions and deletions are a matter of routine, administrative decisions based on performance and competence? How much time that will save us Indians and our TV anchors that expand time and verbiage on building up every reshuffle as our time’s perestroika and glasnost when it is usually turns out to be a simple case of replacing one Chaudhary with another!