In the high decibel din of the Cabinet expansion and reshuffle of portfolios in the Narendra Modi government, the media seems to have forgotten about a certain BJP maverick MP – Subramanian Swamy – who until recently was its obsession. Where is he now in this celebration?
Swamy neither figures in the list of new inductees, nor does he seem to be throwing tantrums over his exclusion. Evidently, Swamy’s antics of attacking the likes of RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, economic advisor Arvind Subramanian and other officials of the Finance Ministry turned out to be a misadventure. His snide remarks against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was the final nail in the coffin of his aspirations to be a Union minister.
In his attempt to rejig the Cabinet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown a distinct distaste for those with a penchant for courting controversy. Swamy’s exclusion and Smriti Irani’s removal from the human resource development (HRD) Ministry are indicative of a pattern.
Though unlike Swamy, Irani never crossed the Rubicon line of party discipline. Yet she found herself in the midst of many controversies related to her haughtiness with bureaucrats and academics – with Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide in Hyderabad and the JNU row marking crucial blows in her two-year tenure as HRD minister.
Though senior BJP leaders, including Modi, are quite impressed by Irani’s political pugnacity, she seems to have lost out on moderation. In a recent conference of vice-chancellors of central universities, she ticked off seasoned academics in a very unpleasant manner.
Apparently the minister’s conduct could not endear her to the bureaucracy and academics. On some occasions, she was seen courting controversies that may suit the image of a street-fighter, but not of a Union minister.
Contrast this with Prakash Javadekar, an unassuming leader from Maharashtra, who is the only one elevated in this Cabinet expansion – he is now the HRD minister, after relieving his post as the Environment Minister. All this, with Javadekar maintaining a low-profile while facilitating the industry to negotiate with environmental concerns.
Insiders say that Javadekar very deftly handled his assignment of aligning the regulatory regime of the environment Ministry with developmental concerns. He was rewarded with the HRD portfolio for efficiently implementing the government’s agenda and for his pro-active role in the climate change talks in Paris. Given Javadekar’s own training as Swayamsevak, his new assignment would only get wide approval within the Sangh Parivar.
If the reshuffle is any indication, then it is clear that the prime minister did not hesitate to clip the wings of those found falling short of his expectations. For instance, the communication portfolio was taken away from a voluble Ravi Shankar Prasad and given to Minister of State for Railway Manoj Sinha, as additional responsibility.
Sinha, an engineering graduate from Banaras Hindu University, won unqualified admiration for his efficiency, while maintaining a low-profile. Prasad was, however, given back the charge of the Law Ministry in view of his background as a lawyer – he replaced DV Sadananda Gowda, who had taken over the law ministry from Prasad back in 2014.
Modi has also plugged gaps in certain portfolios by appointing MJ Akbar in the Foreign Ministry and by deploying Ananth Kumar as Parliamentary Affairs Minister, along with SS Ahluwalia, to mobilise support from non-congress parties for the smooth conduct of Parliament.
The underlying theme of the Cabinet reshuffle is quite Biblical – 'meek shall inherit the earth'. This is the precise reason why Swami is left sulking. Similarly, a powerful leader like Yogi Adityanath in eastern UP was ignored, though the Cabinet expansion saw the accommodation of several leaders with influence at the local level. Modi also did not hesitate to axe Ram Shankar Katheria – as the junior HRD minister – as his controversial utterances had caused much consternation.
Taken together, the whole exercise conveyed that those inducted within the government would not be allowed to mess around with its image, either by their conduct or by their utterances.
The implied message was clear – that those having self-inflated notions about themselves can enjoy all the freedom of speech and expression, but while sitting outside the government.