Cabinet reshuffle: Narendra Modi's charisma remains central as BJP strengthens itself, subtly projects inclusion

Even before the portfolios were announced early on Sunday afternoon, there were four more or less subtle takeaways from the Cabinet reshuffle after the expulsions and inductions.

David Devadas September 03, 2017 13:53:28 IST
Cabinet reshuffle: Narendra Modi's charisma remains central as BJP strengthens itself, subtly projects inclusion

Even before the portfolios were announced early on Sunday afternoon, there were four more or less subtle takeaways from the Cabinet reshuffle after the expulsions and inductions.

The first — and strong signal — is that the BJP continues to build its strength. The BJP’s allies in state-level coalitions are not to be accommodated at the Centre. Speculation about the inclusion of the Janata Dal (United) from Bihar and the Shiv Sena from Maharashtra proved to be red herrings. Both parties appeared miffed, according to reports.

Cabinet reshuffle Narendra Modis charisma remains central as BJP strengthens itself subtly projects inclusion

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

The BJP’s calculation is hard-nosed. It is consolidating its core base. Decidedly upper caste BJP faces from Bihar and UP have been inducted. The BJP is obviously counting on Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) to bring in enough backward caste votes to swing Bihar elections.

The ruling party might also expect the elevation of Ram Nath Kovind to the presidency to play well with Dalit voters in his native Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where he was governor.

Among the BJP’s state-level allies, the Shiv Sena is on a particularly weak wicket. While the BJP may feel it needs Nitish Kumar’s backward caste votes in Bihar, the vote base of the allies in Maharashtra overlaps far more. At least at the Centre, the NDA is increasingly becoming a hangover from the past.

Singular political face

Another signal from this reshuffle — again subtle, and so largely unnoticed — is that figures who were prominent in the Advani and Vajpayee years are on shaky ground. Several of those who were dropped, including Kalraj Mishra, Bandaru Dattatreya, and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, were prominent in that period.

On the other hand, persons who have held official positions in the government have become a more prominent part of this ministry. These include police officers, a former home secretary, and an officer who made a name for the no-nonsense demolition of illegal buildings in Delhi.

This sort of use of technocracy has become a far more significant feature than ever before, even though Jawaharlal Nehru appointed John Mathai and Narasimha Rao appointed Manmohan Singh as their respective finance ministers.

Apart possibly from Alphons in Kerala, none of the former officials in the current government are likely to have a significant influence across a state or community. Rather, the message is that the government depends heavily on the prime minister’s charisma to attract votes.

Subtle message of inclusion

The inclusion of Alphons and Hardeep Puri has given another subtle signal, along with the elevation of Mukhtar Naqvi to Cabinet rank. With inclusion of religious minorities, the Cabinet will look slightly more inclusive than before. It also undermines perceptions that even became part of the extraordinarily belligerent rhetoric from China during the Doka La standoff.

Although Manmohan Singh was not seen as a Sikh figure when he became the finance minister, he became a relatively credible face when the party chose him several years later to apologise for the anti-Sikh killings that followed Mrs Gandhi’s death.

Alphons could potentially soften the BJP’s image in Kerala, where it is now known for violent clashes and demonstrations between the RSS and the Left. Ironically, Alphons had joined the Left before he switched to the BJP.

The inclusion of these two figures serve the BJP in two ways.

First, each has a great image during their respective careers and a huge fan following.

Second, the party spin doctors will be able to, if they feel the need, to project this as a more inclusive government.

 

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