Cabinet reshuffle: Prakash Javadekar has the toughest task of them all

The Cabinet reshuffle and expansion by the Narendra Modi government on Tuesday has opened up a few challenges and opportunities for the new ministers.

Firstpost takes a look at the major challenges for the key ministries.

Prakash Javadekar as HRD minister: Javadekar has got the prime job. The ministry has been in the eye of a storm ever since the NDA came to power. For one, there is this nagging fear among the academicians that the RSS is trying to saffronise the educational system. Second, the Rohit Vemula issue that spilled over to other university campuses in the country with students taking to streets and fighting an authoritative HRD Minister, Smriti Irani, who has been shunted out.

Prakash Javadekar. PTI

Prakash Javadekar. PTI

The first challenge for Javadekar would be to rid the academicians of the fear of saffronisation.

Talking to media persons today, Javdekar made all the right noises. He said education is not about any political party's policies. He also said he wants to reach out all stake holders. But the question is, whether the RSS would indeed want him to do that? With the UP elections soon, the BJP wouldn't want any more Hyderabad-like flare-ups for fear of losing Dalit votes.

Apart from this, there are a whole lot of policy issues Javadekar will have to deal with. This report in the Indian Express lists out the major tasks in front of him.

For one, the ministry is setting up a database for academic certificates, a National Academic Depository. There is a proposal to bring Pathshalas and Sanskrit under a Vedic Education Board. The country’s school education curriculum is to be reviewed. A draft new language policy is in the works. Above all, a number of appointments, such as the chairman of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and directors of IIMs, are yet to be done.

However, the crucial job will be to resolve the differences of opinion his predecessor had with the Prime Minister's Office. It is learnt that one reason why Irani was shunted out was the divergent views she and the PMO had on the autonomy of IIMs in the draft Bill and the policy on world-class universities. It is to be remembered that the industry was also unhappy with the draft IIM Bill, which amounted to curbing the autonomy of these premier institutions.

Clearly, Javdekar probably has the toughest task ahead.

Smriti Irani as textile minister: The former HRD minister has been handed the ministry at a time when the government has introduced reforms in the sector to create more jobs. So the key task before her will be to push ahead with the reforms which has the potential to add millions of jobs, a poll promise the prime minister has not delivered yet.

In the last week of June, the government announced a package of Rs 6,000 crore for the garment industry with a focus to change the labour rules and help create 1 crore additional jobs over the next three years. The step is seen as a prologue to a much bigger textile policy, which the government is working on.

It is a known fact that the Indian textile sector has lost out to other emerging economies like Bangladesh and Vietnam in the global market over the last few years. Bangladesh beat India in garment exports in 2003 and Vietnam in 2011. In 2015-15, India’s textiles and garment exports stood almost flat at $40 billion from a year before.

As this Firstpost article by Vivek Kaul elaborates citing author Mihir Sharma, the biggest problem with the sector is the companies' unwillingness to invest and grow bigger so that large orders can be turned around 'quickly and efficiently'. For this to happen, the sector has to become attractive. The key here is the labour law reforms, which has been a political hot potato in India.

In fact, the government has now started addressing the issue. In a move to rid off labour pangs, the cabinet has decided to introduce fixed-term employment and bring in parity of wages and all other incentives between the contractual and permanent labourers.

The new textile minister will have to push through the labour reforms and at the same time deal with job loss that is likely as part of increased automation. Also, Irani will have to sit down and do some home work before the textile policy is finalised.

Jayant Sinha as minister of state aviation: Why was Jayant Sinha removed from the finance ministry to civil aviation? The answer to this question is a matter of intense speculation, as it is now. For one, he was an investment banker and was well-received among the investor community. He indeed had experience and good knowledge of the area. The shift to the messy civil aviation is going to be a big challenge for him.

The first challenge for Sinha, son of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, will be to reconcile the big contradictions in the recently announced aviation policy. According to a recent report in The Hindu, just days after the government brought out the aviation policy, the department of industrial policy and promotion had come out with a contradictory circular. The circular insists on substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) of airlines resting with Indian promoters while the policy allowed 100 percent FDI. Both these cannot go together and warrants a clarification from the ministry.

As this report in The Telegraph says, Modi cannot remove Ashok Gajapathi Raju since he is from the Telugu Deam Party (TD) and there are ally sensitivities involved. Sinha is likely to have been brought in to the ministry to save the government from the blushes.

Apart from dealing with this, there is the elephant in the room - Air India. The public carrier has accumulated losses of nearly Rs 30,000 crore over the years and experts have pointed out that the government is pumping in good money after bad in its bid to revive the company. There are efficiency issues, too. None other than Union minister Venkaiah Naidu, who now has urban development and information and broadcasting portfolios, had recently taken to Twitter complaining about a flight delay that forced him to cancel an important meeting.

Sinha will have to first understand the messy sector and then help out his seniors to put the record straight.

Whatever the reason for the cabinet reshuffle and expansion, the moot question is this: Will these changes bring about the changes that the BJP wants? For the party, there is not much time left before the next elections.

Updated Date: Jul 06, 2016 13:38 PM

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