Milind Deora Column: Narendra Modi's Cabinet reshuffle neither rewards performance nor penalises incompetence
The latest reshuffle in Narendra Modi's Cabinet on Sunday does not seem to reward performance or punish deficiency.
The Narendra Modi government's latest Cabinet reshuffle on Sunday has dominated the news cycle this week and is being hailed as a performance-based exercise. Reshuffles are the prerogative of every prime minister and I believe that they're important to share cultures across ministries. It is essentially the ministers that infuse culture and ethics, which then permeates through the ministry. But I don't believe that this particular reshuffle rewarded performance or punished deficiency.
Firstly, while it was imperative to appoint a full-time defence minister, and it is symbolically progressive and empowering for a woman to hold this crucial charge, political decisions cannot be based on optics. The pertinent questions we must ask are whether Nirmala Sitharaman was a performer in the commerce ministry and whether exports flourished under her leadership, and then decide if her appointment is justified.
Secondly, non-performance was clearly not penalised, which is evident from the fact that the individuals in-charge of ministries with poor indicators such as health and agriculture were not reshuffled. We have nothing short of a health crisis on our hands, and the country has witnessed unprecedented agricultural distress yet, those ministers continue to retain their positions.
Thirdly, the fact that retired bureaucrats had to be roped in speaks volumes about the lack of talent and competence within the existing pool of ministers and members of parliament. Nine new ministers have been inducted into Modi's Cabinet, out of which four are former bureaucrats and two need to be elected to Parliament in the next six months.
I had the pleasure of first meeting Hardeep Puri in 2006, and while we need men of his calibre and acumen in positions of power, his allotted charge – urban development and housing – is outside the purview of his previous career and area of expertise.
The overwhelming Modi wave that swept the country in 2014 effectuated in its wake the election of representatives that had little to do with it and were simply riding on the wave. The consequences of this have been dire: the quality of legislators in the country has deteriorated, it has become difficult to find talent within the pool of elected representatives, the nature of their election has left them with very little incentive to focus their energies on local issues, and this has disrupted and weakened the political system considerably.
As a result, citizens' voices fall on deaf ears, and they're unable to access their local representatives to address their concerns. Particularly in cities like Mumbai, we need legislators who are embedded in the cultural and social fabric of the city, and who are astute enough to appreciate and understand the diversity that these cities house. Ideally, we must reward our representatives based on merit and their ability to cater to the needs and interests of these diverse populations, but the lack of this trend is a matter of grave concern for the country.
It is ultimately the voter who suffers from mediocre governance and substandard representation. But they must also assume the responsibility to vote strictly based on merit and performance.
Elected representatives are indispensable conduits between the citizen, the local community, and the three tiers of the government. Individuals, however, tend to vote not only along linguistic and religious lines, as I have mentioned in a previous article, but also based on who they wish to elect as the prime minister. In the process, they have ignored this crucial conduit, effectively burning the bridge to Modi and destroying the means to the end.
It is therefore imperative, I believe, for both citizen and government, to make electoral and political decisions based on empirical evidence of performance and good governance, and discard the arbitrary and symbolic considerations that are currently in vogue.
The author is a former member of Parliament and has served as minister for communication and IT, and shipping and ports.
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