Cabinet meetings in the two-month-old NDA government are turning out to be a tutorial for many ministers in the art of governance.
Unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is quite vocal at these meetings, spelling out his priorities and policy prescriptions and also the dos and don’ts for his ministers.
On Thursday, for instance, as the Cabinet cleared the setting up of a committee on inter-linking of rivers, the Prime Minister reminded them that while the Cabinet was taking this decision in compliance with a Supreme Court directive, what was needed was a task force to ensure implementation.
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As a couple of ministers, according to sources, sought to chip in, the PM stated with a straight face that as chief minister he had done linking of rivers in Gujarat. On another occasion, the PM was learnt to have demanded to know how a Cabinet note had been circulated without his knowledge.
At another Cabinet meeting, as some ministers were pushing for some projects in their respective constituencies, the Prime Minister made it clear that nobody should use his or her ministry or even lobby with their ministerial colleagues for any constituency-specific projects. “You have to think holistically about the entire country,” Modi was said to have told his ministerial colleagues. Sources said at one of the Cabinet meetings, Modi instructed ministers to do their own job adding that “he is always available to them if his intervention is required”.
“While the Prime Minister is quite instructive and assertive about the broad objectives of governance and the roadmap for their implementation, he leaves the nitty-gritty to be sorted out by respective ministers,” said a minister. For instance, after Modi expressed reservations about curtailing the current session of Parliament due to the lack of legislative business, his ministers were learnt to be working overtime on some pending legislations so as to continue the session till August 14, as decided earlier.
“There is a wrong impression that he wants to control everything. Yes, he is in full control of his government, unlike Dr Manmohan Singh, but he has delegated powers to his ministers,” said a minister. For instance, Home Minister Rajnath Singh holds meetings with the National Security Adviser and IB and R&AW chiefs several times in a week. Except during P Chidambaram’s stint as Home Minister when he had got the NSA along with the intelligence chiefs to report to him everyday, the UPA regime — and, in fact, the previous NDA regime under Atal Behari Vajpayee — had witnessed powerful NSAs who would mostly report directly to the PM. Singh, on his part, is said to keep the PM updated “constantly”.
When it comes to larger policy decisions though, the PM is known to keep his own counsel. He was said to have decided to defer his visit to Japan, taking even the Ministry of External Affairs by surprise.
Similarly, his instructions to ministers not to have Private Secretaries and OSDs, who had worked with UPA ministers, had caused unease to many in his government.