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Saturday, July 24, 2021

What the recent Council of Ministers reshuffle signals

This is not only about bringing in new energy but also about preparing the next generation of leaders who can shoulder more serious and more challenging responsibilities in times to come

Updated: July 12, 2021 8:07:37 pm
President Ram Nath Kovind, First Lady Savita Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in a group photograph with the newly sworn-in Council of Ministers, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (PTI Photo)

Written by Sanjay Singh

In the 1990s, the BJP made its own tryst with destiny by deciding to make a surprise overhaul in its organisational structure, choosing promising leaders in their 40s, such as M Venkaiah Naidu, KN Govindacharya, Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj, to hold the powerful post of general secretaries. The fifth general secretary (organisation) was Kushabhau Thakre, famed for his organisational skills. Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar came as later additions.

Narendra Modi joined the central party leadership team in the ’90s, first as secretary and then as general secretary (organisation). The rest is history — rise and rise for the BJP, from two parliamentary seats in 1984 to what it is today.

The reference becomes significant with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expansion-cum-reshuffle of his council of ministers, a mid-course review in his second term.

Modi now leads the youngest ever (by average age) Council of Ministers in Indian history. The age profile of the ministry is now around an average of 58 years from the 61 years before the reshuffle. In the new political leadership team in the government, 14 ministers including six cabinet ministers are below 50 years of age. Add to this five chief ministers who are also below 50 years of age: Yogi Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh), Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh), Pushkar Singh Dhami (Uttarakhand), Pramod Sawant (Goa) and Biplab Kumar Deb (Tripura). It should be noted that when Amit Shah was made the BJP national president in July 2014, he was also below 50 years of age.

Apart from the political and efficiency points of view, two broad points emerge from last week’s massive expansion-cum-reshuffle of the Cabinet.

First, this is not only about bringing in new energy but also about preparing the next generation of leaders who can shoulder more serious and more challenging responsibilities in times to come.

Take, for instance, Anurag Thakur (46), the youngest among the seven ministers of state elevated to Cabinet rank with responsibilities of the Ministries of Information & Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports. A fourth-term MP, Thakur has been BJP Yuva Morcha president, HPCA and BCCI president and MoS in the Finance ministry. Or take Kiren Rijiju, who is now Law and Justice Minister. He has had a well-rounded exposure as MoS in the Ministry of Home Affairs and then Youth Affairs and Sports. Or take Ashwini Vaishnaw, a graduate from IIT Kanpur, Wharton University alumnus, former IAS officer and entrepreneur, who has been elevated directly from being a first-term Rajya Sabha MP to a Cabinet position to steer three critical ministries, Railways, Communications and IT.

Since 2014, PM Modi has been demolishing conventional political wisdom and practices. Take the latest instance — Railways, till recently, was considered to be a heavyweight ministry, from a political perspective. In one stroke Modi dismantled that perception in Wednesday’s reshuffle. The perception that the Labour and Employment ministry is a politically lightweight ministry has also been demolished. By moving the BJP’s foremost general secretary Bhupendra Yadav to this ministry, Modi has attached a great deal of significance to it, at a time when employment is a major issue due to the pandemic.

The geographical focus of the new Council of Ministers is also interesting and reveals a lot about the government’s priorities. There is, understandably, a correlation between the elections in UP and the composition of the CoM. But everything is not about electoral calculations. There are five ministers in the Council from the northeast region, which speaks about the significance attached to that important but neglected region of the country. It took about 75 years after independence for Tripura to see a permanent resident of the state become a minister at the Centre, and for Arunachal Pradesh to see a leader from the state, Pratima Bhowmik, become a Union cabinet minister.

In the past few years, the BJP had been able to put four leaders from the northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sarwanand Sonowal, Kiren Rijiju and Biplab Dev, on the national horizon.

The induction of Nisith Pramanik (35), Shantanu Thakur (38) and John Barla (45) from West Bengal in the Council of Ministers is indicative of Modi’s intent to groom the young leaders for the future of the party. The political leadership in the Modi government now has representation from 25 states and UTs.

Modi rode to power for two successive terms with a rising sense of anti-elitism among people at large. A distinction here needs to be made between anti-elitism and anti-knowledge. The BJP negated the former and opted for the latter. The re-structured Council of ministers now has 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, seven civil servants, seven PhDs, three MBAs — in all, 68 holders of graduate degrees.

Be it the government or the organisational structure of the BJP, Modi’s stress has been on efficient delivery. In the past seven years, the Modi government’s biggest USP has been speed and scale of delivery, with the attached value of transparency, infrastructure in development and welfare of poorer sections of people across India. The last one-and-half years have been troublesome for the nation, with immense economic and social loss. By infusing new energy to the Council of Ministers, Modi is trying to hasten recovery and go for fresh initiatives, economic and social.

With the July 7 restructuring of the Council of Ministers, Modi had a tryst with destiny of another kind.

The writer is a senior journalist

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