Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest Cabinet reshuffle is not just a matter of surprise but a serious pointer to the new churning taking place within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently Firm control of his key confidants Amit Shah & Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
It is perhaps for the first time that the country’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval played a key role in getting a full-fledged Defence Minister and that too a woman minister—Nirmala Sitharaman. It is common knowledge that Sitharaman has good rapport with Doval.
The previous Defence Ministers have shown reservations to over-enthusiasm of Doval, where they complained he crosses line of interference.
Doval’s stature in the government has been on rise from the day one for his hawkish stand on the issues of terrorism and border disputes with China and Pakistan. From the surgical strike to all out attack on terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir to Dokalam standoff, Doval remained steadfast in his stand, which has not only yielded positive results, but also added a lot to his stature, hence Prime Minister Modi’s closest aide. If Nirmala Sitharaman is the biggest gainer in the latest Cabinet reshuffle, then the credit goes to Doval, who was keen to have a Defence Minister who is dynamic, intelligent and open to his suggestions as well. He suggested Sitharaman’s name which Prime Minister Modi, Arun Jaitley and Shah accepted promptly. Sitharaman at south Block also has backing of RSS leadership.
Apart from Doval and Sitharaman, another BJP heavyweight who continues to call the shots is Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He played a very critical role in smooth transition of Suresh Prabhu from Rail Bhawan to Udyog Bhawan where he will take care of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which has to play a pivotal role in achieving 8 per cent growth rate by infusing a new lease of life into industrial and commerce sector. Not only this! Jaitley has also been able to ensure that he remains de facto the third most powerful person in the current regime after Modi and Shah, though technically Home Minister Rajnath Singh is next to the Prime Minisetr Modi. His protégés Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Sitharaman, were promoted to cabinet rank along with induction of other Hardeep Puri, Alphos, Varinder Kumar and recommended RK singh. The Cabinet reshuffle has also brought forth the increasing role of the RSS in government formation.
The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Bhaiyaji Joshi, Dattatreya Hosebole and other top functionaries were consulted by the party president Amit Shah on the inclusion and exclusion of new ministers. Breaking the traditions Bhaiyaji Joshi, hailed the appointment of Sitharaman as the Defence Minister. Till now, the RSS had kept itself away from exercises like the Cabinet reshuflle. It is said that the RSS was instrumental in the elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the inclusion of new faces like Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. It was also the RSS intervention which save Uma Bharti from getting dropped from the Cabinet. Along with this, Mohan Bhagwat also pacified upset Rajnath Singh.
However, the leader who has emerged as the man of moment in the BJP is Party chief Amit Shah. It was the first Cabinet reshuffle after Shah’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha and his impact on the new Council of Ministry was all visible. It was his feedback on which the Prime Minister Modi dropped some ministers and also dropped the idea of including JDU leaders in the government though they were more than keen to join the government after the party leadership decided to return to the NDA fold and re-formed the government in Bihar with the BJP’s support.
If we talk about the losers, in one way or the other, Home Minister Rajnath Singh seems to be at receiving end wihin the party and the government as well. Just before the reshuffle, there were reports suggesting that he would like to return to the party organisation if he were shifted from the Home Ministry. Upset Modi & Shah, didn’t even consulted while finalising the names of new ministers. Similarly, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has now a competitor in Nirmala Sitharaman. In fact, the ministers sitting in their plum offices in Raisina Hills are considered to be close to the Prime Minister.
The reshuffle also came as a setback for Kerala BJP-RSS, which was expecting a ministerial berth. Though Alphons Kannanthanam was accommodated, he is not the BJP-RSS represenative in the Central government from Kerala. Similarly, many names including of Himanta Biswa Sarma from North-eastern states were doing rounds for their inclusion in the Cabinet, but the Prime Minister decided to leave the region unrepresented in his Council of Ministers. Now time to wait for the next reshuffle!
(The writer is an independent commentator on socio-economic and political issues. Views are his personal)