Even the best surgeon will find it difficult to operate unless the highest quality instruments and logistics are at hand. When Narendra Damodardas Modi took over as Prime Minister of the Republic of India on 26 May 2014, the country was in turmoil. Ten years of a Rip Van Winkle attitude by Manmohan Singh had denuded the economy of the optimism that had been present in abundance when he was tapped by Mrs Sonia Gandhi to head the UPA government, despite the fact that there was exactly one supporter of Dr Singh in Parliament in any contest with others, himself. A Prime Minister needs political lift to do well, and Dr Singh’s complete absence of political power showed itself in the field of policy, where he was buffeted across the board on options for the government. Several times the PM had to give way to the instructions received from Congress HQ, and it was no secret that individuals associated with the party (more correctly, the Congress president) had far greater influence in the determination of policy than the PMO, within which itself there were loyalists of the Congress leadership who had a history of implementing the oral orders they were given. It was expected that the entire construct of remote control over decisions would be comprehensively enquired into by the Modi government, but very soon it became apparent that the mood within the BJP was to let bygones be bygones. Such a A.B. Vajpayee-style generosity towards the Congress leadership and former ministers did not result in any softening of the party’s aggressive efforts at ensuring that Modi would not succeed in Delhi in replicating his stellar performance in Gandhinagar. Every avenue was utilised by the Congress to slow the government down, and it took a court verdict in Italy to awaken the BJP to the fact that it had promised accountability to the people and not forgiveness of past misdeeds. The jury is still out as to whether the tough talk by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on deals such as that involving Agusta helicopters will remain just that, tough talk and little action.
Although election after election has shown that the people of India do not get influenced by symbolic gestures such as the induction of individuals from particular communities into the Council of Ministers, yet over and over again individuals get inducted only because of the region, caste or community they belong to, and not unexpectedly, make a hash of their responsibilities. M.L. Fotedar has revealed how the only consideration behind the selection of a replacement for a minister in the Indira Gandhi government who had passed away was to find another politician belonging to the same sub-caste. On 26 May 2014, there was a huge complement of individuals from Bihar and UP. The first did not much help in the Assembly elections in Bihar, while the latter is unlikely to win additional votes in UP. If anything, the presence of ministers annoys several voters, who associate their dismal conditions to the lack of interest or effort by these worthies in red-light topped vehicles and surrounded by flunkeys in the welfare of those who elected them. There is talk of a Cabinet reshuffle scheduled to take place, most likely after PM Modi returns from the US in the middle of next month. This time around, the only two attributes that ought to be considered are integrity and competence, not (as is being reported) such considerations as “regional balance” or “greater representation to election-bound states”. Especially in key portfolios, there is need for those of ability who have the zeal and the fresh thinking needed to translate Modi’s plans into reality. Key sectors need individuals of exceptional quality, so that the public will be confident that the “Surgeon-General”, the PM, has people around him of the same high quality as himself, so that the promise of 21st century governance can be fulfilled during the three remaining years of Modi’s first term. We have a Prime Minister who works. What he needs is a Union Cabinet that delivers.