The much awaited reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers on Tuesday is being projected as a well thought out exercise, which has not, in any manner, affected the contours of balance amongst the political heavyweights in the Cabinet. However, what the rejig has exposed is the lack of adequate representation from the southern states, particularly Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is a reality that the BJP does not have much of a presence in many of the southern states, but that does not mean that it should not attempt to accommodate competent nominees from that region. It is perhaps for the first time since Independence that there is not a single minister at the Centre from Tamil Nadu.
The BJP must realise that it has to expand all over the country to be a truly national party in the manner in which the Congress once was. It has made a headway in the Northeast by wresting Assam with the assistance of Congress dissidents. Similarly, it has to also put its act together to have a greater prominence in the southern states. In Karnataka, as an illustration, the party has done exceedingly well in the past, thanks largely to the support it has received from the Lingayat community in particular under the overall leadership of B.S. Yeddyurappa. The latest Cabinet expansion has been largely confined to most of the Northern States with only one berth going to Ramesh Jigajinagi from Karnataka.
It is not without reason that many of the southern states see BJP with a tinge of suspicion since there is a strong perception that the saffron brigade was interested in foisting Hindi in areas that fall south of the Vindhyas. It is common knowledge that the people of these parts are comfortable in their own regional languages. Therefore, the party bosses have to ensure that the obsession and fetish of many top functionaries of the Sangh with Hindi does not take a political toll and leads to a grave estrangement with an extremely important segment in the Indian peninsula. Hindi is our accepted national language, but given the diversity of our country, people living in various places are proud of their heritage and culture which as a natural corollary is reflected in the local language. Therefore, any attempt to show Hindi to be a superior mode of communication is bound to have its serious repercussions. The fact of the matter is that it is English which binds the country and has enabled people from different parts to make a mark for themselves globally. The emphasis on Hindi should not be at the expense of any other language, including English, and there should be no barriers created anywhere on the basis of the spoken or written word. Spreading Hindi as a language is one thing, but imposing it to the extent of ramming it down the throat of people gives an entirely different dimension. The Union Cabinet should ideally reflect the varied backgrounds of this unique nation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had created some yardsticks for the induction of colleagues in the Council of Ministers. One of the norms was to keep out those above the age of 75. This was primarily done to exclude seniors like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shanta Kumar, Yashwant Sinha and some others. It is evident that Modi would not have felt at ease by having people he had worked under as members of his ministry, as it would have eroded his authority, especially after he singularly led his party to its most spectacular victory in a Parliamentary election. One had expected that Kalraj Mishra and Najma Hepatullah, who are above 75 now, would be axed to enable them to also join the Marg Darshak Mandal, described by the BJP’s opponents as an old age home. However, the PM chose to ignore his own rule and allowed them to continue primarily because of the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh and also due to the docile temperament of the said leaders. There was intense speculation on whether Modi would bring in newly nominated Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy into the Cabinet. Swamy’s unmatched knowledge of politics and his overall versatility would have thus made him the most eligible faces from Tamil Nadu. However, it is obvious that by keeping him out, Modi felt that Swamy would be better off in the company of colleagues in the Marg Darshak Mandal rather than in the Cabinet. Many political observers feel that it is just a matter of time when the disgruntled Swamy makes his displeasure known through his actions, something with which the PM would have to deal with subsequently. Many an eyebrow was raised when Smriti Irani, considered close to the power hierarchy was shifted from the high profile HRD Ministry to the considerably lowbrow Textiles ministry. It is more than obvious that her role as the HRD Minister was not appreciated in academic circles and the PM thought it fit to bring in Prakash Javadekar to improve the much required PR of the HR ministry. Javadekar belongs to the old school and is overall a very competent minister who can fit into any slot. Others have been included because Modi has planned specific roles for each of them. M.J. Akbar, for instance, would be an asset in the MEA, particularly while dealing with West Asian countries with whom India is trying to further consolidate its relationship. However, what would remain a mystery is that after Manohar Parrikar, why has Modi not chosen any of the serving Chief Ministers to be a part of his Cabinet? They definitely would have brought their immense experience to the Centre. It appears that Modi is more relaxed with those whom he can mould. Between us.