There has been intense speculation, both in the political circles and the media, on whether Narendra Modi will go in for a Cabinet reshuffle to overcome growing perception that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government had failed to live up to people’s expectations. While it is for the Prime Minister to decide his course of action, with a revamp of his ministry being his sole prerogative, various acts of impropriety by senior leaders have hurt the image of the government and the party. The latest Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh seems to have given a handle to various opposition parties to further attack the government.
Thus when the monsoon session of Parliament begins in a just over a week, the treasury benches would have to be fully prepared to meet the onslaught of allegations on one hand, and on the other go about the business of getting important legislation through. Things obviously would be smoother if the irritants or the targets of the combined opposition are somehow taken off the radar so that Parliament can function in a smooth and orderly manner.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in the eye of a big storm following her request to the British authorities to grant relevant travel documents to former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi. Indications so far have been that the BJP was going to dig in its heels and defend her inside the House in the same manner in which it did outside. Swaraj is a senior BJP leader, who could very well have been the party’s choice for Prime Ministership, given that she was the Leader of Opposition during the UPA regime and as per parliamentary practice a potential head of government. That did not happen and she was inducted into an important position by PM Modi on assuming office.
Similarly, in Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje is on a weak wicket due to an outcry over her support for Lalit Modi. Shivraj Chouhan, the nominee for the Prime Ministership of the anti Narendra Modi lobby outside the BJP comprising so called secularists before the Lok Sabha elections is perhaps going through his leanest patch with even his own colleagues doubting his sincerity and integrity. The Pankaja Munde episode and other happenings in different states do call for stern and decisive measures from the party’s leadership in order to protect the credibility of the entire saffron brigade.
The situation in many ways is similar to what existed in the early 1960s when Jawaharlal Nehru’s image started getting dented within one year of his leading the Congress to victory in the 1962 parliamentary elections, following the Chinese invasion and with some of his colleagues challenging his authority through nuanced manoeuvres. Happily for Modi, there is nobody in the BJP who has so far tried to take him on, since he continues to enjoy his unique elevated status. He is their supreme leader and therefore is entitled to make his own choices for the betterment of both the party and the country.
In this context, it is important that he realises that there is the option of a Kamaraj type plan that can help him to both recast his government and thus redeem its image by getting only performing people of his choice appointed in various important positions of his Cabinet. Like Kamaraj, the third time Chief Minister of Madras had in 1963 quit along with five other Chief Ministers and six senior Union Cabinet Ministers including Morarji Desai, Jagjivan Ram and Lal Bahadur Shastri, Modi could set to motion an exercise where his key ministers and if the party agrees, also the Chief Ministers could be asked to put in their papers to go in for a complete overhaul. Since the proposal would not single out anyone, it could help in easing out those who were dispensable in order to have the best talent for the government and the party.
It is natural that in one year, PM Modi has made his own assessment regarding his colleagues, both at the Centre and in states, and knows who all were compatible to his style of functioning. He is the unchallenged leader as he brought in an unprecedented victory for the BJP in the Parliamentary polls and is comfortably placed since the Congress, the principal opposition, continues to lose its mass base even after the drubbing it received in the Lok Sabha elections. In the past one month, the BJP’s image has suffered due to the role of some of its prominent leaders. Its high command can take a call on them in the wake of a Kamaraj type plan.
The opportunity could be used in adjusting loyalists to important positions such as Governors and ambassadors. There are nearly ten states where new Governors need to be appointed. There are Chief Ministers who have outlived their utility who could either be brought to the Centre or given some other assignment. The Prime Minister must go for an out of box solution to ensure that his partymen’s actions do not diminish his popularity. Between us.