Size and quality of political access pool is important. There is a need to induct people based on executive merit.
A bench-strength of capable and energetic people with proven managerial and administrative ability is crucial for good governance. It gives the Prime Minister flexibility and options to execute his vision and saves him much embarrassment. However, due to the realities of democratic politics, most of the political pantheon and Council of Ministers have to be chosen for their grassroots strength, loyalty, affiliation to the RSS/BJP for long years, and ability to influence different sections of people and mobilise their votes.
There is little room for inducting people from a wider search based on executive merit here. A number of young political inductees are largely untried dynasts, just as in the Congress. Still, the size and quality of the political access pool is very important and the RSS needs to look at their own men too. A small coterie is vulnerable to tunnel vision and depletion in its ranks can be very damaging.
Most meritorious and educated people with the right political orientation for the BJP can be accessed with greater ease, at least theoretically, into the bureaucracy, semi-government bodies and think-tanks via lateral and invited entry on a renewable contract basis. The efficiency and responsiveness of career government servants too can be vastly improved if permanent tenure is done away with. In most cases, particularly at the junior and lower levels, permanent tenure of service breeds a lackadaisical attitude and petty corruption. Not a lot of reform in this regard, however, has been pushed through, though beginnings have been made. The massive voting power and ability to subvert political initiatives by the bureaucracy is also a dampener to reforms. But the results of not doing anything are worse.
The inadequate depth of bench-strength of the Modi government has been exposed time and again. It is laid bare doubly by the bad luck of so many carefully chosen Union Ministers suffering from severe or chronic ill-health. Most, ironically, are quite young and this weakness is despite Modi’s efforts to disqualify any candidates who are older than 75 years from holding ministerial positions.
Understandably, this makes for despondency for their close followers and discontinuity in governance despite the permanent bureaucracy. Unwell Union Ministers with intractable health issues cannot properly discharge their onerous responsibilities. Gaping holes in continuity of policy in governance are also exposed when talented ministers die in harness. The pity is, there seem to be no suitable replacements at hand. This situation has been allowed to persist without adequate remedy.
A mistrust of people outside the charmed circle of lifelong RSS-BJP men and women, ones who have spent decades in the wilderness waiting for power and responsibility, is the key problem. Only a few others have been allowed to trickle in. Capable people like Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Singh Puri from the Foreign Service, and Tourism & Culture Minister K.J. Alphons from the IAS, Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma and Mukul Roy in West Bengal, erstwhile from the Trinamool Congress. The BJP needs to induct many more such assets from other political parties, bureaucracy, the private sector and the professions. Capable people waiting in the wings include, for example, Jay Panda, earlier with the Biju Janata Dal.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has diabetes, has undergone heart surgery, bariatric surgery, a kidney transplant, and now has developed soft tissue cancer, has been a major day-to-day policy figure in the Modi government. Albeit Arun Jaitley is a very talented lawyer, Modi loyalist, organisational expert, an old Lutyens’ Delhi hand, who has kept the fiscal deficit down and pushed through the GST in the detail, but he has had to hold charge of several ministries. One of them was the Defence Ministry, where crucial decisions needed to be taken. It has got an energetic minister at last after the Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar stints, with Nirmala Sitharaman. Not only is Parrikar now ailing, but even when he was well and Defence Minister in Delhi, his focus and attention were divided between the political goings-on in his beloved home state of Goa and his ministry in Delhi.
Jaitley, heroically, has also been doing a great deal of the heavy hitting for the government in Parliament and outside of it. He appears to be the only person trusted enough to make the government’s case, particularly in English, on a host of crucial issues. The inability to deliver in a dynamic fashion because of illness seems like an avoidable trap.
Even Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Roads, Transport & Shipping, with his frequent enigmatic quips of late, leading to the belief that he is an RSS backed challenger for the top job, is a portly person who is severely diabetic, and has also undergone bariatric surgery.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, a rousing speaker, has made clear she won’t be undertaking the rigours of campaigning for the general elections 2019, due to her health. She too is a diabetic, and has undergone a kidney transplant not so long ago.
The present Goa Chief Minister Parrikkar is also severely ill with pancreatic cancer and spends most of his time in hospital or at home.
In addition, other key notables in the Council of Ministers have also been the victims of untimely death, often due to cancer or accidents.
Going forward, this matter must be given due emphasis, as the TINA factor is still with the Prime Minister. At this time, despite the reorganizing Opposition, plus the high decibel posturing from Rahul Gandhi, it looks like Narendra Modi will muddle through into Modi Sarkar 2.0 in May 2019.
In the Opposition, apart from TMC in West Bengal, Congress in a clutch of mostly newly won states, and Chandrababu Naidu and Telugu Desam, hanging on by the skin of his teeth in Andhra Pradesh, almost all the contenders keen on unseating the BJP are out-of-power. Thus they are hamstrung in terms of their resources and ability to mount a strong enough attack. Those who are neutral, or inclined to support the NDA, from the outside include Odisha’s BJD and seat-sharing partners AIADMK.
So, Modi not only has the people’s advantage, but those of incumbency at the Centre and a host of NDA states. In addition to the superb electioneering skills of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the sitting government has options to deliver benefits via Parliament and new laws, the budget, other proclamations and ordinances.
Politically, a strong appeal in the name of Hindutva is also about to go out. A determined move is afoot to untangle the Mandir building logjam at Ayodhya and return the advantage in Uttar Pradesh to the BJP.
Taking all things into consideration, a second term seems assured for the NDA. Earned positives include a strong economy, robust foreign relations, a defence capability that is being reinforced substantially, massive infrastructure development including the emotive cleaning of the Ganga by the building and commissioning of multiple sewage plants.
For the poor, there have been multiple yojanas and initiatives including cooking gas provision, adequate neem-coated urea fertilizer, targeted subsidies, Mudra bank loans, and last mile electricity provision. The farmers evidently are not happy, and it is important that both provisions to help them and their efficient delivery is implemented.
In addition, there is much work left over from Modi’s first term let alone the promises for 2022, India’s 75th year. Modi 2.0 must be better at delivering on its promises to meet the aspirations of all who make it possible.