Modi Deserves Big Credit For Nirmala Sitharaman Move

By Swati Chaturvedi, 2017-09-03 14:22:04

The key takeaway from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Big Bang reshuffle before the big battle of 2019 is the appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman as only the second woman after Indira Gandhi to the Defence ministry. With Sushma Swaraj as External Affairs Minister, the two together make up half of the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Security. Gandhi held the portfolio as Prime Minister, so Sitharaman is the first woman Defence Minister, rather path-breaking from a party considered to be patriarchal.

For once, no spin is needed as this this a substantive move. Sitharaman has been rewarded for being completely in synch with Modi's message in bilateral negotiations during her term as Commerce Minister and this move to reward the 58-year-old JNU alum, who was earlier an extremely effective spokesperson of the BJP, is going to dominate the headlines, which is what the government presumably wishes after last week's revelations of the demonetisation fiasco (in which 99 percent of the extinguished currency was returned to banks) and the fall in GDP growth from 7.9 percent to 5.7 percent.

Before the oath-taking ceremony, Modi had his entire new team come over for a spartan vegetarian breakfast at his home where he delivered a sharp and stark decree: "Please perform. We need to show results". Amit Shah was also present to drive home the message and emphasise the fact that he's the real Number 2 to Modi.

Effectively, the Modi-led government has delivered enough slogans; it now needs to deliver the much-hyped talk of efficient governance; there are only 18 months to go for elections.

A sulking Uma Bharti has held on to being in the cabinet by the skin of her teeth but lost the big responsibility of the Clean Ganga mission to the man Modi perceives as a doer, Nitin Gadkari. He will now look after the Ganga rejuvenation. Bharti will handle drinking water and sanitation. Gadkari must be a relived man as he did not want additional charge of Railways and Modi agreed as he felt he was doing an excellent job as the government's star performer on infrastructure and road-building.

The yarn-spinners of the government are on message saying that the induction of three retired officials from the IAS and IPS (R K Singh, K J Alphons and Hardeep Puri) will add heft to the governance story.

Their induction points to something that the government and the party have been painfully trying to cover up - the lack of a bench strength and talent base in the BJP despite having 340 MPs.

The party's allies, specially the newest, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, got a royal snub from Modi and Shah as despite, much speculation, no one from the JDU was inducted. Kumar will now realise what the Shiv Sena has long been experiencing - the BJP of Modi and Shah is always the big and dominating brother in any alliance. Kumar is learnt to be upset but will have to get used to dealing with his tricky new partners.

The caste story continues with a big push for upper castes from UP, Bihar and, in the case of Karnataka, new entrant Ananthkumar Hegde who replaces Rajiv Pratap Rudy in the skill development ministry and who was filmed beating up a doctor in a government hospital and in a case of hate speech. Modi and Shah have also inducted Shiv Pratap Shukla as Junior Finance Minister - he is long-time rival to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. His job sends an important message to the Brahmins in UP restive over a Thakur as Chief Minister.

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