Those looking for a significant rejig of portfolios from Tuesday’s Cabinet rejig—prime minister Narendra Modi was careful in calling it an expansion the day before—have reason to be disappointed. There was no major headline, just some minor tinkering and re-balancing—apart from Prakash Javadekar who has been promoted for striking the right balance in the environment ministry, there are two minorities among the ministers of state who have been appointed, five schedule castes, two tribals, one woman and three members each from poll-bound states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. With his majority in the Lok Sabha, this tokenism is something the prime minister probably didn’t need to indulge in. Nor was there any attempt to induct outside talent of the likes of Nandan Nilekani, who pulled off an amazing coup in, first imagining and then delivering, the world-class Aadhaar system whose initial benefits are only now being realised. Though five ministers have been sacked, it is difficult to believe this could be related to non-performance. Certainly, the agriculture ministry has been a non-performer, but surely MK Kundariya can’t be held responsible especially if his boss Radha Mohan Singh has been spared; the same goes for the water resources ministry which saw its minister of state getting the axe in Tuesday’s rejig. If the education ministry’s Ram Shankar Katheria has lost his job for openly advocating saffronisation of the education sector, that is certainly good news—it is not clear if Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand MP from Gorakhpur, was not inducted because of his hate speeches or because he is a possible contender for the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for the Uttar Pradesh polls.
It is not clear why Piyush Goyal was not elevated to Cabinet rank given the energy he brings to the job, but one possibility is the prime minister wanted to see actual action on the ground first—if the states don’t start delivering, and the progress so far on fixing tariffs has been poor, there is every chance UDAY could become ast. Though he has made progress in fixing things now, was Dharmendra Pradhan, also speculated to be getting a Cabinet rank, overlooked because he didn’t make out a strong enough case for hiking gas prices for two years and made little progress in resolving stuck issues—the two resulted in exploration activity in the sector coming to a near halt—in the petroleum sector?
A Nandan Nilekani would have been a welcome addition and the prime minister’s assertion—in one of his many newspaper interviews before the Cabinet rejig—that there is outside talent in Niti Aayog is neither here nor there since that is a non-functional role. But the larger lesson of the rejig is that the prime minister is happy with the performance of his team—the flipside, of course, is that too many rejigs would have sent out the message that Team Modi had not performed. Many would argue Modi is being complacent as, while there have been very good moves in some areas—particularly in the social sector—large parts of the government are very sluggish when it comes to reforms. While faster reform is critical, few can doubt that if progress has been slow, this has largely been because the prime minister wanted it that way—perhaps why, with a few exceptions, he has not asked for anyone’s head.