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Guide to the Winners and Losers In Modi’s Cabinet Reshuffle

The biggest loser is Modi himself, because he has squandered the opportunity for a course correction that his government, his party, and India badly need.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah at the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/ Shahbaz Khan

They win, but they also lose: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP president Amit Shah at the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/ Shahbaz Khan

If the induction of 19 new faces in Narendra Modi’s council of ministers was largely driven by electoral considerations, the demotion of four heavyweights – Smriti Irani, Jayant Sinha, V.K. Singh and Sadanand Gowda – and the sacking of five faceless junior ministers in a ‘night of the short knives’ offers scant clues to those seeking to decipher a message from the reshuffle.

Smriti Irani, the controversial minister for human resource development, has been divested of the prestigious, high profile portfolio and spindled off to the textiles ministry. There were early indications of her being a misfit at education but Modi stuck by her for two years. As recently as February 2016, he publicly defended her – tweeting a link to her melodramatic speech in parliament on the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula (a speech that was also economical with the truth) with the added words ‘satyameva jayate‘, or ‘truth always prevails’. What truths emerged since then to prevail upon the prime minister to ease her out? Was it her penchant to pick quarrels on irrelevant issues – including one with the education minister of Bihar for using the term ‘dear’ as a salutation (as in ‘Dear Smriti Irani’)? Or is the shift from HRD to a less demanding remit a prelude to her deployment in Uttar Pradesh as the BJP’s star campaigner, as some of her supporters would like to believe?

The art of thought control

Irani has been replaced by Prakash Javadekar, the only minister of state to be given full cabinet rank in the reshuffle. Javadekar is an affable politician who rarely gets into arguments or spats and knows the art of winning friends and influencing people. In the brief period that he was information and broadcasting minister, he quickly realised that the effectiveness of Doordarshan as a tool of propaganda for the government is directly proportionate to the amount of freedom it is given.  Javadekar’s principal qualification for the HRD job is that he has the ability to pursue the same goals that Irani had been tasked with – to push the saffronisation, commercialisation and centralisation of education – without triggering the kind of resistance she did on campuses and in governing bodies across the country.

Javadekar owes his elevation not just to his skill set but also to the diligence with which he pursued Modi’s agenda at the environment ministry – of not letting the environment stand in the way of ‘vikas’, or development. His successor in the ministry, Anil Madhav Dave, can be expected to continue running things in an industry-friendly manner.

Smriti Irani with new Cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar after a Cabinet meeting at South Block in New Delhi on Tuesday hours before the new portfolios were announced. Credit: PTI /Vijay Kumar Joshi (PTI7_5_2016_000149B)

Smriti Irani with new Cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar after a Cabinet meeting at South Block in New Delhi on Tuesday hours before the new portfolios were announced. Credit: PTI /Vijay Kumar Joshi (PTI7_5_2016_000149B)

The enigma of Udta Sinha

To accommodate Irani in textiles, Santosh Gangwar, a senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh has been moved to finance as minister of state  – demoted, really, since he had independent charge earlier – leading to the second major casualty of Tuesday’s reshuffle: Jayant Sinha.

Sinha, who is generally well regarded by financial sector stakeholders for the manner in which he functioned, finds himself inexplicably demoted. He goes from being deputy to Arun Jaitley – the third most important minister in the cabinet – to becoming the understudy of Ashok Gajapati Raju in the civil aviation ministry. One BJP spokesperson said on television, with the faintest trace of a smile on his face, that civil aviation was as important as finance and that Sinha could “fly high”. But this is a ministry where nothing much happens and where, if Modi has his way, nothing much will happen either since he would rather that private airlines took charge of the skies. A major change in civil aviation policy has already been adopted and it is not clear how Sinha will keep himself occupied.

#Aamir khan " data-image-description="<p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img title="Doctors asks Aamir Khan to apologise for his recent show on Satyamev Jayate" src="" alt="Doctors asks Aamir Khan to apologise for his recent show on Satyamev Jayate" width="500px" height="auto" /></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>, Last updated on: June 06, 2012</p> <p>The latest episode of <a class="zem_slink" title="Aamir Khan" href="" rel="rottentomatoes" target="_blank">Aamir Khan</a>‘s [ <a href="" target="_blank">Images </a>] television showSatyamev Jayate probed into malpractices that some doctors follow, looking at the way they dole out wrong treatments for monetary gains. It has understandably not gone down too well with the medical fraternity.</p> <p><em> Dr Sanjay Nagral — a consultant surgeon, department of surgical gastroenterology , Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai [<a href="" target="_blank">Images </a>] — explains what exactly has hurt the doctors. </em></p> <p><a class="zem_slink" title="Satyameva Jayate" href="" rel="wikipedia" target="_blank">Satyameva Jayate</a>‘s recent episode on healthcare in <a class="zem_slink" title="India" href=",77.2083333333&amp;spn=10.0,10.0&amp;q=28.6133333333,77.2083333333%20%28India%29&amp;t=h" rel="geolocation" target="_blank">India</a> [ <a href="" target="_blank">Images </a>] has created quite a stir within my fraternity. What began as benign posts on social media and closed door conversations has snowballed into a movement against what is being described as a ‘diatribe’ by Aamir Khan against the medical profession.</p> <p>In an additional bizarre twist, the <a class="zem_slink" title="Indian Medical Association" href="" rel="homepage" target="_blank">Indian Medical Association</a>, the apex body of medical professionals in the country, is asking Aamir to ‘apologise’ and, in what can only be termed as an acute case of silliness, has called for ‘boycotting’ him.</p> <p>The issues raised in the show, and the profession’s response to them, have important lessons. Lest they get lost in the din and drama, here is a contrarian view for the record.</p> <p>What is it exactly in that episode that has hurt my colleagues?</p> <p>From my reading of the various statements, it seems there are some common themes that many are upset about.</p> <p>First, the show ‘exaggerated’ the extent of unethical practice in the profession. Second, it showed only the ‘bad’ side of the profession, not the ‘good’. Third, it was factually incorrect at times.</p> <p>There were those who wanted to know why doctors are being targeted when the entire society is corrupt.</p> <p>Finally, the one below the belt: Who is Aamir Khan to pontificate about service to the poor when he charges crores of rupees for the show?</p> <p>The last one, though probably the most superfluous, is the most emotive of all.</p> <p>Is it really a revelation that ‘stars’ like Aamir charge such amounts for television serials? If Aamir declares he has not charged for the show, will it in any way alter the response to the show?</p> <p>Post your comments on <a class="zem_slink" title="Satyamev Jayate" href="" rel="wikipedia" target="_blank">Satyamev Jayate</a> <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</p> <p>Now, we come to the more substantive issues.</p> <p>What was one of the unethical practices that the show highlighted and ‘exaggerated’? The episode talked about the practice of ‘cuts’ and ‘commissions’ that are offered by doctors, labs and hospitals for referral of patients. These are cash transactions; they are not revealed in official documents and are arbitrary in amount.</p> <p>Although there is no documentation of the extent of this practice (Not surprising! How many would admit to it?), having had a ringside view in a large metropolis for many years, I would suggest it involves a large majority of referrals.</p> <p>We can quibble over the precise extent, but that would just serve to obfuscate the issue at hand.</p> <p>Hasn’t such ‘fee splitting’ become so commonplace and institutionalised that, as a young doctor, if you don’t participate in it, you are effectively ostracised? Isn’t this activity non-transparent and doesn’t it increase the cost of health care and affect quality? Has any medical association ever tried to build internal resistance or opposition to such a patently corrupt practice?</p> <p>The show talked about the shocking state of the <a class="zem_slink" title="Medical Council of India" href="" rel="wikipedia" target="_blank">Medical Council of India</a> and how its president, Dr Ketan Desai, was arrested by the CBI in 2010 on charges of corruption. He was thereafter removed from the post of MCI president by the government and is now cooling his heels in <a class="zem_slink" title="Tihar Prisons" href="" rel="wikipedia" target="_blank">Tihar jail</a>.</p> <p>Desai amassed crores (one estimate pegs the amount of money recovered from the raid on his home at Rs 1800 crore (Rs 18,000 million)) from the lucrative business of recognition of medical colleges.</p> <p>The episode also showed how Desai, who had been indicted by the courts and temporarily sacked in 2002, staged a return. What the episode did not mention is that the same individual was also the national president of the Indian Medical Association.</p> <p>Thus, a convicted individual not just survived but actually thrived for an entire decade at the highest levels in the Indian <a class="zem_slink" title="Medicine" href="" rel="wikipedia" target="_blank">medical establishment</a> both as the president of the Medical Council as well as the IMA. Isn’t this a reflection of the permissiveness and ambivalence medical professionals have developed towards corruption in their own representative bodies?</p> <p>The current president Dr K K Talwar, who appeared on the show, had no credible answer when asked why not a single doctor in India has had his licence cancelled when the <a class="zem_slink" title="General Medical Council" href="" rel="homepage" target="_blank">General Medical Council</a> of the UK figures showed substantive numbers every year.</p> <p>One of the ‘errors’ repeatedly pointed out by those outraged by the show is the numbers that were quoted about private and public medical colleges in India. One wonders, though, what is more important — the precise number or the fact that India can be counted among the countries that have the highest number of private medical colleges in the world? Isn’t the crass commerce of medical education in these colleges, where seats are sold at high prices, the real issue?</p> <p>Isn’t it true that private medical college empires have grown because they have managed to hire and retain medical teachers, set up arrangements with hospitals to provide ‘clinical material’ in the form of patients and get recognition for postgraduate courses from inspection teams consisting largely of doctors?</p> <p>Of course, there is a large industry supported by politicians at work here but the collusion of the profession is substantial.</p> <p>Did the episode show examples of ‘good’ doctors and the positive side of things?</p> <p>To be fair, the show did profile alternative models quite extensively. The issue of generic drugs and the work of Dr Samit Sharma in Rajasthan [ <a href="" target="_blank">Images </a>] were highlighted in some detail.</p> <p>That they predictably chose media favourite Dr <a class="zem_slink" title="Devi Prasad Shetty" href="" rel="wikipedia" target="_blank">Devi Shetty</a>, when they could have profiled any of the hundreds of brave, committed doctors who have chosen to work under harsh  conditions in rural India to come up with alternative models of people-centric health care, is a pity. But some of this is inherent to the medium and its compulsions.</p> <p>And, finally, a very old complaint — why should doctors be ‘targeted’ when the entire society is commercial and corrupt?</p> <p>It is obvious that, unlike other professions, health care has a huge social dimension and hence will inevitably be scrutinised more intensely. But it is exactly this aspect that also gives doctors more visibility (don’t many of our colleagues enjoy a lot of media publicity on a regular basis?).</p> <p>Historically medicine has a social contract which allows it a unique form of self-regulation in the form of medical councils, a front on which we have failed miserably. So whether it is the killing of the female foetus or the sale of kidneys, the state has had to step in with new laws because self-regulation failed.</p> <p>The principle of market economics have been rejected by most societies, including western nations, as inappropriate to health care. In a strange paradox, India has one of the most privatised of health care systems.</p> <p>Now, before my colleagues say that this is a result of state policy, which it essentially is, we have to admit India’s medical profession is a willing and enthusiastic participant in this process. Witness in the current boom of market medicine a new entrepreneurial spirit that is sweeping the profession. But the same market medicine, which uses media and television to sell its wares, is disturbed when the medium turns around and asks disturbing questions.</p> <p>Was the show free of blemishes? Of course not.</p> <p>There were occasional moments, like when the rather improbable allegation of a ‘liver transplant’ being advised for gastroenteritis was made by a member of the audience. Or when a family alleged that they did not know that a pancreas would be transplanted with the kidney in a large private hospital in Bengaluru [ <a href="" target="_blank">Images </a>]. But these aberrations should not distract from the big issues that the show managed to raise.</p> <p>Rampant commercialisation of the practice and of medical education, hard selling by pharmaceuticals, the high cost of drugs and the shocking price differences for the same drug from different brands are all highly disturbing parts of our healthcare policy.</p> <p>That a popular film star with a huge audience articulated on prime time television what health activists have been saying for years is perhaps what has disturbed some in my fraternity.</p> <p>Organisations like the IMA should actually seize the moment and ask Aamir to commit to a sustained public campaign on universal health coverage and the right to health. That would also test Aamir on a charge that has been made about him; that he raises social concerns transiently to stimulate interest in an ongoing release.</p> <p>As for the boycott call, I would suggest that Aamir doesn’t really need to worry on that count. He has to just sneeze or cough and there will be a bevy of doctors running to attend on him.</p> <p>After all, being a film star’s physician counts a lot in a doctor’s professional trajectory in India.</p> <h6 class="zemanta-related-title" style="font-size:1em;">Related articles</h6> <ul class="zemanta-article-ul"> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Aamir says he won’t apologise to IMA</a> (</li> <li class="zemanta-article-ul-li"><a href="" target="_blank">Say sorry, Indian Medical Association tells Aamir</a> (</li> </ul> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="size-full wp-image-4794" src="" alt="Yashwant Sinha, former finance and external affairs minister, and father of Jayant Sinha. Credit: PTI" width="380" height="285" />

Yashwant Sinha, former finance and external affairs minister, and father of Jayant Sinha. Credit: PTI

So why has Sinha been grounded? Before the reshuffle, stories were planted in the media about Modi drawing up a detailed performance audit of his ministers and it was put out that non-performers would be penalised. So is Jayant Sinha really a non-performer? Within the party it is an open secret that Modi has been upset with Sinha’s father, Yashwant Sinha, the former minister for finance and external affairs in the Vajpayee government, for his barrage of criticism against the government. One day before the reshuffle, the elder Sinha tore into Modi for the “NSG mess” – India’s failure to get entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Seoul. In Goa earlier this year, he warned that Modi’s government may meet the same fate as Indira Gandhi’s: “The people of India will consign him to the dust, you just have to wait for the next elections,” he said.  Sinha Sr. later denied making those remarks and said he had been misquoted, but I was on the same panel as him and can confirm that that is indeed what he had said. Could the son, then, have been punished by Modi for the perceived sins of the father? In the performance chart the prime minister drew up, were negative marks given for the disloyalty of close relatives?

No getting away from Akbar for the general

The other minister of state to have been cut down to size in the latest reshuffle is V.K. Singh, the former army chief who courted controversy for taking the Manmohan Singh government to court in order to stall his retirement from the army. Before Tuesday, Singh had two responsibilities. He was a junior minister in the external affairs ministry, and he was MoS (independent charge) in the ministry for statistics and programme implementation.  He has now lost the latter charge.

Singh has been a controversial figure, frequently clashing with the media. To him we owe the charming portmanteau word, ‘presstitute’, to be used interchangeably with ‘journalist’. As in the case of Smriti Irani, Modi publicly defended  V.K. Singh when he came under criticism for abusing the press. He was, till 2014, also minister for the development of the northeastern region (DONER), His forays to the north-east as minister for DONER did not exactly set the Brahmaputra on fire. Indeed, his earlier appointment to that portfolio  was seen as a continuation of New Delhi’s tendency to ‘securitise’ its handling of the region, as evidenced by the choice of retired police officers, army generals and intelligence chiefs as governors in many of the ‘seven sisters’.

For Singh, though, the loss of statistics and programme implementation comes with an additional blow: a second MoS has now been appointed for the MEA, M.J. Akbar, the veteran journalist turned BJP politician. This is a blessing for the MEA, which requires at least two junior ministers to handle the ever-escalating pace of inbound and outbound diplomacy and all the attendant protocol demands. But this means the general will have to share space with another minister. Barely a month ago, Singh demanded that Akbar Road in the capital be renamed because the great Mughal emperor was apparently not fit to be honoured in India. Having failed in his attempts to delete Akbar’s name from Delhi’s roads, the general will now have to make room for his namesake in South Block.

#WTFnews" data-image-description="<p><a title="Exclusive: After Multiple Denials, CIA Admits to Snooping on Noam Chomsky" href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" src=";ik=f3c16cefa9&amp;view=att&amp;th=140782ee95646664&amp;attid=0.0.3&amp;disp=emb&amp;zw&amp;atsh=1" /><br /> </a></p> <p>Posted By <a href="" target="_blank">John Hudson</a> Tuesday, August 13, 2013 ,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, the <a class="zem_slink" title="Central Intelligence Agency" href=",-77.146586&amp;spn=0.01,0.01&amp;q=38.951796,-77.146586 (Central%20Intelligence%20Agency)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Central Intelligence Agency</a> denied it had a secret file on <a class="zem_slink" title="Massachusetts Institute of Technology" href=",-71.09211&amp;spn=0.01,0.01&amp;q=42.35982,-71.09211 (Massachusetts%20Institute%20of%20Technology)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">MIT</a> professor and famed dissident <a class="zem_slink" title="Noam Chomsky" href="" target="_blank" rel="lastfm">Noam Chomsky</a>. But a new government disclosure obtained by <i><a class="zem_slink" title="The Cable" href="" target="_blank" rel="homepage">The Cable</a></i> reveals for the first time that the agency did in fact gather records on the anti-war iconoclast during his heyday in the 1970s.</p> <p>The disclosure also reveals that Chomsky’s entire CIA file was scrubbed from Langley’s archives, raising questions as to when the file was destroyed and under what authority.</p> <p>The breakthrough in the search for Chomsky’s CIA file comes in the form of a <a class="zem_slink" title="Freedom of Information Act (United States)" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)</a> request to the <a class="zem_slink" title="Federal Bureau of Investigation" href=",-77.024503&amp;spn=0.01,0.01&amp;q=38.894465,-77.024503 (Federal%20Bureau%20of%20Investigation)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Federal Bureau of Investigation</a>. For years, FOIA requests to the CIA garnered the <a href="" target="_blank">same denial</a>: “We did not locate any records responsive to your request.” The denials were never entirely credible, given Chomsky’s brazen anti-war activism in the 60s and 70s — and the CIA’s well-documented track record of domestic espionage in the Vietnam era. But the CIA kept denying, and <a href="" target="_blank">many took the agency at its word</a>.</p> <p>Now, a public records request by FOIA attorney Kel McClanahan reveals a memo between the CIA and the FBI that confirms the existence of a CIA file on Chomsky.</p> <p>Dated June 8, 1970, the memo discusses Chomsky’s anti-war activities and asks the FBI for more information about an upcoming trip by anti-war activists to North Vietnam. The memo’s author, a CIA official, says the trip has the “ENDORSEMENT OF NOAM CHOMSKY” and requests “ANY INFORMATION” about the people associated with the trip.</p> <p>After receiving the document, <i>The Cable </i>sent it to <a class="zem_slink" title="Athan Theoharis" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Athan Theoharis</a>, a professor emeritus at <a class="zem_slink" title="Marquette University" href=",-87.928&amp;spn=1.0,1.0&amp;q=43.038,-87.928 (Marquette%20University)&amp;t=h" target="_blank" rel="geolocation">Marquette University</a> and an expert on FBI-CIA cooperation and information-gathering.</p> <p>“The June 1970 CIA communication confirms that the CIA created a file on Chomsky,” said Theoharis. “That file, at a minimum, contained a copy of their communication to the FBI and the report on Chomsky that the FBI prepared in response to this request.”</p> <p>The evidence also substantiates the fact that Chomsky’s file was tampered with, says Theoharis. “The CIA’s response to the FOIA requests that it has no file on Chomsky confirms that its Chomsky file was destroyed at an unknown time,” he said.</p> <p>It’s worth noting that the destruction of records is a legally treacherous activity. Under the <a class="zem_slink" title="Federal Records" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">Federal Records</a> Act of 1950, all federal agencies are required to obtain advance approval from the national Archives for any proposed record disposition plans. The Archives is tasked with preserving records with “historical value.”</p> <p>“Clearly, the CIA’s file, or files, on Chomsky fall within these provisions,” said Theoharis.</p> <p>It’s unclear if the agency complied with protocols in the deletion of Chomsky’s file. The CIA declined to comment for this story.</p> <p>What does Chomsky think? When <i>The Cable</i> presented him with evidence of his CIA file, the famous linguist responded with his trademark cynicism.</p> <p>“Some day it will be realized that systems of power typically try to extend their power in any way they can think of,” he said. When asked if he was more disturbed by intelligence overreach today (given the latest NSA leaks) or intelligence overreach in the 70s, he dismissed the question as an apples-to-oranges comparison.</p> <p>“What was frightening in the ‘60s into early ‘70s was not so much spying as the domestic terror operations, <a class="zem_slink" title="COINTELPRO" href="" target="_blank" rel="wikipedia">COINTELPRO</a>,” he said, referring to the FBI’s program to discredit and infiltrate domestic political organizations. “And also the lack of interest when they were exposed.”</p> <p>Regardless,, the destruction of Chomsky’s CIA file raises an even more disturbing question: Who else’s file has evaporated from Langley’s archives? What other chapters of CIA history will go untold?</p> <p>“It is important to learn when the CIA decided to destroy the Chomsky file and why they decided that it should be destroyed,'” said Theoharis. “Undeniably, Chomsky’s was not the sole CIA file destroyed. How many other files were destroyed?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="zemanta-pixie" style="margin-top: 10px; height: 15px;"><a class="zemanta-pixie-a" title="Enhanced by Zemanta" href=""><img class="zemanta-pixie-img" style="border: none; float: right;" alt="Enhanced by Zemanta" src="" /></a></div> " data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="size-full wp-image-23226" src="" alt="Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitley and MoS for Finance Jayant Sinha during their Post-Budget Press Conference, in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Singh" width="880" height="545" />

Finance minister Arun Jaitley and his former MoS, Jayant Sinha during their post-budget press conference in 2016. Credit: PTI/Kamal Singh

A message for Jaitley?

Finance minister Arun Jaitley also found himself on the debit side of the reshuffle ledger because he not only lost the information and broadcasting portfolio to Venkaiah Naidu but also a highly competent deputy in North Block. Close on the heels of his inability to ensure the same sort of extended tenure for Raghuram Rajan that all recent governors of the Reserve Bank of India have enjoyed, Jaitley will now have to steer the ship of the economy without the professional assistance of Sinha as well. BJP gadfly Subramanian Swamy’s pre-emptive strike on chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian and on Jaitley himself may have drawn veiled criticism from Modi but Swamy and his supporters in the RSS are bound to see the reshuffle as evidence that the prime minister is not going to go out of his way to defend the finance minister from sniping.

It is a different matter that Modi had sent a dangerous signal to all media houses in India by vesting the I&B portfolio in the hands of a minister who also controlled the income tax and excise departments and the enforcement directorate. As Caravan‘s political editor, Hartosh Singh Bal has noted, the threat of an investigation being opened has been the traditional lever by which governments have tried to keep the media on a straight and narrow path. There has been no suggestion from any quarter, of course, that Jaitley misused the powers of one ministry to further the agenda of another but that would not have prevented media proprietors with less faith in the finance minister’s scruples from trimming their sails as a precaution.

Though Jaitley and the junior I&B minister, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, have turned Doordarshan from a government-owned broadcaster into what political parties like to call an “organ” – complete with blacklists and whitelists – the finance minister also had to contend with pressure from the hidden hand of the RSS. The recommendation of the duly constituted selection panel for the director of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, for example, was overturned from behind the scenes earlier this year in order to bring in a candidate Nagpur was batting for. Divesting Jaitley of I&B is thus a message to Rathore, who effectively runs the ministry – that on the ‘cultural’ and political agenda of the Sangh parivar vis a vis Doordarshan, film censorship, and education (eg. FTII), there can be no wobbling.

The new I&B minister, Venkaiah Naidu shares with Jaitley a friendly disposition towards journalists and is never shy of answering questions – unlike many of his colleagues. But I&B has come to him along with the loss of parliamentary affairs – a portfolio that allowed the former BJP president to play a role on the political frontline. That pleasure will no longer be his but Anantha Kumar’s.

Prasad, sweet and bitter

Thanks to the lackadaisical performance of Sadanand Gowda, Ravi Shankar Prasad has gained law and justice in the reshuffle – a portfolio every lawyer-politician aspires to and one which Prasad held but lost after the first few months of the Modi government in 2014. His return to law, however, comes with a price: he has been dropped from communications, aka telecoms, the portfolio he has held from day one. Telecoms has now been handed over to Manoj Sinha, who will have independent charge. However, Prasad retains the information technology portfolio, thus remaining, for all intents and purposes, the Internet czar of India.

File photo of Minister for Communications and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad. Credit: PTI Photo

File photo of Minister for Communications and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad. Credit: PTI Photo

In the UPA-II government, when given a choice between HRD and telecoms, Sibal surprised everyone by deciding to stick to the latter. He later got law and justice as well following the resignation of Ashwani Kumar. In the Modi era, it is unlikely that ministers would have been offered the luxury of a choice but if he was, which would Prasad have chosen? Telecoms remains vital but given the Modi government’s unfinished business on judicial appointments, the law portfolio may arguably be the weightier brief.

The big picture

The biggest gainer from the reshuffle is of course the prime minister himself because he has demonstrated that two years into his unprecedented mandate, the waning of his appeal in state elections has not weakened his grip on the party one bit. But the biggest loser from the reshuffle is also Modi himself, because he has squandered the opportunity for a course correction  that his government, his party, and India badly need.

To describe the Modi cabinet as a glorified election machine is to state the obvious. With possibly one or two exceptions, none of the ministers inducted on July 5 have come in on the basis of a proven track record or expectation of performance on the governance front. They have been brought in on the arithmetical calculations of caste and region that Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and the RSS have made.

But the route to winning elections lies not in such calculations – or in the strategy of communalisation that is being pursued in Uttar Pradesh – but in actually delivering on the governance front.

Here, there will be widespread disappointment at the prime minister’s failure to drop major laggards and non-performers – the council of ministers is full of them. Even if he acted against Irani, Singh and Gowda on the basis of performance, Modi has left plenty of other non-performing assets in place, even as he penalised a minister who was perceived to be on the ball.  Ram Shankar Katheria was one of those junior ministers who was axed. Was he axed for being a bad education minister, or for some of his inflammatory statements? If it is the former, how come other bad ministers survived the cut? And if it is the latter, why has the prime minister ignored the crude, communal and even inflammatory statements ministers like Mahesh Sharma, Niranjan Jyoti, Sanjeev Baliyan and Giriraj Singh have made? These are not individuals whose faces Modi cannot recognise – a claim he made in his recent interview to Times Now. It is the prime minister’s unwillingness to turn the communalist tap off that is colouring the perception of his government as one less interested in development than in the divisive agenda of the Sangh.

Ousting those who have developed some notoriety for their anti-Muslim statements – especially since they are all underperforming ministers – as well as other laggards, would have sent a message to the people of India and to investors around the world that the government is ready to get down to the business of governance. Key ministries like agriculture and health, to name just two, are languishing. Modi has chosen not to do what any sensible politician would have done in the face of reality. This is the single biggest takeaway from his cabinet reshuffle.

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