Shuffle in a Bubble
Will he, won't he? Prime Minister Narendra Modi isn't giving anything away. He is in no hurry to reshuffle his 60-member Council of Ministers. It has not stopped the hopefuls from promoting themselves, or using their idols or proxies to launch covert and overt ops to change the composition of the Modi Cabinet. Some woo religious and RSS heavy-hitters to drop a kind word on their behalf at the doorsteps of the right leaders. Since none except a couple of exceptions have direct access to the PM, digital and social media are their only option to tout their usefulness for Modi during the COVID crisis. It is almost two years since he has added new ministers. He has only replaced those who died or resigned. Over half a dozen ministers hold more than two-three portfolios. The cabinet expansion is stuck on the horizon of panting and ranting. This speculation started after mantris from the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal quit and Ram Vilas Paswan died. Scuttlebutt has gained currency because defectors from parties like the Congress and regional outfits are clamouring for berths. Modi’s dilemma is to balance original Swayam Sewaks with longer Sangh Ayu (Date of joining the RSS) and turncoats whose only claim to fame is pedigree, degree, moolah might and muscle mass. Ministerial wannabes have hired picayune PR players to plant stories in their own godi media. A new band of social influencers have been roped in to tout names on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp groups. These megaphones are TwittCelebs and excessively Zoomed in Facebook account holders with over a million followers. And the reason why Modi should change his tune and team now? He needs a new health minister because Dr Harsh Vardhan hasn’t matched his billing. But the doctor is just a tool. Names of some disastrous spokespersons and defeated flop candidates are doing the rounds, but no current minister is being identified for the change-the-cabinet operation. The Modi Mood is an enigma. However, their inner astrologer says any date after June is auspicious. Modi defines both numerology and astrology. After all he is the Number One Star.
Youth Battles Bulge
Mainstream political parties are institutions that refuse to die. But their leaders buy the farm with the passage of time and relevance. Many regional outfits floated by caste/religious leaders have vanished after their individual-led ideology lost its vigour, vitality and makutu. National parties carry on because their new blood has old DNA, thanks to the active involvement of affiliated youth organisations. The Congress, which is gasping for ballot breath, has suddenly figured it needs young juju since the old 'uns are deep in malicious turf wars. It is for the first time that Youth Congress leaders are more visible than the dodderers in the marginalised parent party. Its 40-year-old president BV Srinivas has made the YC almost omnipresent by deploying his youth brigade to respond to each and every call from any COVID-critical family, sending succour in the form of oximeters to life-saving drugs to every city from Bathinda to Bengaluru. Srinivas and team have dominated the digital media debate and are regular TV talking heads of late. For the first time, the lazy juniors have gained the confidence of the middle and lower classes while the seniors are looking for acceptability like blind men looking for binoculars to see the future. Rahul Gandhi has picked a note from the past; uncle Sanjay Gandhi used the Youth Congress to chuck out the Janata Dal government. Kamal Nath, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Ambika Soni, Ramesh Chennithala, Gundu Rao, Tariq Anwar etc were knights of the Sanjay round table. Over one third of Lok Sabha members in 1980 had Youth Congress resumes since they were loyal to Sanjay. On the other hand, the BJP became India's largest political party because its giant leaders inducted young leaders - currently, half its leadership is from ABVP. However, its youth wing Bhartiya Yuva Morcha couldn't bag a profile like the IYC's. Tejasvi Surya, South Bengaluru MP and BYM president, is confined to his constituency and conspiracies. BJP’s poll poster boy is more at ease in the company of top tech giant executives and corporate leaders unlike his Kanadigga counterpart. Surya has plumped for the elitist and glamorous model of Covid-fighting against Srinivas’ street fighter model.
No Retiring Disposition
The Khan Market gang has been sandbagged. Modi demolished their know-it-all image by choosing Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, a 1985 batch IPS officer from Maharashtra cadre, as CBI Director. His detractors were expecting the government to pick either Rakesh Asthana or YC Modi, both senior to Jaiswal and considered to be close to the PM and Amit Shah. Jaiswal has a clean reputation and is known for defying the establishment on his principles. As part of Atal Behari Vajpayee's SPG team, he was known for professionalism and integrity. His appointment on the basis of a new law provided an escape route for the government from giving Asthana and Modi sensitive posts like the RAW chief or IB Director. Since, Chief Justice NV Ramana invoked an old Supreme Court verdict to note that no officer with less than six months to retire is eligible for elevation, Modi happily went along. Within 48 hours, the GOI gave an extension to IB director Arvind Kumar and RAW chief Samant Kumar Goel till June 30 next year. Both were to retire by the end of next month.
Two in One Boat
Our mandarins are tying themselves in knots guesstimating the future of the power circuit’s two most visible civil servants. The doubting duo are Sunil Arora, former Chief Election Commissioner and Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, who hangs up his boots by June end. Arora was made Election Commissioner after retirement and the BJP was over the moon with his eagerness and elasticity, especially in West Bengal. He has been a top performing asset of the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, some babus are rooting for a better deal for Kant. The smooth-talking party hound and master at relationships will be the first officer to complete more than five years in Niti Aayog and get an extension twice. The man, who came up with Incredible India and made Kerala a byword in world travel, hasn’t done anything incredible since then except staying a favourite of the both UPA and NDA. Arora and Kant have dabbled, delivered and talked more during NDA rule than the Congress era. Since Anil Baijal, Delhi’s non-performing L-G, has reached the end of his unmemorable term, who will be moving into the Raj Bhavan? Kant, Arora or some other retired civil servant? Only Modi knows.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla)