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Modi moves mountains and molehills to master machinations

As a practice, MoSs are never invited to Cabinet meetings and hardly get a chance to meet the PM unless they are specially called.

Published: 02nd January 2022 06:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th January 2022 05:55 PM   |  A+A-

PM Narendra Modi

PM Narendra Modi (File photo | EPS)

Modi’s Punjab Gambit Could Spring Surprises

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is adept in converting adversity into opportunity. The BJP is a political weakling in Punjab, which goes to polls next month.  It has rarely ever crossed the double-digits in the 117-member House or contested over 25 seats. It has just two MLAs in the outgoing Assembly. But such dismal data doesn’t deter Modi and Amit Shah from trying to create an election stunner. If all goes according to plan, the BJP would be for the first time contesting the largest number of seats after the ruling Congress. It had always hung on the coattails of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) under its patriarch Prakash Singh Badal. 

Now, for the first time, the saffron outfit will be leading an alliance of its own. Partners are Amarinder Singh who junked the Congress to launch his own Punjab Lok Congress (PLC). Prominent Akali leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa quit SAD to float Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt)-SAD(S). Both would be contesting under the saffron standard. The BJP has always thrived and survived through mergers, defections and acquisitions. Modi is betting on a multi-cornered contest to prevent SAD, Congress and AAP from winning a majority. 

Both Amarinder and Dhindsa aren’t asking for much; the BJP could offer them a total of 60 tickets and contest the remaining 57 primarily in the cities.  It would be happy to let SAD-S and PLC tackle SAD as the BJP takes on the Congress on all seats. BJP leaders whisper that their party expects to win more seats than its two partners and form the government by corralling rebels from other parties after Amarinder and Dhindsa transfer rebel Akali and Congress votes in urban areas. 

POWER AND POLITICS | More by Prabhu Chawla

However, the CM face is a tricky turn. The BJP is in no mood to concede the top post to its partners. Unfortunately, it lacks a local leader with the requisite support either in the state unit or from the people. During the past three decades, its central leadership didn’t let local bigwigs like Navjot Sindhu rise, yielding to pressure from the Badal Parivar. If the BJP’s strike rate turns out to be better than that of its allies, Punjab may deliver a miracle mandate. Modi hai to mumkin hai is on test in Punjab. 

Lucky in Lucknow with New Babu?

Modi is the master of surprises in selecting babus for sensitive posts. In the past seven years, he has junked convention and archaic government rules while drafting civil servants to face new responsibilities and challenges. His message: show me the face, and I’ll frame the rules to accommodate the apparatchik. Reemployment and extension of services of retiring babus is not the exception but the rule. Durga Shanker Mishra, an IAS officer of 1984 batch of UP cadre, was about to retire as Secretary, Housing and Urban Development on December 31.

According to North Block scuttlebutt, he was expecting an elevation at the Centre. But Modi had other plans. Mishra enjoys a clean reputation and is known as a tough taskmaster. The PM’s view is that while Uttar Pradesh has a strong chief minister in Yogi Adityanath, it also requires an equally powerful and effective archon to shake the local bureaucracy from its slumber. Modi is impressed with Mishra who accelerated the implementation of his favourite schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. 

Moreover, Mishra is conversant with the complicated and caste-ridden state bureaucracy and style of working. Surprisingly, he is plunging into murky waters just before the implementation of the poll code of conduct, which would cripple his authority. But he has been given an unprecedented one-year mission as chief secretary and would now retire only in December 2022. The BJP hopes to return to power and expects its super babu in Lucknow to play a significant role in the deployment of senior bureaucrats afterwards. There is speculation in the state capital that Mishra has been sent with a long-term agenda to overhaul the administration for ensuring better performance with accountability. The outcome of 2022 will reveal whether the paratrooper panjandrum is part of Modi’s Mission 2024 or not.  

IT versus I-T in Tech Troubles

The golden rule of Corporate India is that it must get the credit for success while government agencies get the blame for failures. Friday evening was the last date for filing I-T returns after the deadline was extended twice due to technical and Covid-related reasons.  Around seven crore taxpayers were yet to submit their details. However, according to the I-T department, only about 5.78 crore ITRs for AY 2021-22 were filed till Friday evening —  much less than the 5.95 crore ITRs last year and less than 6.78 crore ITRs in 2019-20. Why the nosedive? Neither the government nor the agencies responsible for the high-tech filing system are schtum. Even on the last day, numerous taxpayers were struggling on the portal to file their documents and took to social media to air their woes. The sarkar officially denied any glitches. However, in an informal briefing, Infosys got the blame. 

It was case of IT versus I-T — two years ago the global tech giant was awarded `4,200 crore to provide a new I-T portal to reduce the processing period from 63 days to just a day. It was meant to be taxpayer friendly, simple in design with quick refunds. But there is little progress despite repeated scolding from the Finance Ministry. But powerfully connected admirers and promoters of the now foreign-owned Indian megacorp are discrediting the I-T department. They say, it is piqued over the prospect of losing its arbitrary powers, and has been arm-twisting Infosys to change the specifications and alter the scope of its original mandate. 

The Juniors Get a Say

Modi is known to be a whiz at getting his wishes, directions and decisions implemented without delay. For the past few months, he has been pushing for enhanced involvement of Ministers of State in the decision-making process and using them to implement government agenda to speed up the completion of various infrastructure projects and other policy changes. Currently, Ministers of State feel left out even with an office, car, a nine-member personal staff and a Type VII Lutyens bungalow.  

As a practice, MoSs are never invited to Cabinet meetings and hardly get a chance to meet the PM unless they are specially called. Modi has decided to hold regular meetings of his 78-member Cabinet to which all the 45 MoSs will be invited. In one of the initial meetings, he advised the Cabinet Ministers to give more authority to their juniors. But it was brought to Modi’s notice that a few senior, seasoned mantris have not taken his advice seriously; in fact, some of them even ask their juniors to prepare the answers to Parliament questions but not open their mouths in the House. Now, the juniors are looking for an appropriate opportunity to brief the Prime Minister on their forced redundancy.

Prabhu Chawla
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla



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