Through his third ministerial recast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sent out a strong “perform or perish” message to his team even as he made clear that discipline and lack of controversy will be rewarded.
The elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman, Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has one common thread and is being seen as an acknowledgement of their performance and taint-free tenure.The same explains the sackings as well as demotions in the form of shifts from high-profile stations to relatively low-key ones. With the challenge of 2019 looming, the revamp also brings out the concern to speed up delivery on key promises.
This explains the surprise inductions — from Hardeep Singh Puri to Raj Kumar Singh and Alphons Kannanthanam. None of the above, like Sitharaman who is considered a safe pair of hands for the sensitive ministry of defence, can boast of much political experience. However, their experience in their previous careers is expected to make up for that and should, in fact, count for much more when the government needs to notch up talking points to run on. One representative each of poll-bound Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have come in. But politics does not seem to be the sole consideration in the inductions.
Thus, while bringing in a Rajput from Rajasthan made political sense, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat had caught the PM’s attention for being tech savvy rather than his caste background.
Raj Kumar Singh was brought in while fellow Rajput from Bihar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, was dropped despite the fact that the latter, with a long career in electoral politics and having defeated Lalu Prasad twice, is a near-veteran. Alphons’s induction is not expected to help the party win over Roman Catholics in Kerala.
Integrity has been a major factor in the choices and is said to be one of the many which catapulted Sitharaman into the coveted Cabinet Committee on Security.
Reputations and perceptions of proximity to senior leaders did not prove enough as Vijay Goel and S S Ahluwalia found out.