Cabinet Reshuffle: Why Historically Ignored But Critical Ministries Should Become The New ‘Top 4’ In New India
The Modi government can create an all important new group of ‘Top 4’ historically ignored but crucial ministries of education, health, law and justice and culture.
Very few cabinet ministers have had any real powers and autonomy to take independent decisions even under less powerful prime ministers let alone under the stronger ones like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi.
Still, for some strange reason, every cabinet reshuffle or expansion, attracts immense attention from the media and common folks alike when such an exercise is expected to bring little change.
It’s understandable for media to give it such attention for they get to pass lot of time in speculation and holding debates about the performance of various ministers. Their job has become tougher since 2014 thanks to solid leak-proofing by the Modi dispensation.
For the general public, perhaps the hope of seeing their least favourite ministers booted out gives them some kick. Or maybe it’s the hope to see some real change in their favourite ministries.
It’s only a matter of a few hours before the first cabinet reshuffle of Narendra Modi’s second term is officially carried out. From the reports of resignation of Education Minister and Health Minister apart from several others so far, it appears that this reshuffle is quite unlike the usual revamp. Prime Minister Modi seems to be going for a comprehensive overhaul. Some are even calling it a purge.
After the victory of the BJP in 2014, there were high hopes from Prime Minister Modi that he will bring fundamental changes in the government given he gave the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.
Some interpreted that the size of the cabinet itself will be reduced, something which former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done by changing the constitution to cap the members in the cabinet at 10 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha.
This hope seemed to come to fruition when only 46 ministers (including the Prime Minister) were sworn in May 2014. ”Keeping our commitment to 'Minimum Government, Maximum Governance' we have made an unprecedented & positive change in Ministry formation,” Modi had even tweeted at the time signalling a radical departure from the past. But in the subsequent reshuffles, cabinet got expanded to similar levels as that of Dr Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The party faithfuls then reinterpreted Modi’s mantra of ‘minimum government’ slogan as not related to the size of cabinet but to the idea of less regulations ignoring Modi’s own tweet which clearly was in relation to the cabinet formation.
Then some offered another, but valid, explanation. That Modi was referring to merging of ministries to achieve better synergy. But this too went for a toss in next reshuffles and one can see that in the present cabinet, departments which should be under a single roof are being run by different ministers.
Sure, there are many political compulsions for a party while forming a cabinet of ministers as it has to navigate lot of factors — representation of states, castes, personal relationships, seniority, electoral potential of leaders, coalition compulsions, etc. All these factors have certainly weighed heavily in increasing the size of the cabinet as well as putting obstacles in merging ministries (less ministries — less sinecures).
However, there is one thing that the Modi government can still do — create an all important new group of ‘Top 4’ historically ignored but crucial ministries of education, health, law and justice and culture. This group can be at par with the all important Cabinet Committee on Security which comprises the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Finance Minister and Defence Minister.
The importance of these four ministries cannot be stated enough. The government is currently in process of implementing a new education policy, designing new curriculum framework and textbooks and this sector has been highly disrupted by the pandemic with totally new avenues opening up thanks to online mode of education and the growing relevance of technology in our world.
We need a visionary leader who can steer this ministry for at least the next three years and provide a solid foundation. Perhaps, someone like Dr V K Saraswat whose talent and energies are being under-utilised in the NITI Aayog can be a good consideration.
Health is another subject which needs to be taken on priority. If this wasn’t clear before, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly sounded the loudest bell of warning. India cannot wait to increase healthcare capacity at its usual speed. It needs revolutionary change and it needs it now.
The person who heads the ministry needn’t be a doctor but someone who understands the power of incentives — how to incentivise setting up of new colleges and hospitals, increase seats in existing facilities, tweak the Ayushman Bharat scheme to make it attractive for more hospitals to adopt willingly and so on.
Similarly, the law and justice is a ministry which needs to be given due attention. Whether it's bringing judicial reforms to ensure more accountability and fairer appointments to the courts or about formulating all important laws (or striking down archaic ones) or about reforming police laws like CrPC/IPC in collaboration with the Home Ministry, a good talent in this ministry can be a boon for the government. Not having a lawyer head it will not be a handicap. In fact, this might work wonders.
Culture is another key area of concern as the BJP government was expected to give it due importance but has failed to do so. This needs to be course-corrected. This ministry should be at the forefront of being brand ambassador of India’s soft power to the world.
It should actively play a role the way Chinese have in setting up Confucius institutes in top universities across the world (University of Mumbai, VIT Vellore, Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar; OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat etc already have these institutes on their campuses).
In fact, there is so much that can be done even at home. What’s needed is the will and vision to weaponise this important government department for the preservation, protection and promotion of Indian cultural wealth.
It’s to be seen what plans the Modi government has in mind for these four ministries. Who gets appointed as ministers today will be a strong initial sign.
PS: One hopes that at the very least the reprehensible ‘Minority Affairs Ministry’ is dissolved and all social welfare benefits are provided to the poor irrespective of their religion.
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