Thursday, February 9, 2023
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Everyone in the Narendra Modi government speaks, just not about their own ministries

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Finance minister Jaitley writes on legal affairs, law minister Prasad speaks on defence matters, and defence minister Sitharaman holds forth on finance affairs.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the union law and justice minister, put out a tweet on 22 June, giving statistics of the number of terrorists killed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Not only was there no source attributed to those numbers, but peculiarly, they also seem to be at variance with the data available in the public domain. The South Asia Terrorism Portal, one of the more credible sources of information on security-related issues, has the following data on neutralised terrorists: 84 in 2012, 100 in 2013, 110 in 2014, 113 in 2015, 165 in 2016, 218 in 2017, and 95 (so far) in 2018.

Apologists for the minister would tell us to stop being queasy about a few numbers here or there; after all, he is just using the numbers as a peg to make a larger point.

First, it is abominable to divide the fight against terror between UPA and NDA rather than treat it as a continuum. Second, measuring success in terms of the number of kills – as the British, Nazi and other pilots used to do by painting stars on their aircraft during World War II – is singularly the most myopic and obtuse way of looking at a conflict-prone frontline border state.

However, pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Isn’t Prasad the minister for law and justice? What is he doing putting out data related to terror in Jammu & Kashmir? Is he not supposed to focus on his remit?

The law ministry has been dealing with a series of serious unresolved issues over the past few years – be it the continuing standoff between the executive and the judiciary over the finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) or the unprecedented public disagreement between the Chief Justice of India and the next four senior-most Supreme Court judges. In addition, about 39 per cent of the vacancies in constitutional courts remain vacant. Close to three crore cases are languishing in the district courts, and almost 42 lakh cases in the high courts. However, this perilous state of the administration of justice does not seem to hassle the law minister.

But here’s the twist. The person who seems to be ‘terribly concerned’ about judicial appointments is the person whom the finance ministry lists as its minister and the Prime Minister’s Office lists as ‘minister without portfolio’. On 10 June, Arun Jaitley wrote a long post on his Facebook page titled ‘Recollecting an Important Chapter of History – Judicial Appointments’. It was an eminently readable but contestable piece, since Jaitley chose to end it with the following words: “I have written this blog so that my friends in the Congress party get an opportunity to look at the mirror.”

On 24 June, Jaitley wrote another long blog titled ‘The Emergency Revisited’. Part-I of the three-part series was called ‘The circumstances leading to the imposition of Emergency’. As an individual, he is entitled to his opinion on events current and past, and we can only presume that this is not the official position of his government. But wait, is he still not the de-facto finance minister of India? Though convalescing – and I wish him a speedy recovery – he has been video-conferencing with his officers because his replacement Piyush Goyal is ostensibly too petrified to even sit in the finance minister’s chair and is trying to be the quintessential Bharat to a recovering Ram.

Senior advisors are choosing to leave the finance ministry, international financial institutions have flagged the widening current account deficit as unfinanceable, India Inc. is not investing in the Indian economy, high-net-worth individuals are preferring to become Non-Resident Indians, there is deep agrarian distress across India, and job creation is at an abysmal all-time low. Surely, the finance minister can use the period of rest and recuperation to think deeply about these issues, rather than fire Facebook barbs at his political adversaries.

But then, the job of speaking up for the finance ministry seemingly falls under the remit of the defence minister. Recently, the nation saw the strangest spectre of defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman hold forth on the scam involving Nirav Modi, a gentleman who is gallivanting around the globe after ripping off the Indian banking system. Surely, one would expect the finance minister to speak about the case, if not take responsibility.

Incidentally, there has been deafening silence from Sitharaman on every sensitive or major issue pertaining to strategic matters or even higher defence management issues. She chooses not to speak on Jammu & Kashmir, where the attrition rate of the forces in counter-insurgency operations is at an all-time high, or the unremitting shelling on the LoC that has displaced thousands of people.

Even during her “illustrious” tenure as commerce minister, one never heard a policy pronouncement, despite exports and imports being in a free-fall for the better part of over 30 months.

As for the other South/North Block ministers, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has reconciled herself to her Twitter handle and, to her credit, has carved out a niche for herself by helping people in distress, knowing fully well that important foreign policy decisions are made at a level above her pay grade.

That leaves home minister Rajnath Singh. A quintessential gentleman, he realised very early in the game that this is at best going to be a two or two-and-a-half men government, and therefore, has wisely kept his counsel to himself, confining himself to a largely ceremonial role.

The Prime Minister, of course, believes that the only good form of communication is one where he speaks and the world listens. He does not believe in holding press conferences, where what is left of the ‘fourth estate’ may ask him some searching questions.

Welcome to the world of the NDA/BJP, where there is no accountability, and collective responsibility stands redefined.

That is why I had tweeted: “This is indeed a funny government – finance minister writes Facebook posts on legal affairs, law minister holds pressers on defence affairs & the defence minister holds forth on finance affairs. No minister talks about own ministries’ affairs. Collective responsibility redefined!!” 

The author is a lawyer, former union minister of information and broadcasting, and distinguished senior fellow Atlantic Council – Washington DC. His Twitter handle is @manishtewari.

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  1. Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)
    Kudos to you Mr.Tewari for this superb piece !
    But I found your objectivity to be wanting some where ? It is fine to analyse and talk about Mr.Arun Jaitley, Mr.Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ms.Nirmala Sitharaman, how they are discharging their constitutional obligations in the light of oath taken by them ?

    I think it is not fair to blame them.
    Why ?
    Because they are simply following in the footprints of their “role model” and their “commander-in- chief “Mr. Narendra Modi !

    NaMo though has been in the driver’s seat now for more than four years yet addressing election rallies for BJP he forgets
    that he is the Prime Minister. His utterances reflect as if he was speaking as a leader of the opposition !

    NaMo is many in one ! Sometimes he plays the role of Union External Affairs Minister during his foreign tours too though
    the nation has a Foreign Minister in Mrs. Sushma Swaraj . Courtesy NaMo that he makes her task easier and workload light !

    On November 8,2016 he took upon his shoulders the responsibility of Union Finance Minister/ the Governor Reserve Bank of India
    too informing the masses about translating into actuality the DEMONETISATION decision of the government !
    Just a couple of days ago, we saw NaMo in the role of a Yoga Practitioner in Dehradun !

    Lion indeed is the king of the jungle and he can undertake any task or assignment !
    Sir, you did discriminate by forgetting the lion in your discourse !

    Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala (Punjab)

  2. Excellently articulated in a crispy with facts & anecdotes. Another apt heading cud have been ” Minding Others Business”

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