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Modi-Amit Shah govt has a massive HR crisis. Its poor bench strength is showing

Modi-Shah made PM a larger-than-life phenomenon and Shah seem like a never-seen-before strategist. But they failed miserably in grooming any talent.

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The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine may have achieved new heights for the Bharatiya Janata Party electorally, but it has presided over an unbelievable level of mediocrity on all other fronts. The Modi government’s monumental HR crisis is beginning to show.

From a sagging economy to foot-in-the-mouth ministers to an uninspiring cabinet, the BJP government’s bench-strength is abysmal in most parts, and in the remaining, just about average.

The council of ministers, the various bodies and institutions that have been constituted, or the Modi government’s failure to retain any talent — the effects of which are reflected in the sorry state of the economy – are a clear signal. As India awaits a crucial fix-it Budget in February 2020, the swirling speculation about changing Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman shows that there are just no confidence-building names available.

The Modi government has had to grapple with talent-deficit ever since it came to power at the Centre in 2014. It was forced to assign many portfolios, including some key ones, to novices who ended up under-performing or embarrassing the government. Over the years, one would have expected the Modi-Shah regime to get its act together, groom some in the party ranks or, at least, identify and bring experts from outside the BJP-fold.

But not much has changed even as the Modi government is close to completing eight months in its second term. Its constant struggle to find capable names as ministers, and the raging speculation around the induction of banker K.V. Kamath in the finance ministry show the depth of the crisis.

Also read: 5 milestones that will define the Amit Shah era in BJP

Poor bench-strength

In his first term, Modi struggled with governance beyond his top four ministers. There was under-performance all around, with some jarring examples too: Smriti Irani, who was new to governance and the minister of human resource development, ensured there was no work and tonnes of bad press. So did Uma Bharati as the Minister of Water Resources.

Ministers across the spectrum — from rural and agriculture to health and education — failed to impress. But a slew of welfare, pro-rural measures that Modi introduced and was personally invested in kept the government going. The sheen and popularity of these schemes, along with effective ground-level implementation, helped mask a lot of Modi government’s poor performance, inexperience and missteps.

The second term, however, has been different. With development-related policies and welfare schemes on the back seat, the economy in a free fall, and focus entirely on jingoism, the lack of talent has become even more pronounced.

Beyond Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal – and to an extent, Prakash Javadekar and Dharmendra Pradhan – very few ministers in the Modi cabinet can boast of good performance or domain expertise. Former diplomat S. Jaishankar’s induction as External Affairs Minister has been the only relief for this government in its second term.

Modi has an uninspiring, uninspired retinue of ministers, who are more eager to please their masters than understand their respective domains, show initiative, and ensure real performance.

Finance Minister Sitharaman has become the face of everything that is wrong with the Indian economy. Ministers of other crucial portfolios like rural development, agriculture, and health are known more for their absence or public statements.

The bigger issue, however, has been that Modi and Amit Shah have failed to make up for the internal talent crunch by retaining those who came from outside. So, anybody with any domain knowledge – Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, Arvind Panagariya, Urjit Patel, Viral Acharya – chose to walk out of this government; or, put differently, Modi hasn’t quite displayed any ability to appreciate and hold on to talent.

Also read: Lights, camera and action: How Modi govt relies on drama to survive just like Bollywood films

Gaffes galore

It isn’t just poor performance, but also ill-thought-out statements by those in authority that have exposed the issues affecting the Modi-Shah regime.

Consider this latest incident. V.K. Saraswat, a member of the NITI Aayog and one of India’s top scientists, defended the internet ban in Jammu and Kashmir by audaciously claiming that Kashmiris use the internet only to watch “dirty films”. But Saraswat isn’t the only one to have embarrassed the Modi government.

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal may know his work, but his disposition and arrogance should be of concern to the BJP’s top brass. His recent and unnecessarily harsh, juvenile statements against Amazon and Flipkart are a case in point.

But this problem with appointments goes beyond the cabinet. In recent times, JNU vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar’s tenure has brought a significant amount of concern along the Modi government’s way.

Also read: Under Modi-Shah, BJP is back to being the Bharatiya ‘Baniya’ Party

The contradiction 

In the last five-and-a-half years of the Modi government, the BJP’s growing national profile along with its stagnant internal capacity growth has been the most glaring.

Modi and Amit Shah ensured 303 seats for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. They managed to make Modi a larger-than-life phenomenon and succeeded in making Shah seem like a never-seen-before election strategist. The two have been able to make themselves all-powerful. And yet, they have failed miserably in grooming any talent in the government, and, if you look closely, in the party too.

J.P. Nadda isn’t really known as the most charismatic, powerful or popular mass leader. He also doesn’t seem to have an exceptional political brain. And yet, he was appointed the BJP president Monday, at a time when the party isn’t exactly at its best. Perhaps it’s the result of a bench-strength that leaves much to be desired.

Politics is about winning elections. But it is as much about performing once you win the elections. Modi-Shah’s BJP may have excelled in the former, but it has shown frightening levels of mediocrity in the latter. This is quite something for a party that derives its strength from a tentacled body like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — which fancies itself as the world’s biggest talent search company.

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  1. Pathetic article. While Modi-Shah may not have groomed talent, you can hardly offer Raghuram Rajan as “talented”. Leftists and breaking India prestitutes like yourselves have repeated the lie that he and the others mentioned are talented that they now believe it.
    Despite the lack of grooming their has not been the depraved looting that happened under Sonia Gandhi’s UPA ruinous 10 years. India was being controlled by foreign western governments just like

  2. A typical indian jounalist article – biased and without any basis. Seems you expect people to consult you before taking any policy decision and you think that you are the judge whose judgement everyone should be waiting for/ clamoring to be on your right side. Anyway, words are free and you can print anything you want.

  3. This article is too sweepingly judgemental, opinionated. Shekhar Gupta must teach his journalists that free use of adjectives like “juvenile” and “unnecessarily harsh” are not keeping in line with the principles of the profession. I ask Ruhi, who the hell are you to judge what is juvenile or the right amount of harshness? I, for one, believe that Piyush Goyal is absolutely right in calling out Bezos because Washington Post is absolutely motivated against Modi government–as it is against, for instance, Bernie Sanders. It is naive to believe that WaPo or any other publication is fully free of interference from the owners. While the owners may not indeed give daily directions to journalists, there exists a broad ‘framework’ within which they have to operate. And this is common in India too. Would you believe Republic if it says its journalists are under no pressure from the BJP?
    Those who are still not convinced should watch the Tom Hanks-Merryl Streep move, The Post–which, incidentally, is based on an event in the history of Washington Post.
    No corporate-owned newspaper today is fully independent and it would be naive to believe otherwise. Therefore what Piyush Goyal said is not inappropriate. I find nothing “unnecessarily harsh” or “juvenile” about it. If anybody is wrong, it is Ruhi Tewari.

    • Juvenile is a word that can be used for this gentleman, M. Ramesh. I will not use the phrase “unnecessarily harsh” in his context, but a word, “disgusting”. Piyush Goyal and his entire BJP is concerned only, and only – – what the hell, I can use it for a third time, ONLY – – with their vote bank and quite plainly, DONATION BANK, which is the entire trader class. BJP and its leaders have absolutely no regard for the common man for whom the online shopping and its discounts have come as a big boon. BJP has no conscience to sympathize with the Poor common man who is mercilessly squeezed by the lowest rung of traders, the vegetable and grocery sellers. Food inflation was 7% recently, and was 7% in 2014 immediately after Narendra Modi’s victory when the meanest of banias the faithfuls of Modi began rejoicing with rupees 200 for Toor Dal and simplest of vegetables.
      BJP and Modi’s men “appear to be favoring” the common man when they are actually favoring Mr Modi’s PERSONAL FRIEND like Mukesh Ambani (the case of JIO). That company was violating all sorts of norms about discounts, for exaggerated periods of time, which sent other telecos up in arms but Modi’s slaves in DOT or other places sat with deaf ears. Mr Modi’s love for personal friends showed up again in the case of Rafale jets. 30000 crores meant nothing for Mr Modi ; 7000 crores meant nothing for Piyush Goyal in the recent incident of Jeff Bezoz.
      It is disgusting to listen to a self-sure man like this Mr M. Ramesh who is obviously so filled with arrogance that it’s dripping in his language. Peter Henk or Tonk or whoever that man is you are referring to by way of underlining your urbanity mean nothing, Sir. Just have some elementary common sense, and some primeval humanity.

  4. A detailed and well argued article; congratulations to the author. If I could add my two penny worth, the biggest problem with the current BJP is its two top leaders themselves : Modi & Shah. These two have become a liability for their party. It is said, “you cannot see the picture when you are inside the frame”, this proverb could never be more true than it is today in regard to the BJP. Otherwise, there is no reason why this party should appear so talent-less. Modi-Shah are filtering in only yes-men, and in them too, they are killing all initiative by asserting their own views and way of working on everything. We should ponder on this : why didn’t BJP look so talent-less barely twenty years ago in Vajpeyi’s time?

  5. India has loads of talent. The domains of Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella are different, not public affairs, but one cannot imagine that a country which created them cannot produce decent ministers with domain knowledge. The Rajya Sabha was meant to overcome the constraint of bringing in exceptional individuals who lack electoral merit. When ministers are found wanting, their Secretaries have a lot to offer. People should be nurtured and empowered, power and decision making authority need to be delegated. Such a vast designer kitchen needs more Michelin rated chefs, not bawarchis.

  6. You are plain funny. In one article you say Gandhi’s have no alternative….as if they have no parallels… very next article, you bash Modi-Shah for lack of bench strength…..
    You are a family mouth piece.

  7. The two top BJP leaders MoShah won’t like some one more powerful to overshadow them in the same way like Congress Nehru Gandhi. JPN is merely a dummy, the strings are with MoShah in whose strings are in hands RSS. It is RSS which woukd finally take a call who will replace MO now Shah later.

  8. An excellent article. Let us hope Modi inducts meritocracy into the government. There are more than 4 years to go for this government and if the talent deficit persists, the country is likely face immense trouble. May be BJP will be defeated in 2024, but by that time the damage would be already done. Modi to act fast on the corrective course. He owes it to nation.

  9. Once the new finance minister comes in next year I think there will be an improvement

    It’s hard to remove politicians from the ministries they have already been given

  10. We are paying for the post independence culture. Any one in power wanting to find CLEAN , CAPABLE and ELECTABLE people will have the problem of bench strength, knock off one quality out and there will be plenty to choose from. In the electoral politics of this country these three qualities together were never on the premium. CLEAN need not be legally but perceptionaly. Legally they are all clean with exception of Mr. Lalu Yadav. People do look at the lifestyles of the leaders and they also know where the kind of money comes from though not able to prove. To think any other dispensation coming to power will have plenty to choose from with these three qualities is far fetched. At least for next few generations we will have to live with this shortage unless all those under scanner are investigated and acquitted or convicted in quick time.

  11. The article is too clever by half. What about the ministers of Congress and other parties since 1947? How many of them were known for initiative, domain knowledge or performance? Barring the few honorable exceptions, the rest have come, warmed their chairs and disappeared into political oblivion. While I hold no brief for Modi/Shah/BJP, most of the ministers of other parties were selected not because of any talent but for pandering to some socioeconomic constituency or vote bank. All survived their tenure by genuflecting before the party high command. For sheer cussedness, this writer deserves kudos.

  12. Great article, provided you get to choose people to Ministries. Like most journalists, you would be happier with heroes like PC, A Raja, Kapil Sibal and other looters and self-important people rather than hard working, no frills BJP Ministers. Not to mention the tragedy of losing stalwarts like Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parikkar and Sushma Swaraj. This country has to decide if it wants heroes or simpletons.

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