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Not just performance — why Modi dropped Prabhu, Maneka, Rathore & other ministers

PM Modi reportedly invited some of the dropped ministers for a pep-talk last week, but they left none the wiser. 

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New Delhi: About seven weeks after ministers of the Narendra Modi administration were sworn in, the ruling BJP is abuzz with speculation about the reasons for dropping some ministers who were part of the government in its first term.

Last week, BJP sources told ThePrint, PM Modi invited some of the dropped ministers for a pep-talk. 

Earlier this month, at a parliamentary party meeting, Modi had reportedly shared with MPs “the secret” to becoming a minister in his government.

According to sources, he had talked about a network that keeps an eye on the activities of all MPs, and how the feedback received plays a key role in the selection of ministers. 

ThePrint spoke to many BJP leaders, including some in the government, to understand whether performance was the sole criterion for the omission of these ministers. “No” was the unanimous answer, with the leaders saying there was no one factor that led PM Modi to select or drop a minister. 

Several factors like caste and social equations, besides electoral compulsions, etc play a part, they added. One’s chemistry with the PM and party president, they said, plays a vital role as well. 

Take for example Giriraj Singh, the Union Minister for Animal Husbandry known for putting the BJP in a tough spot more than once with his unconsidered remarks.

Singh was minister of state (independent charge) for the crucial micro, small & medium enterprises (MSME) portfolio in the first Modi government, and his induction as Cabinet minister was seen as a promotion. 

There are two key reasons behind the Begusarai MP’s “elevation”, the sources said. 

Singh is a Bhumihar, an electorally-significant community in Bihar politics. This is said to have played a role in the BJP’s decision since Bihar will go to the polls next year.

Even so, lack of faith in his efficiency led Modi to move Singh out of MSME, a crucial portfolio amid the controversy on jobs, and hand the charge to Nitin Gadkari, who is seen as a top performer. Similar equations, however, led Radha Mohan Singh, another leader from Bihar, to be dropped altogether. 


Also read: BJP’s ‘cow protection brigade’ gets official stamp in new animal husbandry ministry


Radha Mohan Singh 

Distress in the agriculture sector and the ensuing resentment among farmers are said to be the key factors behind the BJP’s ouster from three Hindi heartland states in December 2018.

As the minister for agriculture, Singh was said to have not done enough to address the crisis or help improve the lot of farmers. Sources told ThePrint that non-performance was probably the main reason behind his exclusion. 

Singh, the sources said, had been under the scanner for a while, which is why every shuffle triggered speculation that he would be replaced, though he eventually managed to ride out the entire first term (more on this later).

In fact, it was doubts about his mettle that led Modi to induct Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a farmer leader from Rajasthan who is being promoted by Amit Shah as a parallel power centre to former CM Vasundhara Raje, as an MoS in the ministry in 2017. 

Singh was also accused of favouring Andhra-based Nagarjuna Chemicals for a contract pertaining to soil-testing kits, but he has vehemently refuted these allegations. 

Sushma Swaraj

Before the 2019 elections, Arun Jaitley had made it clear that he will be staying out of the new Cabinet owing to health concerns. But his Cabinet colleague Sushma Swaraj, who also underwent a renal transplant during her ministerial tenure, made no such announcement, though she did opt out of the election race.

According to a senior BJP leader, the induction of senior BJP leaders was “kind of a political compulsion” for PM Modi in his first tenure. With the resounding majority he secured for his second term, there was no such pressure on Modi, and he pressed ahead with his desire to give fresh faces a chance. Since there was no vacancy in the top four portfolios (home, defence, finance, and external affairs), the leader said, Swaraj’s graceful departure was a necessity. 

Suresh Prabhu 

A former Shiv Sena member, Suresh Prabhu was inducted into the 2014 Modi Cabinet as part of the BJP quota, despite its Maharashtra ally’s objections, with important portfolios (first railways, then commerce). 

However, now that the Shiv Sena and the BJP are friends again to avoid the fractured verdict thrown up in the 2014 Maharashtra assembly election, Prabhu is said to have been sacrificed in the larger interest, at the behest of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. 

Prabhu resigned as railway minister in light of two major accidents on his watch, but remains in the good books of PM Modi. As a result, he served as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sherpa — a personal representative of a head of state who prepares ground for him or her at international summits — for the G20 Summit last month. 

Maneka Gandhi

Her exclusion was Shah’s call, as the BJP chief doesn’t think she and her son Varun complement his style of functioning. Her reluctance to junk the so-called halo of the Gandhi dynasty and her unavailability for the organisation sealed her fate, said the sources.

A BJP member close to Shah said he only wanted those UP leaders at the Centre who fit into the state’s complex caste equations and played a role in its stellar performance — BJP won 64 of 80 seats — despite the challenge posed by the SP-BSP coalition. 

According to the BJP leader, the induction of Mahendra Nath Pandey, a Brahmin, left no room in the Cabinet for the appointment of another party member from the state.


Also read: New Modi govt — Amit Shah, Jaishankar in, Sushma, Maneka & Rathore out


Jayant Sinha

Performance-wise, Jayant did not have a poor track record, with the successful implementation of the UDAN regional connectivity scheme under his belt. 

According to a source, it was the same family ties that got him a ministry in the first Modi government that got him excluded from the second.

Hazaribagh MP Jayant is the son of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, a senior politician who quit the BJP with a no-holds-barred attack on the way it was being run by Modi and Shah. 

Community considerations also played a role. Jharkhand is set to go to polls next year, and the BJP thought it wise to pick a tribal, Arjun Munda, as the Jharkhand representative in the council.

Uma Bharti 

As a minister, Uma’s track record was not commendable, and her omission on the basis of poor performance was already foretold. The seasoned politician that she is, she announced before the elections that she would not contest.

Rajyavardhan Rathore

Rathore was perhaps the most shocking exclusion from Modi’s new Cabinet.

However, according to a senior BJP leader, it might be possible that PM Modi and Amit Shah are holding him back for an even bigger responsibility. 

Organisational elections of the Rajasthan BJP are due and Rathore might emerge as the central leadership’s first choice as state chief. 

Manoj Sinha

Sinha exited the ministerial race when he lost his Lok Sabha seat. 

Anant Hegde

PM Modi preferred to fill up the Karnataka quota by inducting the humble Pralhad Joshi in place of the hot-headed Hegde.

Ram Kripal Yadav 

He lost a spot in the government because Modi and Shah chose Bihar BJP chief Nityanand Rai, on the recommendation of the party’s Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav, and because of the BJP’s stellar performance in the state on his watch. 

Both Ram Kripal and Nityanand are strong leaders from the Yadav community, but being close to Bhupendra Yadav gave Rai an edge. 

S.S. Ahluwalia and Vijay Goel

Both were dropped on account of poor performance, said the sources. 

Mahesh Sharma

An allegedly “overzealous interest” in the construction of the Jewar airport—which also spawned a complaint to the PMO—and claims that he was lobbying for a specific firm to get the contract caused him to fall out of favour with Modi and Shah. 

Avoiding controversy

An overall look at these accounts, pieced together through conversations with BJP leaders, as well as the Modi Cabinet’s constitution suggests that performance is the most important criterion, but far from the only one. 

Several non-performing ministers are still there, reportedly on account of caste considerations alone — Santosh Gangwar, Shripad Naik, Faggan Singh Kulaste, Krishan Pal, Ramdas Athawale, Sanjeev Balyan for example. 

Controversial figures like Anant Hegde and Maneka Gandhi have been left out as well, with Giriraj Singh being the sole exception. 

Another important factor is that external pressure over a minister’s image carries no weight with Modi — Former junior external affairs minister M.J. Akbar, who resigned amid sexual harassment charges, is the only one Modi has dropped under pressure. 

One factor that stands out in Modi’s assessment is that ministers’ exit should not trigger a controversy. Radha Mohan Singh did not become a non-performer overnight, but Modi waited until the right opportunity to axe him, as he did with Mahesh Sharma and Jayant Sinha. 

As a result of this secrecy, ministers in the Modi government are clueless about their performance until they are finally dropped one day.     


Also read:  When PM told BJP MPs the secret to becoming a minister in Narendra Modi cabinet


 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Sadly, even after 7 decades of Independence, caste and quotas, not merit/capability continues to be the criterion for selection in our country

  2. The analysis seems to be convincing enough. I know at least one minister from my state, Karnataka (from a personal encounter during my career as an officer, who has been dropped) to be a hot head with a tendency to make threatening gestures to officers if they cross him in any manner.

  3. Nice imagination. For every writer they need some story to cook. One need to understand that same people need not continue and also that every elected member cannot be included in cabinet or made as minister in some capacity. We have seen Congress. Old guards have never given young people opportunity and that showed the party’s state of affairs today.

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