With Narendra Modi ready to take oath as Prime Minister for the second time, a major challenge before his government is to address the widespread criticism of his previous cabinet over a ‘weak bench strength’ and talent deficit.
ThePrint asks: Will Modi ministry still face talent deficit or is it better placed after 5 years in power?
There is no dearth of talent in BJP, which is evident from our election and governance management
Gopal Krishna Agarwal
National spokesperson, BJP
I don’t agree with the talent deficit claim in the ministry. After five years in power, we are much better placed with more experienced individuals in our party. With more than 300 members of Parliament in Lok Sabha and with 50 from our NDA partners, there is ample talent across the spectrum from different segments of society and geography.
For the purpose of governance, it is important to be connected to the people — Parliament is a platform where people’s wishes have to be accommodated. Government policies have to be reflective of common people’s aspirations. Our team includes individuals with immense experience in political life and the combination of experience with new talent can deliver on the aspirations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are present to guide them.
BJP’s ticket distribution is very scientific and organised. This time, the party had ample space to choose the talent and keep government positions in mind. Winnability was not the only sole criterion.
Young blood, diverse experience and talent were all kept in mind at the time of ticket distribution. PM Modi is very meticulous in selecting his team, as he knows delivering on promises is equally important. He and Amit Shah are doing elaborate exercise to form a comprehensive cabinet.
We are certain that the PM will bring fresh talent and balance it with experienced leaders. There is no dearth of talent in our party and that is quite evident from our election and governance management.
Apart from talent deficit, there is also trust deficit because Modi doesn’t trust his cabinet ministers
Madhu Goud Yaskhi
Senior leader, Congress
Besides the issue of a major talent deficit, the Modi government’s ministers also face a lack of freedom enjoyed by the ministries they represent. No ministry had the necessary freedom and autonomy in the previous term. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would go abroad and conduct various talks with international authorities; but he would not take the foreign minister along. When he signed defense deals, defense minister was not present.
Such incidents were rampant during Modi’s first term; albeit they never happened during Vajpayee’s era, or in any other government. So, I don’t see ministers enjoying any freedom in the Modi government. There is trust deficit; he does not trust any minister.
Moreover, there were multiple allegations against ministers in the Modi government, but they were never held up.
All of these will be even bigger issues this time because of the mandate the BJP got on its own. BJP won 303 seats in the 2019 elections, and so he won’t even feel the need to be accommodative towards the NDA allies.
Modi will be more authoritarian and arrogant, and far less accommodative. Therefore, more than the talent deficit, these are the major issues that the ministries will face in Modi’s second term.
BJP will have to decide priority areas this year and find talent accordingly
Senior fellow & head of research, Pahle India Foundation
India’s 17th Lok Sabha will likely commence from 6 June. There are 267 first-time MPs, of which 131are from the BJP alone. Of these, 22 are from UP, 15 from West Bengal, 12 from MP, 10 from Gujarat, 10 from Maharashtra, 11 from Chhattisgarh, 9 from Karnataka, and 7 from Assam.
The BJP has suffered a setback due to the loss or incapacitation of few ministers since its previous term. The BJP will have to decide which are the priority areas of work for them this year and accordingly find suitable talent.
Veterans and performers, such as Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman and a few more are likely to retain key ministries including cabinet positions. While most believe that Amit Shah will be given a cabinet berth (possibly home ministry), the BJP may find it more difficult to fill the position of party President if Shah were to move into the cabinet. Historically, in the BJP, the party president has never been part of the government.
Even in the past, the BJP has given state-level leader positions in the government on a rotational basis (there were as many as five or six ministers of state for finance last term). This is a good way of scouting talent within the new brass.
Hopefully, this strategy coupled with many new entrants from key states would help the BJP find necessary talent for their new government.
Cabinet positions not about talent, but leadership qualities
Former secretary, government of India
Cabinet positions are not so much about talent in a particular domain but about leadership qualities of a person. It is about being able to create an environment where talented people can function.
The top leadership might not have domain expertise, but at that level of seniority and even at the bureaucratic level, one doesn’t need to be a domain expert.
And, a domain expert may not necessarily do well in a particular ministry position – but a right leader will. As the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a leader par excellence, but he was not the expert in many things. The concerned individual needs to be able to carry the team along to ensure that the vision of the Prime Minister is fulfilled. That is much more important.
The leadership abilities of all ministry holders will depend on how successful they are in creating an enabling work environment for talented individuals to flourish in. To do that, one doesn’t need to be talented in one particular area.
Take the past five years of the Modi government, for instance. Some of the ministers were not domain experts, but they exuded impeccable leadership qualities. For example, one may not think Prakash Javadekar has expertise in the education sector, but he was brilliant as the HRD minister. This is because he knew how to lead his team in a manner that leads to optimal output.
To suggest there might be a talent deficit in world’s largest political party sounds preposterous
Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation and member, BJP
BJP remains the largest political party not only nationally but also globally in terms of membership and magnitude. To suggest that there might be a talent deficit in the world’s largest political party sounds not only preposterous but also abstract.
With more than 300 freshers in the Lok Sabha this year, the leadership will have a huge platter to choose from. Apart from the fresh blood, there will be a lot of veterans like Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Suresh Prabhu and Rajnath Singh, who have time and again proved their mettle as efficient administrators since the days of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The cabinet is anticipated be a blend of old and the new. Besides law and politics, sports, music and commerce have sectoral representation in the House. The council of ministers will reflect experience, vision and imagination.
Moreover, experience from the last five years in hands-on governance gives a clear edge to the party in power. Surgical strikes, GST, International Yoga Day, Housing for All etc requires immense political will apart from skillset and expertise. Modi 2.0 and NDA III will surely not compromise on merit in the council of ministers along with the requisite social and geographical diversity.
Some new faces will likely be inducted and these will be on the basis of loyalty and competence
CEO, Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, and author of ‘Know About RSS’
In politics, ‘loyalty is the key, competency is value addition.’ This dictum is at the core of political systems and power apparatus across the world and Modi government cannot be an exception.
Due to loyalty taking precedence over competency, one often sees talent deficit even when some of the most talented people get elected to power.
Having said that, as far as the Modi government’s second tenure is concerned, some new faces are likely to be part of the council of ministers and they would be inducted on the basis of their loyalty as well as competence.
As far as the issue of talent deficit in the Modi government is concerned, it is time we take a relook at how we define ‘talent’ as well as the administrative structure of the government.
There was no talent deficit in the first term of Modi government. On key issues like infrastructure, power, tax reforms, roads and highways, food inflation, direct benefit transfer, the Modi government was able to deliver substantially due to the ‘talent’ it had in the government and which made it come back to power.
However, the challenge is far bigger now. And given the past track record, Modi should be able to pick up the right kind of people for his ministerial team. Because Indian voter is quite clear about his/her priority: perform or perish.
By Fatima Khan and Triya Gulati.
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