Aditya Sinha: Ministries of utmost incompetence

Apr 09, 2018, 06:20 IST | Aditya Sinha

It has been clear from the start that Modi's cabinet is filled with talentless wonders; nonetheless, he has to enact a reshuffle

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pic/AFP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pic/AFP 

Aditya SinhaFinance Minister Arun Jaitley is out of action for the next few months. He needs a kidney transplant and will need to recuperate without having to worry about work. His job is critical because every governmental decision has financial implications. It is his bureaucracy's job to disburse funds through the necessary rules and orders; as it is, his ministry hasn't been doing a good job of it going by the amount of unutilised funds.

It isn't the babus' fault - there's not much they can do if their political masters announce a health insurance plan for 10 crore families without providing any details, for instance. Even if the bureaucrat is a bright spark and comes up with options of how they will fund it without allowing private healthcare to exploit the plan for its own profit, then he needs a political master to choose the option. Jaitley will not be able to apply his mind to these and many other things in the coming future. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, therefore, needs a new finance minister.

He also needs a new information and broadcasting minister. Smriti Irani is an unparalleled disaster if you go just by last week's attempt to regulate accreditation of correspondents who are deemed guilty of manufacturing or disseminating fake news. It caused an uproar for its transparently cynical attempt to further control the news. Not that the news needs much control these days – the electronic media is completely slavish to the government and the ruling party's ideological prejudices.

If there is an embarrassing expose of BJP chief Amit Shah's son's puzzling jump in income, the media starts discussing Congress president Rahul Gandhi's latest tweet (for some reason, his tweets, despite their civility compared to pre-2014 Modi's tweets, are judged as the barometer of his political suitability). And if question after question emerges into the alleged cover-up of the death of Judge BH Loya, who died while hearing the case in which Shah was a conspirator, newspapers quickly look the other way, lest they catch the plague of truth-telling and fact-checking.

Modi rescinded Irani's order. To some it would appear staged – that Modi intends to bring in some order or legislation at some point to combat fake news, and that his was just a trial balloon to gauge the opposition, so that it can be managed accordingly.

Don't be fooled with having the Press Council or the press accreditation bureau or the broadcasters' regulatory bodies be the ones to judge the cases of those guilty of proliferating fake news, or that they will give a veneer of fairness or independence to this exercise. Modi does not have a democratic bone in his body. Regulating so-called fake news is but a step away from the burning down of the Reichstag.

However, if we were to go by the events themselves and not read into the meaning behind them, then Irani committed a serious blunder and should be replaced. Modi would need a new I&B minister. Then there is railways minister Piyush Goyal and his links to a defaulting private firm, for which the Congress party demanded his resignation. Briefly, Goyal was chairman of Shirdi Industries during 2008-2010, during which time it got a R258 crore loan from a consortium of banks led by the Union Bank of India.

The company's sister concern lent a few crores to a company headed by Goyal's wife Seema. And to top it all, the banks were persuaded to take a haircut of most of the loan amount. "A loot of public money," is how Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad described it.

It isn't just that the Prime Minister had promised "na khaoonga, na khaane doonga", but also Goyal has been a dud of a minister despite all and sundry touting him as some sort of wunderkind. The banking system has the largest amount of non-performing assets (NPAs), but the second largest is in the power sector and this happened while Goyal was the power minister.

As a result, India has overcapacity in power, but the power companies are unable to collect past dues and debts, and is thus sinking further in debt. For impropriety and incompetence, Goyal ought to go. That would leave another Cabinet vacancy.

It has been clear from the start that Modi's cabinet is filled with talentless wonders - and he prefers it that way. The people in the BJP who could have contributed ideas and experience to governance are all sulking on the sidelines. Modi nonetheless has to enact a cabinet reshuffle, even a minor one. But how can he, worried as he is about the Dalit backlash against his party, and the tough fight he has to join, sooner or later, in Karnataka? Modi must learn that sometimes jumlas are no substitute for actual governance.

Aditya Sinha's new book will be out in May. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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