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View: Some straws in the wind from the new Cabinet

To prove himself greater than Nehru, Modi has to grab the opportunity Trump is thrusting on the world to recalibrate the global balance of power.

, ET Bureau|
May 31, 2019, 05.26 PM IST
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PTI
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Nirmala Sitharaman’s appointment as the finance minister brings a trained economist to the job.
A remarkable feature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new council of ministers is the conscious attempt to bring in competence, at least where it matters. And to shed liabilities.

S Jaishankar’s induction as external affairs minister is a case in point. Modi clearly aspires to play a larger role on the world stage. There are two reasons for this. As President Trump forces the pace of China declaring itself as a superpower that can and will take on the United States, the rest of the world will increasingly look to India to act as a regional counterweight to China. Having marshalled the diplomatic resources needed to make China blink at Dokalam, once the government summoned the political will to stare down that act of Chinese aggression, Jaishankar can be counted on to help India rise to new global expectations. Provided, of course, the government summons the will to maintain social cohesion, on the one hand, and, on the other, to reorganise the dysfunctional armed forces bureaucracy so as to better utilise scarce resources allocated to defence and build up strategic capacity across the board, including through greater indigenisation of defence manufacture.

The second reason is Modi’s burgeoning aspiration to become a global leader. Jawaharlal Nehru was not just leader of the young Republic of India, but of a sizeable chunk of newly independent ex-colonial countries. Nehru, along with Indonesia’s Sukarno and Egypt’s Nasser, put together the Non-Aligned Movement, which provided the former colonies with some bargaining power they would otherwise not have had in a world that had divided into US-led and Soviet-led camps.

Indira Gandhi’s feat of dismantling Pakistan as a country in which the East was East and the West was West and never the twine would meet, except vicariously on either side of the arch enemy, India, was the result of grabbing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Modi cannot replicate that and the only way to further deconstruct Pakistan is beyond him, that is, for India to spend two decades without any communal incident, so that a generation of Muslims can grow up and prosper in peace and with dignity, disproving the need for a separate homeland for Muslims in a Hindu-majority South Asia, thereby ending the shared hostility that binds Sindhis, Pushtoons and other ethnic minorities together into the Pakistani nation, suffering Punjabi domination.

However, Modi has equalled Indira Gandhi’s feat of securing a majority in two consecutive elections. Now, his goal would be to surpass that, and replicate Nehru’s success in of winning three successive elections securing an absolute majority in each. But to prove himself greater than Nehru, Modi has to grab the opportunity Trump is thrusting on the world to recalibrate the global balance of power.

With long-time lieutenant Amit Shah’s induction as the minister for Home, Rajnath Singh has been kicked upstairs, to gracefully fit into the defence minister’s slot, rather than all the exalted way into the Marg Darshak Mandal.

The new council of ministers has sent some former ministers packing. Maneka Gandhi’s fate was sealed when the PM admonished her conduct, without naming her, of seeking to differentiate between constituents who vote for her and those who do not. By dropping Mahesh Sharma and Jayant Sinha, Modi has deprived his critics of the beef that his ministers garland and otherwise celebrate members of lynch mobs. By dropping Satyapal Singh, who dissed Darwin on the ground that nobody has seen an ape transform into a man, Modi sends out the message that he does not want his ministers to lend any additional obscurantist sheen to his Cabinet. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s omission from the council of ministers possibly underlines his earlier message to MPs to stay humble.

Nirmala Sitharaman’s appointment as the finance minister brings a trained economist to the job. But, hey, where was she trained? At Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU, dubbed as the incubator of tukde-tukde gangs who would seditiously break up the motherland. If you thought this was because Sitharaman is an exception who serves to prove the rule, it turns out that S Jaishankar also claims JNU as his alma mater. If two out of Modi’s 24 cabinet colleagues come from JNU, either the PM has allowed saboteurs into the nation’s inner sanctum or it is time to wind up this campaign of being anti-national against JNU.
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