PM’s strength in keeping decisions secret

Author: 
Harihar Swarup

It is a mark of strength in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s functioning that nothing ever gets leaked unless deliberately done. This is amply reflected in recent expansion of the Union Council of Ministers. For days before the expansion and reshuffle, the TV channels and news papers ran extensively speculative stories of what is going to happen but almost all of them went wrong. With one possible exception (the inclusion of former Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh), nearly every prediction went off the mark.
Even after new ministers were sworn-in, journalists made fools of themselves by forecasting that there will be no new Defense Minister and Arun Jaitey would keep the portfolio.  There was not one report that predicted that Nirmala Sitharaman would be elevated and allocated the key portfolio of Defense. She is a newcomer and first time MP and a comparatively junior minister. She may be competent and efficient but not senior enough to become the Defense minister. 
Media went to the extent of speculating that Arun Jaitley’s stars were on decline and that he might even loose the Finance portfolio. In fact, he emerged stronger than ever. Also there was speculation that such non-performers as Radha Mohan Singh would be dropped but he survived. Also there were stories that poll bound Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat would get greater representation. They have not. 
Nobody predicted that Smriti Irani would be made HRD minister, even though, later she was divested of this portfolio and shifted to Textile. Her sudden return to prominence was surprising.
This is true of the states also. One reason why the BJP avoided naming a chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh before the election was because Modi had Yogi Adityanath in mind. And hardly anyone guessed what he was up to.
So it has been with many of the Prime Minister’s other initiatives. Who knew that he was flying to Pakistan to wish Nawaz Sharif on his birthday? Even as massive an enterprise as demonetization was kept secret till the moment Modi announced his decision on TV.
Disappointed journalists have made in the point---in the aftermath of their speculative stories going wrong—that neither Modi nor Amit Shah confide in the press. This is indisputable. But, to focus on Modi-Shah duo’s allergy to the media is to miss big picture.
But some people must have known. Many of those being elevated were consulted. Modi’s bureaucrats, who apparently prepared performance reports about his ministers, must have some idea of what is going to happen. But never did a word slip.
Similarly, the Foreign office knew about Prime Minister’s surprise visit to Pakistan. Various bureaucrats, the Reserve Bank officials and those at the mint knew about demonetization. But no hint got out -- even to the cabinet.
No Prime Minister has been as much of a secretive loner as Modi. He is often compared to Indira Gandhi but she had a kitchen cabinet and then, a full-fledged court. If you were close to first, P N Haksar and later R K Dhavan, you would know what was coming. Modi has no kitchen cabinet, no high-profile advisors, no courtier, no cronies.
As far reshuffle itself, it follows none of patterns predicted by political analysts. It was understood that the RSS would play a key role but while some RSS favourites have been included, this is not an expansion that benefits so called cow protectors.
So, is there an overarching pattern in the reshuffle? Well, it confirms two things. One: Modi won’t give in to pressure. So, despite a charge-sheet, Uma Bharati stays. Suggestions that M L Khattar would be removed as Haryana CM and given a face saving Cabinet portfolio after Ram-Rahim fiasco, have also proved wrong.
Modi’s liking for bureaucrats is well known. So, there’s a lot of them in the ministry, though not necessarily in the areas where they have any expertise. Hardeep Puri was one of ablest diplomats but he has been given Urban Development. Nor it is clear why K J Alphons should get tourism and R K Singh allocated power.
Weak governments leak all the time. During UPA-II, everybody, from Prime Minister’s office to Comptroller and Auditor General to the junior minister leaked. It is a mark of strength of the Modi government that nothing ever gets out -- unless he wants to.
There is always an internal logic to Modi’s moves. The trouble is: we can’t predict these moves and the logic is something that only he understands. (IPA)

Thursday, 21 September, 2017