The recent ministerial reshuffle (Nov 9) by Prime Minister NarendraModi has again reinforced existing stereotypes which demand appointment of a Muslim as a Minority Affairs Minister or of a Dalit as a Minister for Social Justice or a tribal as the Tribal Affairs Minister.
The Minority Affairs Ministry now has Najma Heptullah as cabinet minister and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi as minister of state. Vijay Sampla has been appointed minister for Social Justice while Tribal Affairs has got Jual Or am as its head. These ministries are in no way insignificant nor can it be said that the incumbents were chosen just because they belonged to a certain religion, caste or tribe. However, the appointments definitely stereotype the appointees in a certain way.
Was Mr Naqvi only fit to be minister of state minority affairs? Was he considered being say, Minister of state for key ministries like defence or home? (Asking for a cabinet rank might be too much of a shocker right now!) or can Jual Or am not be health or education minister or Vijay Sampla be minister for labour or urban development? Did they lack the required experience or were not considered to be meritorious enough? Then why has singer Babul Supriyo been chosen as the minister of state urban development? What is his experience and merit?
The fact remains that ministerial appointments do not necessarily happen on the basis of experience, merit or ability to run the ministry efficiently – which should actually have been the primary consideration. Rather, they reflect the political agenda of the ruling party in relation to different states, communities and castes that sadly dictate governance in India today. The able functioning of ministries take a back seat to these considerations and that is why we hear the common refrain that nothing really changes. Vijay Sampla has been inducted into the ministry not because he is efficient – in that case he could have been given any ministry to run – but just so that the BJP can generate interests amongst the 32% dalit voters in Punjab in the next elections. Babul Supriyo is going to be the aggressive face of the BJP, now spreading tentacles in West Bengal, ahead of the Assembly elections in the state. That is why he became a minister on his maiden foray into politics even though there are several in the BJP who have been in the party for much longer and have greater political and governance experience.
Why was Dr Harsvardhan removed from his post as Minister for Health? Was he incompetent? And if he was then how? Or was he removed because he demanded an overhaul of the Indian Medical Council or because he dared to take on the powerful tobacco lobby in the country or because his party wants him spot on for the forthcoming polls in Delhi? These questions arise in the minds of the citizens but despite the entire government and the Prime minister being overtly active on social media, radio and television, such questions are never asked nor answered under a tacit understanding amongst a group of individuals, including media personnel, running the whole show.
India has had Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as Home Minister in the V P Singh government, George Fernandes as Defence Minister in the NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee and A K Antony as Defence Minister in the UPA government under Manmohan Singh. India has never had a Muslim or Christian prime minister but we did have a Sikh prime minister and a woman prime minister. There is scope for those perceived to be minorities to reach the higher echelons in political, provided the reasons are right. How many ministers, including those mentioned here, were appointed because they were able and talented to run the said ministry and how many were appointed because their appointment sends a specific message to just one particular state, caste or religion in this vast country with a population of 1.25 billion or meets a particular political agenda or vested political interest?
Take the curious case of the appointment of Mr Giriraj Singh a minister of state for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise. During the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, when Mr Singh was spewing venom against minorities and even asking Modi critics to “go to Pakistan”, the then prime ministerial candidate Modi had categorically stated to the entire India population – “Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP’s well-wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development & good governance…I disapprove any such irresponsible statement & appeal to those making them to kindly refrain from doing so.”Modi had also come out strongly against corruption. Rupees one crore in cash was recovered from the thieves who had robbed Mr Giriraj Singh’s house in Patna. But now, the same Mr Singh, who has surely failed on Mr Modi’sproclaimed scale of values, has been inducted into the government. The agenda here is Bihar – where the BJP is looking to dislodge Nitish Kumar. After the recent expansion, the Centre has 9 ministers from Bihar. Even more curious is the incident of Suresh Prabhu ditching the Shiv Sena and joining the BJP just minutes before being including in the expanded ministry.
Babul Supriyo, now, and other ministers before him, have on immediately being appointed made clear time and again how their first priority will be projects related to their ministries in their home state. In Supriyo’s case it is Bengal. We have had railway ministers like Mamata Banerjee to Lalu Prasad Yadav who have used their ministries unabashedly to consolidate only their positions in their home states. Look at health, education, urban development – all ministers across ministries allocate projects on a priority basis to their constituencies or home states irrespective of the need factor. India is our country, we are all Indians, we are ministers of the Indian state with equal responsibility for the entire country – goes for a toss openly, blatantly and unquestionably. No one seems to find it unacceptable when a prime minister, central ministers, chief ministers, state ministers say their first priority is their state or constituency when they have just sworn themselves in to serve the entire nation as a whole. Divisiveness has pervaded not just politics but also governance and that is why in this country the divides – religious, caste-based, urban-rural, rich-poor – are increasing unchecked. There is no one to talk about and care for this country as one whole nation to which everyone belongs and where everyone has equal rights and entitlements.
The most unfortunate thing is that everyone, including the media and citizens of this democracy, is aware of the priorities which come into play when ministerial berths are allocated. They all know that running the said ministry effectively and efficiently lies at the bottom of the priority chart. But this process continues with government after government with impunity and will continue to do so unless the people themselves start demanding efficiency as one nation – from themselves, from their politicians and from their government, cutting across petty vested interests.