November 16, 2014

CABINET RESHUFFLE: Wither `Minimum Government – Maximum Governance’

WITHIN six months of assuming office, the Modi government has been expanded with the induction of 21 new ministers in the council of ministers. This takes the total strength of the cabinet to 66. Of these, two are not members of either house of the parliament at the moment. Our constitution provides that such persons can hold office for a maximum period of six months before which they will have to be elected to either house. Given this trend, as the government has another four and a half years before the scheduled next general elections, further expansions of the cabinet cannot be ruled out. During the election campaign, Narendra Modi and the RSS/BJP conducted a virulent campaign against the large size of the UPA-2 government. At its peak, the UPA-2 government had 79 members of the union cabinet which reduced to 77 when they demitted office. This UPA-2 government, apart from the Congress party, had ministers from at least five of the Congress allies. The current expansion has just one TDP minister, rest belong to the BJP. With the BJP refusing to accept the Shiv Sena as a coalition partner despite its minority in the Maharashtra assembly, a leading Shiv Sainik, who served as a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government has been inducted after he resigned from the Shiv Sena and “electronically” joined the BJP minutes before he was sworn-in! Despite the fact that this Modi government has already come close to the constitutional limit of 83 (10 percent of the combined strength of both houses of parliament), the faithful `cheer leaders’ of the Modi government in the corporate media have hailed this expansion as Modi living up to his electoral promise of “minimum government and maximum governance”! Amongst the various laudatory newspaper headlines, one was very objectionable, if not downright obnoxious. It said, “PM balances caste, merit”. The not too subtle message is that caste and merit cannot coexist – a typical RSS/BJP refrain. It is a downright insult and a virtual negation of our constitution where the equality of all, “irrespective of caste, creed or sex” remains a sacrosanct foundation. It is under this very constitution that the council of ministers take their oath and are, thus, sworn in as ministers. All through the election campaign, the country and the people were repeatedly promised that the Modi government would be small in size but more efficient than any other government hitherto. Further, this slogan was popularly conveyed to mean the total absence, if not the bare minimum, of the influence of money power, muscle power and the upholding of the secular democratic constitutional foundations of our republic. The analysis of a recent survey conducted by the National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) reveals that such hopes roused in the people by the Modi campaign stand totally betrayed. Analysing the self-sworn affidavits of 64 out of the 66 ministers (two are not yet MPs), it was found that 20 (31 percent) have declared criminal cases against themselves. Shockingly, eight (38 percent) of the newly inducted ministers have also done so. Of these, four have declared serious criminal cases, raising the total to 11 in the whole cabinet, relating to attempt of murder, disturbing communal harmony, electoral violations etc. Two of these have declared cases under IPC Section 307 – attempt to murder and two declared cases under Section 153A (doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony). One more is the infamous case of Giriraj Singh, MP from Nawada constituency, Bihar, who allegedly played a leading role in the infamous Ranveer Sena that conducted many a murderous attacks on the dalits in the past and who during the recent election campaign obnoxiously declared that there was no place in India for those opposing Modi and, therefore, they must be sent to Pakistan. He never retracted from this reprehensible statement. Instead, he repeated it more emphatically. The Modi government, instead of reprimanding and disciplining such a person (if it has even a pretense of upholding our constitutionally guaranteed rights), has rewarded him with the ministry for micro, small and medium enterprises! So much for the two of the three elements, which according to the RSS/BJP’s own definition, constitute good governance. As far as money power is concerned, out of the 64 ministers’ self-sworn affidavits, 59 (a whopping 92 percent) are crorepatis. The per capita average declared assets per minister is Rs 14.25 crores. The average declared assets of the newly inducted ministers is even higher at Rs 18.48 crores! Seven ministers have declared total assets worth more than Rs 30 crores, some running into hundreds of crores! A person who allegedly was instrumental in ejecting an honest vigilance officer in the country’s premier medical institution and hospital – the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) – has replaced the incumbent medical doctor as the union health minister! Apart from belying its own promises to the people on the score of `good governance’, such domination of money power in the cabinet raises many a question mark over the Modi government’s repeated claims to unearth `every paise’ of the black money illegally stashed away in foreign banks. This is not to suggest that every crorepati has earned his/her wealth through corrupt and dubious means and stashed away the country’s wealth abroad. But the current vacillation shown by the Modi government before the Supreme Court on the issue of the recovery of black money, discussed in these columns earlier, raises serious apprehensions about its sincerity in living up to its own poll promise on this count. With an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections in the two most populous and politically important states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Modi government has inducted four from UP and three from Bihar – one-third of the 21 new ministers. Such brazen efforts at `social engineering’ and sharpening communal polarisation speak volumes about the character of this RSS/BJP Modi government. Thus, as far as the people are concerned, this Modi government is simultaneously pursuing the policies of economic reforms imposing greater burdens on the vast majority of our people and sharpening communal polarisation heaping greater miseries on vast majority of our people while betraying its promise of “minimum government – maximum governance”. Such a trajectory, becoming all the more clearer by the day, imposes greater burdens on the people while posing a greater danger to the unity and integrity of the vast diverse social order in our country. This needs to be resisted through larger and more powerful popular people’s struggles and movements. (November 12, 2014)