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  Opinion   Columnists  18 Jun 2024  Aakar Patel | Modi 3.0 govt looks much like Modi 2.0: Just like old wine put in a new bottle...

Aakar Patel | Modi 3.0 govt looks much like Modi 2.0: Just like old wine put in a new bottle...

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Jun 18, 2024, 12:55 am IST
Updated : Jun 18, 2024, 12:55 am IST

For the first time in his career, the Prime Minister is leading a minority government

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist Lav)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist Lav)

India’s new government has a new Cabinet which is pretty much like the old Cabinet. The ministers for home, finance, external affairs and defence will be the same. These four are considered the most important by the government, which classifies them as comprising the Cabinet Committee on Security. And so, once again, it will be Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh. Roads and highways will again by managed by Nitin Gadkari, the railways will be run again by Ashwini Vaishnaw, commerce and industry again by Piyush Goyal, law again by Arjun Ram Meghwal.

Even where the portfolios have been shifted, the ministers have been retained and readers will not be unfamiliar with names like Kiren Rijiju, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Giriraj Singh and so on. Some famous names are gone, like Smriti Irani and Rajiv Chandrashekhar, at least for now, but this is because they lost in high-profile electoral contests.

No reason has been given for moving around those ministers who have been retained but shifted, but presumably this has been done to accommodate allies like the Telugu Desam (civil aviation), Janata Dal Secular (steel), Janata Dal United (micro, medium, small industries), LJP (food processing), Shiv Sena (ayurveda and yoga). Or done to bring in former BJP chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh (agriculture) and Manohar Khattar of Haryana (housing).

Overall, it resembles not so much a new Cabinet as one that has undergone a minor reshuffle. In the old days, when most newspapers reported news, this would have been reported “below the fold”, as it were, meaning not on the top half of the newspaper.

The question is: why does 3.0 look like 2.0? The obvious reason is that there is nothing to change because everything is going well. Change is necessary only if there is a need to correct course, and because the BJP won the election, there is no such need.

But defeat, meaning sitting in the Opposition, would have meant no BJP Cabinet at all, so perhaps it is unclear what the middle ground would be in such a line of thinking and what conditions would trigger change. It is unlikely then that “all is well” is the reason. What else could it be? One possibility is that there is weak bench strength, that there are not enough talented individuals in the party to be given the important jobs and the Prime Minister is stuck with the small set that he has.

This is not the likely reason because under this Prime Minister, the PMO functions as a mini-Cabinet and intervenes on critical issues as the defence, finance and external affairs ministries well know.

There is a third possibility -- and that is the reluctance or inability to concede that something has in fact gone wrong. The Prime Minister made a speech in the Lok Sabha on February 5 that has been uploaded on his YouTube channel. As he concludes it, he says the following:

“Mr Speaker, normally I don’t get into the issue of numbers. But I have observed the mindset of the nation. It will certainly take the NDA beyond 400, but it will also definitely (avashya) give the BJP 370 seats.” At this point, the treasury benches are thumped and the chant of “Modi! Modi!” rises. The Prime Minister repeats: “370 seats for the BJP and beyond 400 for the NDA”. The thumping and chanting goes on.

As we now know, this did not happen. The BJP did not get 370, and it did not even get 270. For the first time in his career, the Prime Minister is leading a minority government.

Is this a defeat? If you look at the Opposition and its voters, they are behaving as if they have won. The fact that the new government is shaky and dependent on external support is not lost on them. As Yogendra Yadav has said, the acceptability and prestige that was there in the last decade is gone. The invincibility is gone, and gone forever.

For this very reason, many of the BJP’s supporters and especially the Prime Minister’s following remain despondent. Externally, things have changed. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is again expressing itself on issues concerning the government’s functioning after a decade of silence. The NDA partners are asserting themselves.

It is possible to be blind to this and pretend to carry on as if nothing has happened, but that will not change the reality. The voter has told the Prime Minister that he is less popular than he was in 2019 and less popular than in 2014. The voter has also told him that it is okay with an NDA government but not a BJP one.

To pretend we are still in February is to lie to oneself. There is no question that the performances of key ministries, including finance and perhaps even home, were the reason for the defeat. Carrying on without change is to continue with the damage. But who in the party can tell him that? Not those who are returning to their positions surrounding him. Not those who know they will be punished for speaking the truth.

For those who are opposed to the BJP, this being in denial is not a bad thing because nothing good will come of it as the coming months will show. The world does not change itself to align with one’s delusions.

 

Tags: modi 3.0, prime minister narendra modi, bjp-nda government