NEW CABINET … Will experts get a chance? Big question as new team is in the making

Top technocrat and incorruptible …E Sreedharan 


NEW DELHI/TVM: While hectic consultations are on between PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, what is eagerly looked at is also who will get what this time. No hint could come from the two leaders, and confidentiality about their discussions cannot be breached. Different from speculations so far, Shah might continue as party chief for some more time, as no suitable name matching his strengths could be identified in the party.

Shah was a storehouse of energy and could get things done fast and effectively also because of his closeness with PM Modi. The two worked like nut and bolt. What Modi wanted, Shah implemented with his own pushy style. The team-up made all the big difference.

What the Modi government did not have in the first innings was lack of talent. Rajnath Singh did a good job as Home minister. He was cut for it. So did Nitin Gadkari as highways minister, but there was lack of transparency about the way he went about doing things. His past was not blemishless when it came to financial matters. Added to this was his perceived attempts at manoeuvring the PM post to his advantage if the BJP failed to get a majority on its own this time. Such hopes were dashed by now, though. 

The health of both Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj is not very good and it remains to be seen whether they will be back in the ministry. Swaraj had not contested the polls but is willing to step in for a second term. She maintained good equations with PM Modi, though initially there were some misgivings about her closeness to the old guard in the party. 

When it comes to sourcing talent from outside, like what Narasimha Rao did in bringing in Manmohan Singh as finance minister, no word is heard yet. 

Finance ministry needs a strong hand. Subramanian Swamy is an economist first and politician next, but he has a habit of shooting from the hip. He comes up with strong views, which might not be acceptable to others. There is a deficit of discipline, and he’s a one-man army, but Modi with his stronger leadership clout now should be able to manage the likes of him with ease. In the past, India had suffered those like Yashwant Sinha as finance minister much to the disadvantage of the nation. He was a former civil service officer who joined the JP movement and then got prominent place in the Janata Party and thereafter with BJP too. 

Railways is one field which is practically rudderless for a long time. Those like Mamata Banerjee at its helm under the UPA took the future of Railways backward by several years. She neither had the instinct nor the interest to run the ministry of such a huge size, which called for concentrated attention. She did some good for Howrah station, though. 

The best bet for the Railways could be a no-nonsense, efficient technocrat like E Sreedharan. Age might not be to his side, though. He is 86 years old, but knows the ins and outs of Railways best. No one can bluff him or pressurize him. Talent is what should matter most, not constraints of age alone. The presence of someone like Sreedeharan will raise the overall clout of the new Modi ministry.

Railways is India’s largest passenger carrier, with millions of employees and huge stakes. The Railway Board is packed with undesirable men, and corruption is at its height. Even railway union leaders are hand in glove with officials at various levels to share the booty. The rackets must stop. The first term of Modi did not mean much for the Railways though expectations were high.

The frequent shuffling of ministers proved to be a problem in itself during  the first Modi term. The Railways started with Sadananda Gowda, then he was moved out. In came Suresh Prabhu, who was hailed by sections of the media as a genius. From the looks of it, he neither showed initiative nor enterprise. Many a time, it was not clear who headed the ministry. 

The first Modi ministry had done away with the separate Railway Budget Integrating it with the Union Budget did not help much. It added to a lot of confusion and drag. 

A problem Modi faced was also to find incorruptible hands. Most senior officials with the Railways, starting with commercial superintendents at railway stations, are highly corrupt and are believed minting a lot of money. The railways faced funds crunch as there was massive loot on one side and lack of budgetary resources on the other. Freight services were money spinning proportions but private entities came upfront, hurting the railways. Those at the helm encouraged such a trend and made money for themselves. 

Populists like Mamata Banejree stood in the way of raising rail passenger fare. The Modi government has yet managed to raise it through charging more for AC reservations etc. There, though, was no reasonable hike. The recent years saw part privatization of railway services, like the role given to the Ambanis to put in place and run the Mumbai Metro system. 

Another area that requires concentrated attention is Defence. Who will take charge this time is eagerly awaited. Shah might not get this ministry, anyway.

Overall, when PM Modi selects his new team, expectations are that he will draw in talent and those with a clean image. They are few, but need be identified and encouraged. –IHN-NN


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