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Can Narendra Modi resist the old guards in the BJP and have a cabinet of his own choice?

Friday, 16 May 2014 - 7:30am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Names doing the rounds in the capital indicate politicians might hijack technocracy and governance agenda. lK Kailashnathan, AK Sharma among many Gujarat bureaucrats who may follow Modi to Delhi

BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was expected to break with tradition and form a cabinet comprising top-notch technocrats, somewhat in the manner of the president of the United States. It appears Modi will not be able to implement his radical idea and implement his motto of “less government, more governance”.

Modi will have to go the traditional way and choose his cabinet members from his senior and prominent party colleagues. He is under tremendous pressure to conform to existing political norms. This is being seen as the first hurdle at which Modi is falling and he is forced to compromise on his idea of governance.

There are extreme interpretations of Modi’s personality. The first is that he is a lone ranger who goes his own way and does things on his own, and not one to offer ministerial positions to friends and loyalists or to leaders of pressure groups.

The other interpretation is that he is a pragmatist who is willing to buy peace and loyalty and not hold on to his cherished beliefs. This would also indicate, say observers, that Modi would be more interested in keeping the BJP and NDA in office and not rock the boat too hard. Modi then will not be too different from AB Vajpayee, who had to use all his political skills and sagacity to keep the 23-party coalition government running for the full term between 1999 and 2004.

Though the BJP and NDA are expected to be more comfortable this time round, Modi will toe the political line.

Modi will not have much freedom even when he has to choose his cabinet from the BJP and other allies. He will have to keep in mind the sensitivities of the senior leaders, apart from LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. It will be quite prickly for Modi to choose his second-in-command in the cabinet.

There are three senior leaders he can consider for this position. The first is Sushma Swaraj, who was the leader of opposition in the last Lok Sabha. She was in effect the “shadow prime minister”.

Then there is Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Jaitley has been the most visible and vocal friend and supporter of Modi-for-PM. Modi may be tempted to reward a friend who is in a position to be an able spin doctor as well.

The third leader in the reckoning for the second position in the cabinet is party president Rajnath Singh. Modi may have to reckon with Singh’s position as the party’s commander-in-chief. These are some of the political dilemmas he will face in the very first few days as prime minister.

The RSS is likely to give Modi a free hand in government formation.

As Modi gears up to take over as prime minister, the buzz doing the rounds in Gandhinagar is that at least half a dozen key bureaucrats in Gujarat are all set to pack their bags, reports our Ahmedabad bureau.

Retired IAS officer K Kailashnathan is believed to be Modi’s point man for any and ‘every job’. A 1979 batch officer, KK, as he is popularly known, currently works in a specially created position – ‘principal chief secretary’ in the CMO.

He was reappointed after retirement last May. Senior bureaucrats say Modi relies on him heavily. “KK is likely to be a semi-political appointment. He could get a key role akin to Ahmed Patel in Modi’s scheme of things,” an official said.

Another key bureaucrat in CMO is 1988 batch AK Sharma, who is currently additional principal secretary. While KK deals with postings, Sharma handles culture, tourism and industries. He is the point man for the SEZs and SIRs of Gujarat and also the the DMIC project.

He is also the key person in Modi’s pet project – the Vibrant Gujarat Summits. “Interestingly, Sharma hails from Azamgarh in UP and may indeed like to go to Delhi,” a source in the CMO said.

Another key bureaucrat in Modi’s team is 1985 batch officer GC Murmu, who may or may not follow him to Delhi. Murmu handles crucial court cases for the CM.

“Murmu and Sharma are, however, very young to hold top positions in Delhi, but may be accommodated in some key ministries if not in the PMO itself,” a source said.

Another key bureaucrat for Modi is 1972 batch retired officer PK Mishra, who has served in the agriculture ministry with Sharad Pawar in UPA I. Mishra was Modi’s principal secretary during 2002 and has kept good equations with Modi in the decade. Buzz of other retired babus D Rajagopalan, PK Sahoo and Varun Maira is also there.

“Modi operates through the bureaucracy. It is easy for the CM to have a finger in every pie in a state machinery, but in Delhi, respective ministries are very powerful. For the PM to seek seemingly innocuous files of ministries is not par for the course. Modi has little tolerance for other power centres,” a source said.


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