Round Two

The cabinet reshuffle heralds a discreet but momentous new phase in the exercise of RSS power

01 August 2016
The strategy behind the cabinet reshuffle is exemplified by the appointment as ministry of human resource development of Prakash Javadekar, a Sangh stalwart known for his quiet efficiency, in place of the grandstanding Smriti Irani.
Press Trust of India / AP

Even before the hype surrounding the recent cabinet reshuffle and expansion had died down, the spin had begun. Gossip in Lutyens’ Delhi played no small part in both, and, as is usual, it got things wrong on most important counts. The reshuffle was not, as it was bandied about, a sign of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo further asserting its control over the government. Rather, it was about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh laying down the law. The new cabinet appointments represent a midterm course correction meant to ensure that the Sangh Parivar’s ends are achieved—and, crucially, that they are achieved quietly.

The three most important changes—the end of Smriti Irani’s reign over the ministry of human resource development, Arun Jaitley losing charge of the ministry of information and broadcasting, and Jayant Sinha’s exit as a minister of state for finance—all point to the same conclusion. These three owed their earlier positions to their proximity to Modi and Shah, and have never been on great terms with the RSS. It is a perversion of logic to believe that Modi and Shah would assert their authority by diminishing the responsibilities of those closest to them.

With each of the three dismissals, the arguments used to posit a Modi-Shah ascendancy made little sense. Smriti Irani, various Lutyens’ commentators claimed, was punished for touting her closeness to Modi and embarrassing the government on various occasions. What this reasoning overlooked was that a word from Modi could have ensured that Irani changed her ways far earlier, and the fact that it did not come indicated that she had his full approval all along. The crucial thing Irani didn’t have, though, was the RSS’s backing. This became clear in the choice of her successor, Prakash Javadekar. An old Sangh favourite, Javadekar chose for his first public engagement in his new role a seminar on the government’s education policy, organised by the Bharat Shikshan Mandal, an RSS-linked outfit.

Hartosh Singh Bal  is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada.

Keywords: Modi BJP Arun Jaitley RSS Sangh Parivar Amit Shah Smriti Irani Cabinet reshuffle Prakash Javadekar Jayant Sinha HRD ministry