For a supposedly strong, no-nonsense guy, with a streak of ruthlessness in him — a necessary accoutrement of any successful politician, incidentally — Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems infected by Manmohan-itis. His indecisiveness is a revelation and harks back to when his predecessor occupied 7, Race Course Road, and constantly looked over his shoulder to see the signals from Sonia G at 10 Janpath. Except, the PM is the puppet-master and has no need to seek external guidance or direction. It is surprising that he did not at the first hint of trouble with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje, and HRD minister Smriti Irani immediately dismiss all the three with no promises about these ladies being hoisted back into their old posts, but a definite warning that they’d have to be declared clean by the courts before they had a chance at political revival. The
(mis)deeds of these three ladies was surely known to the PM — through intelligence and police reports — before they were appointed (and Raje before she was permitted to lead the BJP at the hustings in Rajasthan). Or, is there no vetting by law enforcement/police agencies before potential appointees are announced for high political positions, no scrutiny of precisely the kind of malfeasance and ethical shortfalls that can quickly turn government claims of incorruptibility and high values to dust?
Even so, what prevented the PM from acting promptly to preempt the cloudburst of corrupt behavior? He could have called Raje over, instructed her to resign on the pain of the IB, RAW, and the Enforcement Directorate digging full throttle into her past to unearth God knows what! After all, the Scindias are a canny erstwhile royal family that ensured it was on the right side of whatever dispensation was in power with a neat division of political loyalty between the left-of-centre Congress party and the right-of-centre Bharatiya Janata Party to ensure the Family interests are preserved and protected. One can imagine in the process a dumpster-load of skeletons that could be unearthed to write finis to Raje’s career and her extended “royal” family for good. Besides, after the sidelining of LK Advani — a sore loser if there’s one –she has insubstantial support within the ruling party.
Likewise, Sushma Swaraj — another of Advani’s protégés — could have been dumped without compunction. It is a bit incomprehensible that she has been a BJP fixture for so long, considering she actively opposed Narendra Modi’s ascent and contested for the PM’s post without having anything like comparable popular support. For an outsider with no IOUs in Delhi, the reasons Modi included her in his cabinet remain a bit of mystery. It is not as if Narendra Modi needed to install a cabinet of rivals — as he had no opposition within the party, and still doesn’t. She could have likewise been told, at the first hint of trouble, to stand down, and seek to clear the charges of ethical wrongdoing by going to the Court.
And then there’s the serpent, Lalit Modi, who has tempted these two matronly Eves into flagrant indiscretions. Sure, as finance minister Arun Jaitley has hinted, the govt is going to go after him, let the ED loose on him, and he is bound to be corralled. But the former IPL boss has already warned he has ammunition that can fell Jaitley as well, who as head of the Delhi cricket board or whatever it is called, has to worry.
A more niggling problem for the PM with his namesake is their shared moniker — MODI. In a country where Indira exploited her Gandhi surname and was believed by masses of voters to be some relation of the Mahatma which misperception, in the early part of her political career she did nothing to upend, the name sticks and can hurt or benefit. Lalit Modi’s legal troubles here and abroad will no doubt be sought by opposition parties to be propagated as related in some central way to the Gujarati Modi and PM. It’ll be damned difficult for Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo to work their out of this perceptional mess at election time.
Smriti Irani — she is a comely, gritty-gutsy political infighter, for sure. But handing her the HRD ministry was like giving a child a box of matches and placing it near a powder keg, and hoping she won’t blow up the house! Plainly, bright though she may be, she simply does not have the intellect — a capacity for facile eloquence in English and Hindi is surely not the only qualification for a minister tasked with turning the unleavened demographic mass into gold, as driver of the country’s future. She lacks the intellectual width, depth, and heft and it is doubtful she even understands the import of educational arcana such as the importance of independent functioning of the IITs and IIMs, which she means to chain down with God-awful govt regulations, transforming them into another genus of non-functioning agencies. But the PM has a soft corner for her fighting qualities and her readiness to take-on the Gandhi family in Amethi and elsewhere. She nevertheless has to clear her name — her “Yale degree” notwithstanding! Here again, the PM failed by not instantly distancing her from his govt.
Irani is, like Raje and Swaraj, a millstone round the PM’s neck, making the life of this govt more difficult than it needs to be. The coming Monsoon session of Parliament threatens to be only the curtain-raiser. So the question is: Why would Narendra Modi want to endanger the credibility and respect the BJP govt continues to enjoy merely to provide political cover for a bunch of ladies who have proved too clever by half and had their comeuppance coming.