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Sitharaman appointment a snub to senior ministers

Thursday, September 07, 2017
By Arati R. Jerath

Was the allocation of the heavyweight defence portfolio to the relatively junior Nirmala Sitharaman a snub from Narendra Modi to his senior ministers?
According to the buzz in BJP circles, Modi is annoyed with some of the senior leaders in his cabinet because they refused to accept a change in their portfolios despite being asked to shift.

At least two senior ministers are believed to have said no to the defence portfolio while a third is supposed to have rejected a move to the railways ministry. They must have had their reasons but Modi must have seen it as a sign of unacceptable recalcitrance.

Sitharaman was a last minute decision. And by giving such a huge leg-up to someone who was just a minister of state with independent charge till the rejig, BJP circles feel that Modi has sent a warning to his senior ministers that he can promote or remove anyone at will. No one should feel that he or she cannot be touched because of seniority or connections to the RSS.

Sitharaman has been given a double promotion with her appointment as defence minister. She will now sit in the all important cabinet committee on security as an equal with those who were her mentors till yesterday. The other members are Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj who inducted her into the BJP and Arun Jaitley who pushed for her to join the Modi government in 2014.

Ram Lal plays leading role
BJP president Amit Shah anchored the last cabinet reshuffle on behalf of Narendra Modi. He asked for the resignations of ministers who were dropped and he informed the new ministers about their induction into the cabinet.

But this time, BJP organizing secretary Ram Lal also played a leading role. Outgoing minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy must have known what was in store for him when he was summoned to meet Shah. But he must have also been surprised to see Ram Lal sitting with Shah when he walked into the room.

According to the buzz in BJP circles, when Rudy was informed that he was being dropped, he asked who he should give his resignation letter to. He was told to hand it over to Ram Lal. Although surprised that the organizing secretary was being asked to handle the resignations, he turned to Ram Lal and asked when he should send him the letter.

Ram Lal airily said a couple of hours was fine. Rudy apparently retorted that he would not wait for two hours. He said he would submit his resignation immediately. And so he did, to Ram Lal, not Amit Shah.

BJP circles are wondering what the significance is of including Ram Lal in sensitive discussions related to the upcoming cabinet reshuffle. Is it a signal of Ram Lal’s new clout in the party?

Sharad Yadav in a quandary
JD(U) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sharad Yadav was in a quandary about attending Lalu Yadav’s joint opposition rally in Patna on August 27. Nitish Kumar had warned Yadav through his old friend K C Tyagi that the party would move to expel him from the Rajya Sabha for anti-party activities if he joined hands with Lalu.

Nitish’s attack meant that Yadav would not only lose his MP status but also his Lutyen’s Delhi bungalow where he has been living for many years. Apparently, Yadav was in two minds about what he should do.

That’s when Lalu personally intervened. Yadav’s absence would have turned his rally into a damp squib, especially since Mayawati had declared that she would not attend and the Gandhis dropped out as well.

Apparently, Lalu worked on Yadav about the importance of fighting the BJP as a united opposition. He is also believed to have assured Yadav that he would have him re-elected to the Rajya Sabha on an RJD ticket if Nitish’s expulsion threat succeeded.

Govt claims on demo exploded
Theories abound on the timing of the damaging demonetization data released by the RBI. The data has come out on the eve of the cabinet reshuffle. Political circles wonder whether there is a message in this because the RBI’s facts and figures have exploded the government’s claims about the positive impact of demonetization.

But the RBI may not have had an option. It was under tremendous pressure from Parliament to come clean on the amount of cash recovered in the demonetization drive. At the last meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on finance in the second half of July, RBI governor Urjit Patel faced many tough questions from opposition leaders.

Congress leader Digivijaya Singh was particularly vocal and fired a volley of embarrassing questions at Patel. At one point, Singh got so exasperated that he asked Patel whether the demonetization data would be made public before the 2019 Lok Sabha election!

Singh’s crack drew a round of hearty laughter from the other MPs present, including Manmohan Singh. Significantly, in an earlier meeting, when Patel came under fire on the demonetisation issue from the same committee, it was Manmohan Singh who rescued the RBI governor. Having been an RBI governor himself, Singh warned the MPs that they should not attack a key institution like the central bank lest it lose it credibility, leading to a loss of faith in the country’s currency.

Smriti Irani has hands full
Smriti Irani has her hands full these days. Apart from running two ministries, she is also preparing to contest the Amethi seat against Rahul Gandhi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

She is believed to have drawn up a tough schedule for herself to spend at least three days every month in the constituency and get to know every nook  and corner.

She is also learning the local dialect so that she can endear herself to common folk in Amethi.

Actually, Irani has a gift for languages. She speaks fluent Bengali and Marathi apart from English, Hindi and Punjabi. In fact, Irani makes it a point to talk to Trinamool MPs in Bengali and totted up many brownie points on a personal level with them because of this. Similarly, she speaks to MPs from Maharashtra in Marathi.

Once she grasps the local dialect in Amethi, she will certainly have an advantage over Rahul who has only recently become fluent in Hindi.

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