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The All-Powerful PM Modi

The lack of a powerful second-rung leadership in the BJP affects the BJP, the institution. State after state goes to elections “under the undisputed leadership of PM Modi”

Photo Credit : PTI

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With the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) deciding to join the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, and the AIADMK likely to join the Cabinet, chances are that both the parties would be offered two berths each, as PM Modi effects a Cabinet reshuffle.

With various allies joining the Modi government, the question arises — how much clout do the allies (at the last count, there were at least 30 of them) wield in the Modi regime?

Forget about the allies, how much influence do the leading BJP ministers have in the present regime, for that matter?

While in Gujarat, Modi used to run the state administration with the help of a super-efficient,  and committed, bureaucracy. In Delhi, it is the all-powerful PMO that has come to be seen as the most influential institution, and critics even question ministers’ position in the over-centralised system.

Among the present lot of ministers, Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley remains a Modi confidant. However, the one who is reported to make powerful points often is Nitin Gadkari — who enjoys his prominence, thanks to his proximity to the RSS brass.

When I asked a Union Minister if Modi allows them the autonomy they would like, the answer was, “the perception that he is a tough taskmaster is true. He is also a perfectionist and he is well-briefed on issues that matter to us”.

When I asked an ally, Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan if Modi allows them the freedom to operate, his answer was interesting – “In the previous regimes, the Cabinet meetings used to be an hour long. Now, they go up to even three hours, because he allows us to have our say.”

Paswan is often in the news. Other allies, be it Ashok Gajapathi Raju, or Harsimrat Kaur Badal, or Ramdas Athawale, or Upendra Kushwaha, on the other hand, have not really stood out by dint of their contributions.

Paswan may be upbeat, but in the Modi regime, the fact is that the constituent allies, and even the ministers, have to play second fiddle.
That is Modi’s strength and weakness as well.

Contrast this all-powerful PMO with the Manmohan Singh regime where an ineffective PMO was overshadowed by the Congress president and many independent-minded ministers — thus inviting the ‘weakest PM’ jibe, and eventually leading to the government’s downfall.

In the present Modi regime, the party and leading ministers are already talking about the next five years — which will usher in a ‘new India’ — implying that a win in the 2019 general elections for Modi is a given.

This has a bigger implication for the allies. With the passage of time, Modi’s (and Amit Shah’s) BJP has consolidated its position at the cost of allies — it has been seen in Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir. And perhaps there will be a repeat in Bihar reducing Nitish Kumar — once a powerful challenger to Modi — to a rather insignificant position. In Tamil Nadu, too, the party of the Modi-Shah combine may just have got the platform it needed to grow.

Meanwhile, the lack of a powerful second-rung leadership in the BJP affects the BJP, the institution. State after state goes to elections “under the undisputed leadership of PM Modi”. No wonder, even in municipal elections, the party has to invoke Modi.


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