Political observers have constantly painted the actions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a result of a dogmatic ideology. But the restructuring-expansion of the Cabinet of the Union on Sunday is the last event that suggests otherwise. Modi, a former Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak (full-time worker), has shown that with regard to the interests of good governance, dogma and ideology can expect.
That is the clear message emanating from the composition of the new members of his team, many of whom are not even dyed from wool Sanghis (members of the RSS fraternity) or known Modi cheerleaders. They have been chosen with very specific objectives of governance – and, of course, politicians – in mind.
Those who know Nirmala Sitharaman can attest to the fact that their initiation to RSS ideology began long after their student life. The Puritans within the RSS folding would have reasons not to be completely convinced of their ideological commitment. Sadhvi Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Pragya have a better chance by comparison. However, Sitharaman is in the exalted space of the Cabinet Security Committee (CCS), which is the highest decision-making body on critical governance issues. Sitharaman was rewarded for his performance, diligence and dignified conduct and not for his ideological propensity.
Likewise, bureaucrats such as RK Singh, Satyapal Singh, Hardeep Puri and Alphons Kannanthanam who were inducted into the Narendra Modi Cabinet can not even remotely be accused of having even tenuous ties to the ideology of Sangh Parivar. On the other hand, the way in which Singh arrested LK Advani in Samastipur in 1991 during the Rath Yatra, boast of its bureaucratic credentials.
As household secretary, Singh was seen as chasing the “Hindu terror” case vigorously from the North Bloc. But what mattered most to Modi was his reputation as an efficient officer who delivered a high-class road infrastructure in Bihar.
The stay of Hardeep Puri as ambassador of India in the United Kingdom approached him to the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But he was equally at ease with the leaders of the UPA government. Known as a highly efficient diplomat, Puri’s induction to the council of ministers is expected to give a boost to India’s exposure to international institutions and capital. Kannanthanam is similarly known to be a stickler for the rules and for his proficiency in project delivery.
In these exercises, a clear pattern emerges: Modi is not limited by any dogma. Cabinet expansion is just the latest example in a thread consisting of actions that show that Modi can look beyond dogmas and aversions. The selection of Ram Nath Kovind as president of India and the patch with Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, illustrates this. In the case of Kovind, it did not matter that his ideological relationship with the Sangh Parivar was rather tenuous. Kovind, though Dalit, is not a radical Ambedkarite. However, Modi, in his cabinet, gives space to a radical Ambedkarite like Ramdas Athalale.
The way Modi facilitated Kumar’s transition from the Mahagatbandhan to the NDA on July 26 is impressive for his lack of spirits after all that transpired between the two leaders between 2013 and 2017.
It would be naive to consider this transition from the prism of rhetorical politics alone. Kumar is not a common leader. He gave the BJP a body beat at the 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar. And he promised to free India from the RSS and rhetorically invented the term “Sangh-mukt Bharat” to counter Modi’s “Congress-mukt Bharat.”