Modi and the Gujarat model of governance

Published: July 9, 2016
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The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. He is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own 
aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. He is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

News channels often ask me to grade ministers on their performance. They send a paragraph or so on the achievements of the various ministries and one has to give the minister a score. When the show is aired I can observe what rankings others have also given.

Four ministers who consistently get ranked highly are Piyush Goel (power, coal, new and renewable energy), Nirmala Sitharaman (commerce and industry), Dharmendra Pradhan (petroleum and natural gas) and Prakash Javdekar (environment). The unusual thing about them is that they are all ministers of state. Meaning that they are junior and do not have cabinet rank.

This fact did not change when Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his cabinet a few days ago. Many people were brought in and the cabinet has become a cupboard. But only one minister was given a promotion from minister of state to cabinet minister. That was Prakash Javdekar. He was promoted but his portfolio was changed. He has been made minister for education (also called human resource development).

The new minister for environment, forests and climate change is Anil Madhav Dave. He is, like Javdekar was, not of cabinet rank but a minister of state. My observation is that this is a continuation of something Modi has practised for the last decade and a half since he became chief minister of Gujarat.

He selects certain portfolios that he has personal interest in, and he does not give them to a senior leader. The responsibility is given to a junior minister who then directly reports to Modi or to the small team of bureaucrats working with Modi. I noticed this first in Gujarat where Modi worked mainly with two ministers, Saurabh Patel and Amit Shah.

For the dozen years that Modi was chief minister, Patel was minister for industries, mines and minerals, petrochemicals, ports and energy. These are vital ministries, especially in Gujarat which is one of India’s most industrialised states. Patel’s portfolios addressed the business interests of five groups of companies, Tatas, Essar, Adani, Ambani and Torrent. The Gujarati media laughingly referred to Modi’s task as being similar to that of the Mahabharat’s Draupadi, who had five husbands to keep happy.

If the portfolios he was handling were important, and clearly they were, why was Patel not given cabinet rank? Because, in my opinion, Modi wanted to retain ultimate control over the decision-making process in these ministries.

Of course it is true that all ministers reported to Modi ultimately in Gujarat just as all of them report to him in Delhi today. However, the fact that the cabinet rank is withheld means that the minister must check with Modi’s office first before cabinet approval is given to major decisions.

Similarly, though he served Modi for many years devotedly as home minister, Amit Shah was never given cabinet rank. From the time that he was appointed till the time he was forced to step down because of an alleged scandal, Shah was minister of state. He was in charge of the police and it is not difficult to imagine why Modi wanted to keep a close eye on the work happening there.

When Modi became prime minister, I had predicted that he would keep the same control over all these ministries by only appointing ministers of state to look over them. This has proved to be the case. I was wrong in assuming even the ministry of home would remain under Modi. The minister there, Rajnath Singh, has cabinet rank.

However, a senior bureaucrat pointed out to me when I spoke about this, that the nature of the home ministry is different at the centre. It does not have control over the police because that is a state subject and therefore it is far less important a ministry in Delhi, though it is seen as one of the top three portfolios.

So far as the other departments go, especially energy, mining, petroleum, coal and industries these are vitally linked to Modi’s mantra of ‘development’. The environment ministry is important because an activist minister can block projects. Modi believes that he must retain operational control over these areas and all of the changes in policy that he seeks must be effected without resistance.

This is why though the ministers in these vital areas are extremely talented, they are not given cabinet rank. Interestingly, Saurabh Patel was finally made a cabinet minister in Gujarat after Modi left. It may be the case that the holders of the portfolios I have named may ultimately be given cabinet rank.

But for now it seems clear to me that Modi is following the Gujarat model of governance at least, in part, in Delhi.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Another Indian
    Jul 9, 2016 - 11:51PM

    Lol man.. Not even Indians go through this much trouble for Modi… Recommend

  • mastishhk
    Jul 10, 2016 - 1:19AM

    Just what is this article doing in a pakistani newspaper ??Recommend

  • Xyz
    Jul 10, 2016 - 2:08AM

    @Another Indian:
    Seriously…overanalysis -product of over obsession Recommend

  • DudeFromDC
    Jul 10, 2016 - 4:38AM

    I am not sure what it is, but every other respectable media across the globe are all praising Modi and his rule and only Pakistani media seem to have trouble coping with his rule, not that it matters. Pakistan probably should focus on its development and not on India’s (by the way India has the highesteconomic growth rate currently).Recommend

  • Jul 10, 2016 - 6:34AM

    There was governance in Gujrat? By Master Modi, Himself?
    Have heard some horror stories about Lord Modi and his reign
    of terror in Gujrat. These stories boil down to hack, slash, burn
    Muslims. And revoking of Master Modi’s visas, by all countries,
    except Afghanistan. Somehow he even got the name ‘Butcher of Gujrat’Recommend

  • Mind Duck Much?
    Jul 10, 2016 - 10:46AM

    So your point is that modi wants to keep ministries that affect or effect development under his control. And you think that’s a bad thing?Recommend

  • afzaal ansari
    Jul 10, 2016 - 3:12PM

    no doubt the abominable policies of moody in Gujarat was the cause of proliferated terror only for muslims and it is also reality that the moodi is now PM of India with votes of his public as well as Muslims in accordance of his policies which they feel better for them.Recommend

  • Muhannad
    Jul 10, 2016 - 4:42PM

    Interesting article.First time in many years I have enjoyed Aakar’s article !
    I would consider it a real Innovation on part of Mr Modi to allocate important portfolios to Junior ministers and without appointing Cabinet level ministers to keep control on these ministries yourself ! Smart thinking!
    Mr Nawaz Shareef is also keeping Foreign Ministry to himself !Recommend

  • G. Din
    Jul 10, 2016 - 7:02PM

    @Motiwala:
    “There was governance in Gujrat? By Master Modi, Himself?
    Have heard some horror stories about Lord Modi and his reign
    of terror in Gujrat. These stories boil down to hack, slash, burn
    Muslims. And revoking of Master Modi’s visas, by all countries,
    except Afghanistan. Somehow he even got the name ‘Butcher of Gujrat’”

    Yet, Gujaratis, except this author of course, elected him three times before he was elected PM. He must have done everything right including “hack, slash, burn Muslims” and earning the “honorific” as the “Butcher of Gujarat”. Buy some commonsense even if God denied you your share.Recommend

  • Observer
    Jul 10, 2016 - 8:05PM

    @ Motiwala,
    The way, Ghori, Ghaznavi and Abdali are heroes of you Pakistanis, similarly Modi is the modern day hero of India, call him which ever name you like …Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav
    Jul 10, 2016 - 9:12PM

    @Motiwala:
    You guys don’t do much except crying rivers. Why didn’t all these years Pakistani govt offer asylum to Indian Muslims like India is doing for Pakistani Hindus/Sikhs? Recommend

  • Jul 11, 2016 - 4:47AM

    @G. Din:
    Er…well…see…hmm…even Hitler was elected, by the German people.
    [until it turned into a dictatorship,…With Modi slowly turning into one]Recommend

  • who
    Jul 11, 2016 - 9:44AM

    @Motiwala:
    Goebbelsian “One people, one empire, one leader” is not possible in India. A PM is high profile internationally but a CM can be more powerful domestically. Provincial mini-‘dictators’ abound. There are very strong State-level Satraps who can’t be dictated to. Superior Judiciary is independent. Modi’s dictatorship begins & ends with his Party.Recommend

  • G. Din
    Jul 11, 2016 - 7:31PM

    @Motiwala:
    My friend, Hitler was elected just once. He grabbed power and did not let go.When someone is elected multiple times, he/she gets a vote of affirmation and confidence every time he is reelected. If you have to condemn someone, condemn the right party – people of Gujarat and India. But you would look foolish doing that, isn’t it?Recommend

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