A RUBBER STAMP CABINET
Rumor has it that he is a minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet from Uttar Pradesh and holds three very important portfolios. The mercury had not yet hit the current scorching sky-high levels, but the minister was sweating profusely. After having a meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the minister had rushed to his corner office. Hearing the news of the minister’s unscheduled arrival, officers gathered in his room with anxious and curious faces. They all were shocked to see the pale face of their minister. Everyone was amused to hear from the horse’s mouth about how the prime minister had scolded him for not visiting the office of this particular ministry and had further reprimanded him for giving too much importance to only one of the three portfolios he is in charge of.
Modi admirers will praise him for his eternal vigil, but to many others the prime minister’s style of functioning might seem autocratic and full of contempt towards his team of experienced senior ministers. Modi has 65 ministers in total. 26 of them are cabinet ministers and 39 are ministers of state. The council of ministers is normally a supreme executive organ in any parliamentary system across the world. Until a year back it had been functioning both, according to the letter and spirit. However, Narendra Modi has reduced this supreme decision-making body to a personal court where everybody has to agree with his ideas and decisions. Forget the decision-making authority that any erstwhile member of the cabinet had before Narendra Modi took over. Even the advisory role of the council of ministers has gone away and each and every decision is taken only by the prime minister’s office without taking any advice whatsoever from the ministers concerned. Even the Home Minister cannot give any advice in matters related to the postings and appointments of senior bureaucrats. So much so that he does not even have the symbolical choice of selecting officers for his personal staff. It would be safe to say that Modi has reduced his cabinet to a bunch of powerless cheerleaders. The ministers are not provided something as rudimentary as the Cabinet agenda in advance. Modi has, therefore, reduced his Cabinet to a mere rubber stamping authority. And this is being mild in one’s criticism.
Modi’s cabinet has eminent persons like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Manohar Parikkar, among others. How many of these have taken any important decision by themselves in the last one year? Most of them tremble and fumble when they are in front of the prime minister. For the first time in 67 years India has a prime minister who does not give any importance, any independence and autonomy to his own ministers and has been treating them as school children with the sullen attitude of a perpetually upset head master for last one year. Can one forget the moment when Modi played the rock star at Madison Square? It was then that he invited 31 US senators and other sundry representatives to share the stage with him but did not allow India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to join him on the podium. Have you seen any minister sharing the dais with the prime minister in public functions in the first year of this government? Almost every other day we witness parliamentary practices being set aside and core establishments and institutions of the democracy ruined.
The one year of Modi government is remembered by academicians for reckless trampling of constitutional mechanisms and a complete institutional paralysis vis-à-vis key tools of transparency, accountability, and good governance. There is a deep and unsettling feeling among the watchdogs of democracy globally, that India’s new prime minister has stymied and nearly abrogated the parliamentary system and the collective decision-making prowess of the cabinet in his one year.
Serious questions are being raised on the manner parliamentary democracy has been treated in Modi’s one year. Not allowing the parliament to discharge its primary constitutional responsibility of deliberating legislations and reducing parliamentary scrutiny to a minimal by not sending the bills to Standing Committees are matters of grave concern. The way this Government has changed the definition of Money Bill in a surreptitious manner would render the role of Rajya Sabha perfunctory at best. What could be more tragic that the leader of Rajya Sabha and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has himself questioned the efficacy, supremacy and functionality of the upper house by calling it an ‘unelected House’.
The Judiciary also had its share of unpleasant experiences during one year of Modi regime. The Supreme Court collegiums’ decision to appoint one of the most reputed lawyers of the country as a judge of the highest court was stalled. It could not be merely a coincidence that this lawyer had appeared against the current President of Bharatiya Janta party, on account of which he had to spend considerable time in jail. Then came the day of April 6 this year when Prime Minister Modi threw the basic principles of separation of power out of the window and charged the Supreme Court of not being fearless enough. He further slandered the Modi government of pandering to five-star activists. He also said that judges must differentiate between perception and facts. This was for the first time after India got independence that any prime minister remarked on the highest judiciary in such a deplorable way.
Ironically the media was a veritable darling for Modi till he reached the Raisina Hills. But within his one year in office the media has become ‘Bazaroo’ and ‘Presstitutes’ for him and his colleagues. There is a growing tendency in our political system that tough questions are taken as a sign of disrespect. This is the real danger we are going to face in coming days.
The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India