The likely composition of the Sarbanda Sonowal-led new ministry that will take oath on Tuesday has aroused intense speculation over the last few days. Prime Minister rendra Modi, Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states and several Union ministers are expected to grace the swearing in. After the historic vote for change in Assam that handed the BJP its first shot in forming a government in the Northeast, there is much hope in the air. Can the BJP-led alliance fulfill its promises as it gears up to rule a difficult state? This week on May 26, the rendra Modi government will complete two years in office; it too is under growing pressure to deliver on its promises. With Sonowal’s exit from the Union ministry and five states including UP going for assembly elections in 2017, Team Modi’s imminent revamp is widely anticipated. Whether in Dispur or in New Delhi, ministry making exercises are therefore taking up much political energy. As he has done earlier in balancing party heavyweights, Modi may make some political appointments in his ministry keeping in mind the states that will go to polls by next year. But reportedly, he is on the lookout for ‘performers’. With 282 BJP MPs in Lok Sabha alone and having the reputation of a goals-driven hard taskmaster, Modi should not be having problems in goading his team to deliver. Yet several of his ministers are perceived to be facing the axe now for failing to aggressively push the government’s agenda. The mixed report card for his government should be disappointing for rendra Modi who in 2014 got the entire country talking about governce. So wherein lies the problem?
It is the ratio of performers vis-à-vis non-performers in the ministry that has been the undoing of many a PM or CM. When they talk about ‘balancing’ a ministry, it is ‘representation’ of regions and groups that take precedence. This is veritably a quota, so anyone who makes it to the ministry on ‘representation’ basis knows that he or she would be given a long rope. The ability to work and deliver hardly figures in this scheme of things. We need look no farther than outgoing Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. When he rejigged his ministry after much cogitation with barely a year left of his term, Gogoi could not find even 2-3 performers among 79 Congress members in the assembly. Except merit, all other considerations seemed to go in the making of ministers and parliamentary secretaries — the area or group they represented, the votes (and funds) they could bring in, the rival political powers they could offset, even their troublemaking or ‘dissident’ potential. From all accounts, the BJP leadership is now bargaining hard with its allies in Assam. Even as the AGP and the BPF make no secrets of their desire for 3-4 ministerial berths each, the BJP is under compulsion to give ‘proper representation’. The difficulties faced by Tarun Gogoi and rendra Modi should strike a sobering note to the debate on elected leaders trying to get their teams to fulfill promises made. Jayalalitha in Tamil du has pulled it off to earn her rewards in these elections, but then she is a supremely domiting leader. Her writ runs absolute in her party and government; in her determition to get work done, she has allowed no consideration to get in her way. This is a luxury Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal too might enjoy, but not many other elected leaders, more so if they are heading coalitions. In democracies across the world, how to bring about political meritocracy and accountability has become a major talking point for concerned voters. After the expectations raised in Assam, the eyes of the people will be on how the Centre and Dispur get their acts together to deliver on promises.