Narendra Modi’s diktat that seniors shouldn’t hog all administrative responsibilities accepted in letter & spirit
Here’s a little tip for those aspiring to influence policy. When it comes to reforms in India’s police forces, prisons or electoral processes, or even sensitive subjects such as Bangladeshi infiltration and communal situation in the country, the man whose ear you need to catch in the Narendra Modi government is one of its youngest junior ministers – 42-year-old Kiren Rijiju.
The first-time MP from Arunachal Pradesh has been entrusted with 71 administrative subjects from lotteries and ‘top secret seals’ to the Census Office by home minister Rajnath Singh. “I have heard that earlier ministers of state in the UPA government did not get any significant work. But I am pleased that extremely important responsibilities have been given to me in the home ministry and I will try my best to fulfil them,” Rijiju told ET.
He’s not alone. Almost all cabinet ministers have assigned substantial responsibilities to their junior ministers, even though some of the ministers of state also hold independent charge of other departments. It’s a clear indication that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diktat that seniors shouldn’t hog all administrative matters and ensure that junior ministers get decent a workload has been accepted in letter and spirit.
The two other heavyweights in the Modi cabinet after Rajnath Singh — finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj — have also allocated much larger workloads to their ministers of state than before.
In the UPA’s decade-long rule, junior ministers had complained fruitlessly about having no work to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at least on two occasions as their cabinet bosses presided over almost all critical areas of decision making. Ministers of state such as Milind Deora had precious little to do.
By contrast, Modi’s message for a fairer work allocation has had a strong impact. Rao Inderjeet Singh, who moved to the BJP from Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and was rewarded with independent charge of the planning and statistics and programme implementation ministries, has been entrusted by Jaitley with 52 administrative subjects and the chairmanship of 10 critical boards under the defence ministry.
Apart from policy decisions and cabinet proposals that need Jaitley’s nod as per the norm in government, Singh has a say in critical security decisions such as decommissioning of ships or submarines and what may be of immense interest in years to come – policy and procedure for disposing of surplus defence land. The defence ministry is the custodian of 17.3 lakh acres of land, of which 16 lakh acres is outside the cantonments.
About 11,000 acres of this land is under encroachment and, according to current policy, defence land isn’t declared ‘surplus’ or transferred to private players. Though Jaitley, as defence minister, has retained matters relating to the Defence Research and Development Organisation or DRDO to himself, as finance minister, he has delegated major responsibilities to his junior Nirmala Sitharaman.
While she holds independent charge of the commerce and industry ministry, she is minister of state to Jaitley in the corporate affairs and finance ministries. A member of the cabinet committee on accommodation, Jaitley has however asked for all files related to the panel that deals with housing requests of VIPs in the capital to be handled by Sitharaman.
She has also been tasked with administering the law against benami transactions, stamp duties, small savings and many other subjects on her own. The Minister of State (finance) is also the first port of call for almost all matters under the revenue department – from poppy cultivation, narcotics and smuggling laws, to the more highprofile organisations under it dealing with income tax and central excise.
Jaitley has, however, decided that intelligence-related organisations such as the department of revenue intelligence and the enforcement directorate report to him. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has given junior minister VK Singh much more responsibility than was given to ministers of state in the UPA-run foreign ministry, said officials.
Unlike predecessors such as Shashi Tharoor and Preneet Kaur, Singh has been tasked with looking after all of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and western and central Europe, according to a work allocation order signed by foreign secretary Sujatha Singh on June 2, less than a week after the government was formed. To be sure, it may take a while for the dividing lines to be come clearer.
Nihal Chand Meghwal, minister of state for chemical and fertilizers, said, “I am in all the meetings along with cabinet minister Ananth Kumar. Important files are sent to me and I am part of the decision making.”