Now that Narendra Modi has become the prime minister eight months after he was anointed as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, he is well aware of pitfalls and is acutely conscious of the many snakes in the grass that will inevitably be lurking for him. He is trying his best to protect himself from a prying and snooping opposition (whatever little of it is left) and save his turf from their torpedoes. He is, in short, expecting the unexpected.
Here is how.
Modi has taken a string of measures, many of which may not be in the public domain. Here is a sneak peek into Modi’s pre-emptive strategy to counter a possible offensive by the opposition.
Ministers are not empowered to talk to the media
Modi has issued gag orders to all his ministers, saying that henceforth they will not be authorized to speak to the media on their own. If there is something that needs to be said to the media, it will be done by the ministry spokesman or the government spokesman if the ministry concerned does not have a spokesman of its own. Here is a rhetorical question: how many union ministers have addressed a press conference since Modi and his council of ministers were sworn in on 26 May? No prizes for guessing the answer.
Fallout: The ministers cannot go to the press directly. The spokespersons get to hog all the limelight. Plus, this will insulate the Modi government from having union ministers turn into loose cannons with the potential of embarrassing the government, which used to be the order of the day during the UPA regime. Spokespersons for their part will speak in measured tones from prepared texts.
Ministers won’t appoint personal staff without PMO clearance
The PMO has instructed all union ministers that while they are free to appoint their personal staff like Personal Secretaries (PS) and Additional PS, they will have to first get the clearance of the PMO before they appoint these babus. The PMO has also directed the union ministers not to appoint their immediate relatives for these posts.
Fallout: This is a clever move aimed at keeping all the powers vested with the PMO.
No ‘Lal Batti’ on Ministers’ Cars
The ministers have been told that they cannot move about in their official cars fitted with red beacons (‘lal battis’) and howling sirens. Modi has obviously taken a leaf from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) here and does not want his ministers to flaunt their status and put the common man to inconvenience.
Fallout: This may lead to disgruntlement. Ministers may argue that they are well aware of precautionary measures and what good is a ministerial post, after all, without its usual trappings!
Beware of Bangaru Laxman-type Sting Operations
This is perhaps the most ambitious and direct firewall measure of Modi for his flock. The PMO has told the ministers to ensure that no visitor gets into the minister’s office with his/her personal belongings like mobile phones or cameras or tape recorders. All these will have to be deposited at the reception of the minister’s office. This is aimed at insulating ministers from a possible sting operation by a smart visitor.
Fallout: Ministers will naturally be in a quandary on as to how to enforce this rule. Consider this scenario. A big business tycoon walks into a minister’s office. Can he be asked to deposit his cell phone before proceeding to the minister’s chamber?
The last point needs a little bit more elaboration. At a nearly two hour-long dinner meeting with his council of ministers at his residence on Monday, Prime Minister Modi warned his colleagues against a repeat of the infamous Bangaru Laxman episode wherein the then BJP president was felled (and forever) over a cash bribe of one lakh rupees.
Modi told his colleagues that the NDA government was surrounded by enemies and nobody could say which enemy would strike when and in what manner.
Modi also told his ministers to avoid the media to the fullest extent possible and in case their interaction with media were to become inevitable he advised them not to get too attached to listening to their own voices and indulging in a verbal diarrhea.
In many ways, Modi is just trying to do what the famed Gandhis have done all along.
This writer was invited to meet Rahul Gandhi just before the recent elections along with a group of journalists. All the journalists had to deposit their mobile phones with the SPG before entering Rahul’s official residence.
Modi is well aware of the fact that in this age of sting operations, not a single such operation has been carried out against the Gandhis or even the likes of Ahmed Patels and Digvijay Singhs. He is simply trying to guard his flanks in the Gandhis’ style — that seems to be the logic.