OPINION: Modi’s outreach pays dividends

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - The last IAS officer to serve as PS to a foreign minister was Subodh Agarwal in Natwar Singh’s office in the UPA-1 government of Manmohan Singh.

In his second tenure, Narendra Modi seems to have taken a leaf out of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s book in the way he is dealing with friends and allies. Vajpayee always used to pick up the phone and talk directly to political leaders when he needed their help in Parliament or on sensitive issues. Modi has done exactly that in this session of Parliament to get contentious bills passed in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP lacks a majority.

For instance, he personally spoke to Odisha chief minister and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik to support the controversial RTI amendment and Triple Talaq bills. Similarly, he dialed Bihar chief minister and JD(U) boss Nitish Kumar to help out with the Triple Talaq bill although the official version of the phone call was that the two leaders discussed the flood situation in the state. JD(U) had announced that it would vote against triple talaq but when the time came in the Rajya Sabha to walk the talk, party MPs exited the House. This helped bring the majority mark down to enable the BJP to rustle up requisite numbers.

The BJD’s support was crucial. If its seven MPs had not voted for the bill in the Rajya Sabha, there would have been a tie which would have created uncomfortable moments for the government. Aware of the importance of having Patnaik on his side, Modi phoned him again after the vote, this time to thank him for his support.

Modi has also been generous with funds for relief and rehabilitation for the victims of Cyclone Fani. Patnaik had asked for Rs 5,000 crores from the centre, hoping to get around Rs 1,500 crores. Much to his amazement, Modi sanctioned the state Rs 3,300 crores, more than double of what he expected.

It was a common practice with Vajpayee to reach out to allies and even the opposition. The most famous of these interactions is when he invited Left leaders for discussions and requested them to oppose the US demand for India to send troops to join the Iraq war. Speak loudly so that your voice will be heard in Washington, he is reported to have told them.

Modi seems to have understood the gains to be had from following in Vajpayee’s footsteps, at least in his dealings with friends and allies in Parliament. It’s quite a change from his first innings when he shied away from this kind of lobbying with non-BJP political leaders.

Confident or arrogant?

After helping the BJP to script a spectacular victory in UP in the Lok Sabha polls, a change is visible in chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s body language. His supporters call it confidence; his critics call it arrogance.

For instance, cabinet ministers are now made to leave their mobile phones at the reception when they visit the CM. This new rule has been put in place after the Lok Sabha elections. Earlier, all ministers, senior and junior, were allowed to take their phones inside. The tone and tenor of Yogi’s cabinet meetings has also changed. BJP circles say that he used to allow everyone, including the most junior minister, to speak at cabinet meetings. As a result, the meetings went on and on.

Now, he has become more authoritative and does not encourage unnecessary talk, particularly from junior ministers. Consequently, cabinet meetings are shorter and snappier.

Unusual induction: Ravi Arora, the newly appointed private secretary to union foreign minister S Jaishankar is an unusual bureaucrat. Firstly, he is an IAS officer belonging to the Gujarat cadre. Foreign ministers usually choose Foreign Service officers to man their office. Jaishankar was apparently keen on getting someone from Gujarat as a gesture of thanks to the state from which he has been elected as Rajya Sabha MP.

The last IAS officer to serve as PS to a foreign minister was Subodh Agarwal in Natwar Singh’s office in the UPA-1 government of Manmohan Singh. But apart from his unusual civil service pedigree, Arora comes with an amazing track record. He is partially blind and was initially rejected by the UPSC although he had cleared the civil services exam for the IAS.

He was rejected because of his impaired vision. Arora fought all the way to the Supreme Court for justice and was eventually rewarded when the IAS was ordered to recruit him in the disabled category. As Collector in various districts in Gujarat, Arora did a lot of work for the differently abled. He organized a camp in Navsari where more than 10,000 persons were given wheelchairs, sensor walking sticks and other equipment to help them lead a richer life. He also worked hard to make Tithal Beach in Valsad disabled-friendly. Interestingly, his wife is a Revenue Service officer and is also differentlyabled. She is a polio survivor.

Jaishankar is certainly doing things differently in the staid ministry of external affairs. There are reports that the minister is thinking of inducting another IAS officer from Gujarat into the ministry.

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