BJP leaders Arun Jaitely and Sushma Swaraj at a function to felicitate Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI
n order to ensure that this time around, distance did not result in a denial of the privilege of voting, this columnist sought to switch his vote from Bangalore to Gurgaon. Forms were filled and presented, and assurances received that the voter identity card would arrive in time. It did not, and hence this columnist joined the tens of millions of other citizens deprived of the right to help choose their representatives, owing to the inefficiency and incompetence of the election machinery. Unlike in 2009, when the BJP was practically oblivious to voter fraud and to other malpractices, this time around both that party as well as the Aam Aadmi Party were more diligent in uncovering malpractice. Hence, the greater frequency of reports of EVM "malfunctions" (or rigging, in simpler language), as well as such interesting details as the elimination of hundreds of thousands of voters in constituencies across the country. The fact is that, just as in another two-month campaign, that which took place five years ago, the Election Commission has been negligent and therefore culpable in the crime of holding elections that are less than fully transparent and fair.
Just because an individual is among that huge list of worthies named as "constitutional authorities" by a fawning media, it does not mean that they do not share the taint which has by now spread across the entire spectrum of governance in India. Naveen Chawla, for instance, was perhaps a trifle less loyal to the Congress party and its first family than for example Ahmed Patel, but the difference was so slight as would have been ignored in any policymaker seeking to choose a genuinely neutral CEC. Despite the fact that there has been considerably more media attention to issues of corruption during the past few years than was the case before, even today posts such as the CVC, the CAG and even the Chief of Army Staff have been filled by individuals who in previous avatars have taken decisions in such matters as the Westland helicopter purchase, but who now preside over the very agencies that are supposed to be investigating such scams. Over the decades, a cosy camaraderie has developed between the leaders of parties ostensibly opposed to each other, with the result that accountability for the numerous criminal acts of successive governments has been thrown out of the window.
This cosy culture needs to get replaced with a Modi-led team of ministers and officials who are different from that seen during 1998-2004. In order to have a realistic chance of getting rid of the debris created by flawed policy and personnel, the incoming Prime Minister needs to have around him individuals of competence and integrity. It is these qualities which ought to guide the choice of X or Y, not archaic concepts such as "seniority". Indeed, the term has become shorthand for trying to put in place another Vajpayee government, the only difference being that Narendra Modi replaces Vajpayee at the top. Such a government would soon falter, despite the best efforts of Modi, and create a climate whereby the way would be clear for a clutch of regional parties (supported by the Congress Party) to take charge of the country after the 2019 polls. The fact is that India needs at least ten — and hopefully fifteen — years of good governance, so that the old mould of unsatisfactory progress gets replaced by a much more dynamic model. For this to happen, Narendra Modi needs a team where none of the ministers seek constantly to discredit or to slow him down. In other words, those who are clearly averse to his leadership need to be excluded. Next, those with even a whiff of scandal (such as, for example, visiting Dubai two or three dozen times every year, and being pally with known economic offenders) need to be kept out. Unless Team Modi reflects the character and competence of the man himself, the likelihood of failure to reverse the present decline in performance may be high. The new Prime Minister, and indeed the entire country, needs a Modi I Council of Ministers (followed perhaps by a Modi II and a Modi III in case he wins two more terms in office) rather than what is sought to be forced on him, a Vajpayee III ministry. New times need new people. The promise of change represented by Narendra Modi ought not to get subverted by adherence to "seniority" or to prior service, which in most instances would have been of a mediocre quality, else the BJP would not have crashed to defeat in 2004.