Rajat Sharma

Challenges before new cabinet ministers

AKB30 The day after the cabinet reshuffle, social media was agog with trolls digging out the backgrounds of new ministers, raising questions, doubts and suspicions even before the new ministers took charge. Some trolls raised questions about the castes of new ministers, some dug out old tweets posted by the new entrants and compared them with their predecessors. Baseless speculations were made about why senior ministers were dropped in the reshuffle.

There was much curiosity on social media about the new Railway, Communications and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, a Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha. Vaishnaw is a former IAS officer. He was the vice-president of Siemens and later became an entrepreneur before joining politics. He also worked in former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s office.

There were speculations on social media that his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad was asked to quit because of the ongoing issue with Twitter. There were also speculations over whether Vaishnaw would toe a conciliatory line towards Twitter. Soon after taking charge as IT minister, Vaishnaw said, “everyone will have to follow the law of the country. All those who live and work in India will have to abide by the rules of the country.” The new minister’s message was loud and clear. His reply was to the question about why Twitter was reluctant to abide by the new IT rules framed by the government for social media.

Ashwini Vaishnav has had no previous experience in handling ministries nor has been a member of Parliament for long. But Prime Minister Modi has given him charge of three important ministries – Railway, Information Technology and Communications. A former bureaucrat, he did exemplary work in Odisha as district collector of Cuttack and Balasore during the cyclone.

Bihar Jan Adhikar Party leader Papu Yadav posted a series of tweets: “Poor Ravi Shankar Prasad was crossing swords with Twitter to keep his boss happy, but his boss in order to keep American masters happy, sacked him”. He also tweeted: “Ashiwini Vaishnaw was made Railway Minister in order to auction Indian Railways. His appointment is clearly a clash of interests. He was MD of GE Transportation which used to supply materials to Indian Railways. He had set up two companies in Gujarat, which requires a probe.”

Most of the tweets by trolls and opposition leaders were neither factual nor relevant. Already Vaishnaw has made the government’s policy on Twitter quite clear after taking charge. His comments came at a time when Delhi High Court directed Twitter to make appointments of its three top executives within two weeks under new IT rules.

The High Court order came after Supreme Court refused to stay the Delhi High Court directive. Twitter had sought eight weeks’ time to appoint new executives. Twitter has agreed to follow the new IT rules and has already appointed an interim chief compliance officer. It has also promised to appoint a nodal officer and chief grievance officer.

Pappu Yadav’s comment about the new minister expected to toe the American social media giant’s line flies in the face of these latest developments. Ashiwni Vaishnaw had called on his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad and sought his advice on Thursday before taking charge.

Those who were harbouring the false notion that Ravi Shankar Prasad’s exit was due to pressure from Twitter, do not know Prime Minister Modi’s style of working. Modi never gives in to pressure, but yes, he is always careful about his government’s image. Ashwini Vaishnaw has worked as an IAS officer for 18 years in government. I personally know him since 2003 when he was a deputy secretary in the then PM Vajpayee’s office. He also worked as private secretary to Vajpayee.

Hailing from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, he was one of the blue eyed officers in Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s government. In 2008, he took study leave from service, went to Wharton to do his MBA, and then resigned from government service. He worked for multinational companies GE and Siemens. He then resigned to become an entrepreneur.

Two years ago, BJP gave him a Rajya Sabha ticket from Odisha. He got support from Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal during the election. I have heard his speech in Rajya Sabha and I can say, he is an effective orator. He lashed out at the Congress while speaking on the Union Budget.

Had Ashwini Vaishnaw not become a cabinet minister, people would have forgotten his speech. I think one should know an individual’s background before assessing one’s capabilities. We should give Vaishnaw some time to understand the working of his ministries and then assess his performance. If he commits a mistake, it must be criticized, but first, give him an opportunity.

Comments like Vaishnaw could be an American stooge and may help Twitter only because he studied in the US, are childish and irresponsible. And, to say that the powerful American social media tools put pressure on the PM to remove Ravi Shankar Prasad is also without basis. It was because of Prasad that nearly three crore objectionable posts were removed by Facebook and Instagram.

During Ravi Shankar Prasad’s tenure, several big multinational companies had left China and had come to work in India. According to my sources, Ravi Shankar Prasad may be given a big responsibility in the party organisation, and he had done so in the past too. Social media trolls will then have to eat crow when this materializes.

The new Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya was trolled soon after he took oath. Trolls dug up his old tweets and pointed out at spelling and grammatical mistakes that he made in English. Screen shots of his old tweets, some nine year old, were making the rounds and he was made an object of ridicule. At his first press conference, when a reporter pointed out at what the trolls are up to, Mansukh Mandaviya gave a nice reaction. He said, ‘I have come here to work and I do not have time to react to what others are saying’.

The new health minister announced on Day One of his new job the steps that the Centre is taking to provide oxygen tanks in all district headquarters of India by December this year. This is a gigantic work in the face of a potential third wave of pandemic that could take place.

Mandaviya announced a Rs 23,123 crore Covid infrastructure package approved by the new Cabinet for emergency response towards Covid-19. The package provides for creating more infrastructure in hospitals for paediatric care, repurposing of hospital beds for Covid patients, strengthening of genome sequencing, augmenting the number of ICU facilities, installation of oxygen tanks and creation of buffer stocks of key medicines required to tackle Covid pandemic. Out of the total outlay, Rs 15,000 crore will come from the Centre and Rs 8,123 crore will come from states. Mandaviya appears to be a man with a mission and he probably believes in the motto: ‘my work will speak’.

I personally feel that an individual’s talent and capability do not depend on the person’s knowledge of English language alone. Within 12 hours of taking charge of the health ministry, Mandaviya outlined his plan for the next nine months, in public.

There is no doubt that the nation faces a big challenge from the Covid outbreak and the government had to face a lot of criticisms because of the pandemic. Thousands of families had to face grief because of the death of their near and dear ones, people have lots of questions and doubts in their mind about whether the Centre will be able to deftly handed the expected third wave.

Will there be a repeat of the situation during second wave when people failed to get medicines, oxygen, ICU ventilators and even hospital beds? What Mandaviya said on Thursday kindles hopes in our hearts and I expect the government to handle the third wave competently.

When Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju was appointed as Union Law Minister, social media trolls were out with their knives. They compared his knowledge about law with the legal acumen of his predecessor, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who had a formidable reputation in law courts as an influential lawyer.

I know Rijiju did his LLB from Delhi University but never practised as a lawyer. He had, by then, entered politics in his home state, Arunachal Pradesh. On Thursday. Rijiju admitted that it was a “huge challenge” for him. He said, “everything can be handled with proper guidance, understanding of the subject and application of mind”. The Law ministry plays a key role in the transfer, posting and elevation of Supreme Court and High Court judges and improvement of judicial infrastructure.

I think one good advantage of having a vibrant social media is that common people now know much about their ministers and they watch them speaking. Kiren Rijiju was a capable Minister of State in the Home Ministry, and later he did good work when he was given charge of sports. Though hailing from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, he speaks fluently in Hindi and is a capable minister.

The Law Ministry that he has to now look after, faces the crucial problem of mounting number of pending cases. There is a huge backlog in the appointment of judges. The judiciary had been complaining about delay in the appointment of judges, while the Centre says that the higher judiciary is taking time in processing these appointments. The net result is that millions of litigants are facing problems due to the large number of pending cases. Rijiju will have to find a way out.

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