Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejigged his cabinet. He has shifted some prominent ministers to other ministries. Speculating platoons call it demotion in some case and promotion in another. But the most interesting is the euphoria over the HRD minister with the headlines screaming “Smriti shunted from HRD to textiles”. Such headlines betray the typical male chauvinism of the Indian elite society. They were all ganged up against Smriti from the day she was appointed the Minister for Human Resource Development two years ago. She holds no university degree and that gave these people a handle to thrash her on a regular basis, even though her spirited reply to the demands for grants in the Rajya Sabha in the last budget session earned her strong appreciation from all quarters, but most from the Deputy Chairman, who openly admired her speech covering every point raised by the members. The Deputy Speaker is not a member of the HRD minister’s party and his remarks didn’t go well with the opposition benches, particularly his own party. Incidentally, there is no prescribed educational qualification for the HRD minister. Let us look at the cabinet reshuffle from another point.
Smriti Irani fought her last election from UP. The PM won his Lok Sabha seat from UP. UP is going for elections next year. The Congress Party is going to field Priyanka Gandhi as its official candidate or the star campaigner. It is more than 6 months now that the typical Congress chorus of “Priyanka Lao, UP Bachao” (Bring Priyanka, Save UP) has been grabbing the headlines of friendly newspapers and TV channels. Priyanka has not been in active politics so far. Her only qualification is that she is a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and resembles her grandmother Late Indira Gandhi. The Congress is under the illusion that the love Indira got from the people will be automatically transferred to her granddaughter, forgetting that the majority of the voters don’t even know who Indira Gandhi was. She was assassinated 32 years ago. Those who can remember her have already moved away from the failed socialist governance to liberal governance and many remember Indira for extremely unpleasant reasons of the black Emergency imposed unethically by Indira Gandhi in 1975 only to save her position and taking away the fundamental rights of the citizens, putting thousands of prominent leaders in jail without any legal sanction. That way, Priyanka will turn into the biggest liability for the congress. Which BJP woman leader in UP can measure up to Priyanka?
There is a woman by the name of Prachi. She is not BJP but mouths vicious rhetoric suggesting she belongs to the Hindu right wing outfit. She can hardly match Priyanka Gandhi. In fact, Priyanka will gain in popularity every time Prachi will open her mouth. Similarly, more than a score other women and men politicians are not only a liability on the prime minister but also act as the greatest drag on his flight to developmental trajectory. In this scenario, the prime minister has played a master stroke by relieving Smriti Irani of a very heavy ministry like the HRD ministry and giving her the charge of a lighter ministry of textiles, which will give her enough time to devote to the party work. Smriti Irani is by now a popular political figure in UP and is known for her TV serial roles of a typical Indian housewife (irrespective of communities). Irani has a great advantage over Priyanka Gandhi, who projects only an image of a rich and privileged class. In fact Priyanka is far removed from the rural India, especially rural UP, as she is essentially a city woman and cosmopolitan elite, who thinks she can always “give” something as a “welfare measure” to the poor, rather than “sharing” genuinely their pain, misery and despondency. Irani easily scores over Priyanka in this respect.
There is another very significant aspect of this move of Prime Minister Modi. The Ministry of Textiles serves a huge community of weavers in India. UP has a sizable population of weavers. Weavers are, to use modern terminology, textile technologists, producers, marketers, designers, exporters and job creators. They have the potential of creating millions of jobs. They have a ready market. They are networked with cotton growers, silk producers, manmade fibre producers and yarn makers of these three segments. They use dyes and create market for producers and suppliers. They create designs that are unique and are eye catching. In spite of all these advantages, their financial condition is not good. This sector is the classic example of application of disruptive technology. Industrial revolution in Europe, especially the UK, destroyed and shrank the traditional Indian textiles sector. Before the advent of the industrial revolution, Indian textile products were exported to European countries and elsewhere. The industrial revolution also brought about a fashion revolution, which ruined the weavers market, as more and more people opted for finer mill made fabrics and stitched clothes. It meant swapping sarees with jeans. The silk saree of Banaras or Varanasi, famous internationally, for its silk used to take about a month to finish and fetched several thousand rupees. The cotton weaves were worn by men and women alike proudly. The Dhoti lost it to the pant, the angoccha to the towel and a large variety of bed sheets, carpets, chadars and other home décor lost the market to industrial products. Its result: the weavers’ prosperity for centuries was replaced by penury. The artisans as a class lost it to the labour in a mill. It would spontaneously flow from the well placed people as to why these people don’t change their vocation. But is it easy to find a new vocation or job? India needs huge employment potential to cater to its population without displacing them. Migration of rural population to cities in search of factory jobs is no solution to gainful livelihood opportunities. The textiles industry needs urgent investment in research and development to marry artisan skills with machine power. Besides, it makes sound political sense.
UP not only has a huge indigenous textile producing weaver community but also a strong mix of communities. The Congress, left parties and the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) have always harvested the votes of the weavers. If these voters opt for the prime minister’s party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), it may help it to come to power in UP. Though the earlier minister was also from UP, the induction of Smriti Irani as the new Minister for Textiles is likely to garner more votes from the weavers of UP for the BJP.
Hasn’t the Prime Minister played his master stroke?