The revamped cabinets in UP and Punjab present a last-minute rush before polls, which stinks of symbolism.
The ministries of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where parliamentary elections are scheduled for early next year, have been reorganized and reorganized, ostensibly for accountability and greater social and regional balance. The exercises in both states follow a sweeping overhaul undertaken by the BJP in Gujarat earlier this month, when the entire cabinet, including the chief minister, had to resign. The BJP – in UP and Gujarat – and Congress – in Punjab – apparently believe these late transformations will help them overcome opposition to power and win another term. This speaks to a cynical assumption – that voters can be fooled by last-minute dress-ups choreographed from Delhi. It also highlights a lack of imagination and ideas in the two national parties, and hence their reliance on political band-aids to cover up perceived loopholes in their governments.
In the Punjab, Congress tried to buy peace between warring factions with a selection of lawmakers from different camps and regions for the new cabinet – 15 MPs were sworn in on Sunday, including eight ministers from the previous government. Clearly, the party is also hoping that the appointment of a listed caste chief minister, a first for the state, would influence the community – the largest caste group in the Punjab – to consolidate behind it and ease the challenge. launched by Captain Amarinder Singh and the opposition. It may or may not happen, but one thing is certain: Tokenism is unlikely to make a dent in the pressing issues in Punjab at this critical juncture. The agricultural crisis, the stagnation of industry, the lack of employment opportunities and the persistent drug problem deserve political will, resolute attention and follow-up. With just three months before the elections, it is unlikely that the Charanjit Singh Channi cabinet will be able to do so. In the UP, Chief Minister Adityanath seems to have fallen back on the proven strategy of patronage and management of castes and communes. His tenure so far has been marked by the government’s brutal crackdown on all forms of dissent and a polarizing approach to social issues. Even the distribution of welfare has been framed in community terms – the CM’s recent abba jaan remark was a dog-whistle that depicts it as a brutal zero-sum game, in which ‘they’ take away the benefits intended for ‘us. “.
Even in the past, political parties have replaced lawmakers to rule out or dull anti-functioning in elections. But the large-scale changes of government by the BJP and Congress in the UP and the Punjab, led by their respective high commands ahead of the elections, smack of a different kind of calculation or cynicism. Voters can still continue to support these governments in the absence of better choices, but that would be more of a statement about the limited political menu on offer, and less of a token success.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 26, 2021 under the title “The late late show”.