Perform or perish
Modi was chided by his opponents and the media for wrecking the economy, creating huge job losses, undermining established institutions, playing the nationalistic Hindu religious card, being insensitive to dissent and marginalising the minorities. Some even called him a “divider-in-chief”. And yet, despite the negativity, he won with a thumping majority, silencing his critics in one stroke. His victory represented an endorsement of his economic development and social welfare policies which have benefited the masses. His down-to-earth policies that addressed the core needs of the poor turned the tables on those who offered the moon.
With the words “ Mai Narendra Damodardas Modi.. Ishwar ki shapath leta hoon” the invincible trailblazer from Gujarat took oath of office and secrecy as the Prime Minister of the country, for a second consecutive time, in the imperial forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The magnificence and regal beauty of Indian democracy was at display when indomitable Modi made a tryst with his destiny and that of India – in the name of God, he swore allegiance to the country and the Constitution. In his avatar 2.0, Modi has pledged “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas…. and Sabka Vishwas”, rending barriers of caste, creed, region and religion. The re-election of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was a huge victory that came much against the expectations of the many naysayers who expected either a coalition government or a victory with a lower majority, or even an outright loss.
Modi was chided by his opponents and the media for wrecking the economy, creating huge job losses, undermining established institutions, playing the nationalistic Hindu religious card, being insensitive to dissent and marginalising the minorities. Some even called him a “divider-in-chief”.
And yet, despite the negativity, he won with a thumping majority, silencing his critics in one stroke. His victory represented an endorsement of his economic development and social welfare policies which have benefited the masses. His down-to-earth policies that addressed the core needs of the poor turned the tables on those who offered the moon.
In the next five years, India is expected to improve its economic growth trajectory, with Modi’s government having laid the basic foundations of reform in its previous term. As Prime Minister, delivering these would be his biggest challenge.
To aid him in this vital and gargantuan task will be his man Friday or as many call him ‘modern Chanakya’ who helped him accomplish this stupendous success — Amit Shah, who also hails from Gujarat. It is no secret that behind the Narendra Modi wave, which smashed every anachronistic vestige of traditional Indian politics and disordered conventional mathematics of collating vote banks, was this man. He has thus been awarded with an even more arduous task, to be the No. 2 in the Cabinet, handling the Home Ministry. The portfolio comes with a complex web of challenges including the albattros in the neck Jammu and Kashmir, Article 370 and 35A, cross-border terrorism, the Maoists who have been wreaking havoc in various parts of the country with disruptive and violent ideologies, the restive issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC)particularly in the Northeast, and last but certainly not the least on the expectation list of a vast majority of Indians – the building of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
As Akrita Reyar Chief Editor (Digital), <Timesnownews> rightly says “After Shah pulled off stupendous feats for Modi in the Assembly elections of UP and the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 and 2019, the Prime Minister has sent out a clear message about his choice of successor. Amit Shah is a good 14 years younger than Modi, who after one more term would reach the age of the Margdarshak Mandal leaders. Also, for the moment, Shah is likely to remain the president of the BJP, and JP Nadda might be installed as the working president, especially with crucial elections round the corner in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana.”
Rajnath Singh, who was the Home Minister in Modi’s 2014 Cabinet, has been moved to the defence portfolio and will have the major task of upgrading defence equipment, stealth submarines, fighter planes and ammunition.
Nirmala Sitharaman takes over as the Finance Minister from her former boss Arun Jaitley who recused himself from the Cabinet. If various media reports are to be believed then it seems that Jaitley may have recommended Sitharaman, who studied economics and also worked as an economic consultant in the UK before her stints as Minister of State (MoS) Corporate and Commerce Minister. She faces an uphill task of putting the economy on track, considering the phase the Indian economy is in and also in the backdrop of a global slowdown.
Secondly, major transformations are waiting to be implemented, whether it is labour and land reforms or restructuring of the banking sector, or high optic moves of bringing to book willful financial defaulters. Jaitley, who is not keeping good health, was a hands-on minister, known to have detailed meetings with finance ministry officials long into the night and can be credited for the successful implementation of GST. In the same media reports it also appears that it is Jaitley who has asked for Anurag Thakur to be made MoS in Finance rather than, possibly, sports. Thakur has always been in the good books of Jaitley and earlier he had managed to get into cricket boards and associations on his recommendations.
Besides Jaitley, another notable omission is Sushma Swaraj, who has also seemingly opted out – the reason why she did not contest Lok Sabha polls either. It was a rare scene at the oathtaking ceremony on May 30th to see Sushma Swaraj, who has been a Member of Parliament since her 20s, walk across and sit in the front row of guests and not in the bloc of the council of ministers. Her replacement is Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who makes a lateral entry into the Cabinet. Jaishankar was the former ambassador to China and the US, and has been a diplomat for 30 years. Now retired, he was teaching in Singapore and also working in the capacity of President, Global Corporate Affairs with Tata Sons.
The reasons for Jaishankar’s selection are several: He is hard-nosed negotiator and was one of the key members who nailed the Indo-US nuclear agreement; his experience will come in handy in dealing with a tough client like China – he was foreign secretary during the Doklam standoff; his working equation with NSA Ajit Doval is also a plus, besides the fact that he played a key role in smoothening Modi’s relationship with the US during the PM’s first visit to the country after being denied a visa earlier. Jaishankar also has impeccable pedigree; he is the son of ace strategic expert late K Subrahmanyam and brother of eminent historian Sanjay K Subrahmanyam.
One of the key retentions is Nitin Gadkari as Minister of Road Transport and Highways; and Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. It is possible that he was already tipped to retain this heavyweight portfolio vital for the development of the country’s infrastructure, because, if grapevine is to be believed, he is all set and ready for his first Cabinet meeting with a humungous plan to lay 50,000 kms of highways.
Among the other prominent faces is Piyush Goyal, who keeps Railways and gets Commerce. A known performer who also stepped in for Arun Jaitley during the interim budget, Goyal, a CA by education, belongs to a Jan Sangh family; his father was former BJP national treasurer Prakash Goyal.
Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, the former CM of Uttarakhand, is a controversial figure who has landed the Human Resource Development Ministry seemingly because of the blessings and backing of the RSS. The MP from Haridwar is a former journalist and also writes poetry.
Giant killer Smriti Irani has been entrusted with the Women and Child Development portfolio and also retains the Textile Ministry — a clear reward for trouncing Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a tussle that was more symbolic than a plain hustings battle.
Who didn’t make the cut
All the motor mouths are out, whether it is Maneka Gandhi, Satya Pal Singh or Anant Kumar Hegde. An incredible 28 ministers have been dropped including prominent names like former Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, under whom exports did not take off, and Radha Mohan Singh, who did not shine as Agriculture Minister; farmer distress did indeed cost BJP dearly in Assembly bouts. Uma Bharati, who had handled the Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio in the first term, did not contest in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and hence was dropped from the list and Manoj Sinha was omitted due to his loss in the Lok Sabha election despite being previously praised for his handling of the railway ministry as the minister of state.
On the other hand, some names like Radha Mohan Singh, a cabinet rank minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, and Anupriya Patel, an MoS in the health and family welfare ministry, did not make the cut for underperforming in the previous term. Several others were omitted as a knuckle-rap of sorts.
For instance, Maneka Gandhi, the women and child development minister in the previous government, was dropped after she courted controversy during the Lok Sabha election. In a rally she had said that Muslims should not approach her for work if they don’t vote for her in the polls. Similarly, Anantkumar Hegde, previously Minister of State in Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, was dropped despite winning the Uttara Kannada Lok Sabha seat by a margin of over 4 lakh votes. He was recently reprimanded by the BJP leadership for his views on Nathuram Godse.
Then there is Jayant Sinha, MoS Finance and later Civil Aviation in the previous government. Given that he is the son of vocal party critic Yashwant Sinha, and had created controversy in 2017 for garlanding eight men convicted for lynching a cattle trader, nobody is surprised that he did not make the cut this time.
But there were some omissions that have raised eyebrows, Suresh Prabhu for one. He was a Shiv Sena leader in 2014 but Modi wanted him in his cabinet so Prabhu quit his party and the BJP made him a Rajya Sabha MP. He went on to head various portfolios including railways and commerce and industry.
Former soldier and Olympic medal winner Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who was given key portfolios of youth and sports as well as information and broadcasting in the previous government, was also not invited to join the new cabinet.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi brings new Ministers to his team, he sends out a loud and clear message to his colleagues: Either perform or perish. While choosing the new Ministers and changing portfolios, Modi brought home the fact that he prefers action from his Ministers over unnecessary controversy. His Government stands by transparency, accountability and performance to deliver what the party had promised during the time of election. Redrawing of his entire team is the result of his close door meetings followed by strict appraisal of all the ministries in the last term. The new cabinet reflects the style of functioning and the core values of the Government which Modi has been trying to build since he came to power in 2014. The expectation from the new members is thus clearly reflected in a message circulated by the Prime Minister’s Office after the swearing-in ceremony of 2014: “The new Ministry will be strategically deployed to further the priority areas of the government”. Sensing the popular mood and large following of Moditva by the young generation, Team Modi must ensure that the slogan, ‘saabka saath saabka vikas aur saabka vishwas’ comes into reality. This new cabinet provides an accurate snapshot of the Modi way of working where administration doesn’t happen on an island.
By Nilabh Krishna