A refreshing exercise

Updated - November 16, 2021 07:34 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2014 12:49 am IST

Given the magnitude of the mandate that the Bharatiya Janata Party received in the Lok Sabha election, and his own well-recognised role in it, >Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to exercise a free hand in choosing the >Council of Ministers . The allies were in no position to ask for prime portfolios, and power centres within the BJP were no longer powerful enough to question the decisions of a man credited with leading the party to victory. The Modi stamp on the ministry-formation was thus unmistakable. A leaner and younger team drawn from across India took office, with Mr. Modi making no overt attempt to placate sulking >party seniors or demanding regional allies. Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, who were instrumental in projecting Mr. Modi as the prime ministerial candidate prior to the election, took their place immediately behind him. Mr. Singh got the powerful Home Ministry and Mr. Jaitley was put in charge of not only finance and corporate affairs, but also defence. While Mr. Jaitley might not hold on to the defence portfolio beyond the next Cabinet shuffle, the fact that he was entrusted with such heavy responsibilities is indicative of the extent to which Mr. Modi will lean on him for support. That he lost in the election hardly seems to have mattered in the larger context. In contrast, senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who initially resisted the demand that he vacate his Varanasi seat for Mr. Modi, did not qualify in the under-75 criterion.

However, whether for tactical reasons or otherwise, the Prime Minister also displayed a readiness to be accommodative. Sushma Swaraj, who was among the few dissenting voices in the party, was given >charge of the Ministry of External Affairs , though it will never be known if it was in recognition of her role as Leader of the Opposition in the previous Lok Sabha or as an expression of magnanimity. The influence of the RSS, never to be underestimated in the BJP, was evident only in the choice of Mr. Nitin Gadkari. Although the >size of the Cabinet was trimmed, the proposal for the convergence of related ministries, as implemented, seemed more a practical step than a radical move. Shipping, road transport and highways have been clubbed together; so also finance and corporate affairs. Overseas affairs, handled by a Cabinet Minister under the previous government, is now under the charge of the Minister of State dealing with external affairs. Overall, Mr. Modi seems to have made some effort to identify younger people who were loyalists or political heavyweights with experience and expertise to back them. Not everyone in the ministry satisfies each of the criteria, but all qualify under one head or the other.

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