Continuity and stability: On the Modi government’s new cabinet

The BJP has kept the important portfolios for itself despite the new reality 

Updated - June 12, 2024 01:54 pm IST

Published - June 12, 2024 12:20 am IST

The composition of the new Union Council of Ministers, and the distribution of portfolios, are meant to be seen as an emphatic assertion of authority by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has won a third term, as leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell short of an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha by more than 30 seats, but the Council is a signature of continuity from the first two terms. Unlike the previous two terms, partners are crucial for the NDA in the third, but they have political reasons to remain aligned with the BJP. The continuation of all key Ministers in the Cabinet Committee on Security and those in charge of infrastructure portfolios suggests that no dramatic shift in policy should be expected in Mr. Modi’s third term, coalition or not. The TDP, JD(U), JD(S), the Shiv Sena faction led by Eknath Shinde, the NCP faction led by Ajit Pawar, and the LJP led by Chirag Paswan, have all accepted this reality, bickering by some of them notwithstanding. The composition of the Council is in line with the BJP’s strategy of seeking deeper and wider acceptance among Hindu communities across the length and breadth of the country, and representation for Christians and Sikhs, with the notable exclusion of Muslims.

Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman and S. Jaishankar continue in their previous roles, as Ministers for Defence, Home, Finance and External Affairs, respectively. Mr. Modi evidently trusts them, and their performance, though in the case of Mr. Singh and Mr. Shah, political reasons are also at play. Apart from piloting India’s defence ambitions, Mr. Singh is also expected to use his famed diplomatic skills to deal with politically sensitive issues such as the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the military. Mr. Jaishankar did a commendable job of carefully balancing India’s traditional ties and emerging interests in the previous term. While improving ties with the United States, he has managed to protect the strategic autonomy of India, now with an additional Hindutva hue. Ms. Sitharaman steered the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic turmoil, and has been a champion of its prospects. She has, however, not managed the contentious questions of Centre-State fiscal relations very well. Mr. Shah has a long list of politically sensitive issues to tackle in his new term — completion of the Census operation, transition of the criminal justice system with the implementation of the new criminal codes, and Centre-State relations, among other things. The Ministers have their task cut out, and stability helps. They will also be called upon to exercise wisdom.

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