The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) completes eight years in office today (May 26). Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to be the central figure in the government — some call him a bold economic reformer, others call him a political strongman with a nationalist mindset, and several others call him a youth icon, a point badminton star P.V. Sindhu recently emphasised in a new book on the PM.
In that same book, Modi @20 Dreams Meet Delivery, economist Surjit Bhalla, considered to be close to the government, has written that PM Modi’s policies have focused on the delivery of benefits to the poor and those who have been discriminated against — women.
Bhalla, currently the Executive Director, IMF for India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, has underlined that Modi has the confidence because he identifies with the people; he understands their trials, their poverty, and their aspirations. “And that is almost a guarantee for political success, and success as a leader whom people want to follow.”
True to this observation, the BJP with its political allies, has expanded its footprint across the states – from just five states before the 2014 general elections to 17 states now. But in the larger success story of the NDA, there are innumerable players who have played a part. Here is a select list of key figures in the Modi government:
Amit Shah: Political observers believe that Mr Shah is the de-facto number two in PM Modi’s government. The camaraderie and long association between Modi and Shah is well known. Apart from the PM, Home Minister Shah has played a key role in turning around the BJP’s political fortunes over the last few years through his sheer organisational skill, and attaching importance to all layers of elections — from municipal polls to general elections.
He not only projects the larger-than-life image of PM Modi, but is also hands on in winning election after election in states, including the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, and at the Centre. After becoming party president in 2014, his role in strengthening the BJP at the booth level, the key touchpoint for voters, is well known in his party and among opposition leaders.
As the Home Minister, political observers and policy watchers believe that Shah has a strong hold over policy direction in his ministry, crucial for the internal security of the country. He is also the go-to man in the party and considered in the government as a troubleshooter and skilful crisis manager.
Ajit Doval: The National Security Advisor in the Modi government, Ajit Doval has a wider mandate. From internal security to playing a key role in the Centre’s Kashmir policy, from border talks with China to attending the QUAD summit in Japan with the prime minister, Doval plays both in the background and the foreground on behalf of the government.
Born in Uttarakhand and grew up in Ajmer (Rajasthan), Doval is a retired IPS officer of the Kerala cadre and a former Intelligence Bureau chief. While his tenure in Pakistan as an undercover IB agent is well known, he had also played roles in anti-insurgency operations in Punjab and Mizoram. Doval was one of the team members who negotiated the release of passengers from the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in Kandahar in 1999 too.
PK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the PM: Pramod Kumar Mishra is a 1972 batch IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, originally from Odisha. Known for his unassuming personality, and often termed as a man of few words, Mishra has a tight grip over key subjects, including economics, agriculture, power and disaster management, among others.
Dr Mishra has a Ph.D in Economics/Development Studies from the University of Sussex, an M.A. in Development Economics at the University of Sussex and also an M.A. in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics. He is an economics graduate from G.M. College (Sambalpur University) in Odisha.
He was one of the key figures in planning and executing the reconstruction and recovery efforts after the devastating Gujarat earthquake in 2001. Considered close to PM Modi, he was the additional principal secretary in the PMO till his elevation in September 2019. He and the larger PMO work as the nerve centre for the Prime Minister’s interactions with other ministries, and for policy formulation and execution.
Nirmala Sitharaman: An adept spokesperson of the party and an able administrator, Sitharaman wears many hats. Her importance in the union government is much larger than being a senior cabinet minister or the first full-time woman finance minister of the country.
She not only articulates government policies well, but is also seen holding comprehensive press conferences and takes questions from the media, something uncommon in the NDA government at the centre. Whether it is the economic packages announced after the Covid outbreak, or post-budget discourses and debates in Parliament, Sitharaman presents herself as a structured and articulate minister, ready to answer questions – be they political, policy or economic – with ease. Political observers believe that she acts as a counter to all those who argue that Modi government ministers shy away from taking questions.
Nitin Gadkari: One of the senior-most ministers in the Modi government, Gadkari is seen as a man with ideas. The Road Transport and Highways minister is a key constituent of the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan. Gadkari has time and again argued that improving multi-modal connectivity and last-mile connectivity across the country, is important for achieving the PM’s dream of making India a $5 trillion economy.
Gadkari, under whom road development has picked up pace, is now targeting construction of 50 km of national highway every day across the country. For a developing economy like India, infrastructure growth is crucial for economic growth and job creation.
S. Jaishankar: A career diplomat, in 2019, Jaishankar became the first former foreign secretary to become a cabinet minister. As a diplomat he had played a role in negotiations leading to India-US civil nuclear cooperation, and was instrumental in handling the Devyani Khobragade controversy in the US, through diplomatic perseverance and measured responses.
Experts argue that he successfully managed PM Modi’s first visit to the US and facilitated the summit meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Barack Obama. His role and negotiation skills have helped the government deal with crises such as the China border tensions and more recently, India’s stand on oil imports from Russia, to cite two examples.
At a press meeting after the 2+2 dialogue in Washington DC in April, Foreign Minister Jaishankar gave a factual rebuttal on India’s oil imports from Russia. “If you are looking at energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe…We do buy some energy, which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So, you might want to think about that,” he said in Washington DC, showing his acumen to deal with complex diplomatic issues.
Before becoming the foreign secretary (2015-18), Jaishankar served in key postings around the world. He was the Ambassador to the US from 2013-15, Ambassador to China from 2009-2013, and High Commissioner to Singapore from 2007-2009 among others, according to official information. He has also served in other diplomatic assignments, including in Indian Embassies in Moscow, Colombo, Budapest and Tokyo, apart from the Ministry of External Affairs and the President’s Secretariat.
Rajnath Singh: Political and policy observers argue that as the Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh has his plate full with China on one side and Pakistan on the other. But beyond his ministerial responsibilities, Singh is also seen as a close confidant of PM Modi. In the government, he chips in as a firefighter during conflict situations. One such example was during the farmers’ agitation against the three controversial farm laws.
Singh has ample experience and had served as the agriculture minister in the A.B. Vajpayee government. Part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ecosystem from an early age, Singh is often described as an old school politician – calm, composed and a team player.
Dharmendra Pradhan: Close to the top leadership in the government, Pradhan steered the government’s flagship social welfare initiative — the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawla Yojana, and took free cooking gas connections to the poor and women in the first term of the Modi government. The move not only won him attention and appreciation for improving the lot of families in rural India, especially women, but also built a political base for the party in the hinterland. The dividend was clearly visible in the electoral outcome of 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Pradhan is now taking care of two masses-facing ministries — education, and skill development & entrepreneurship. He talks eloquently about India’s demographic dividend, mainstreaming skilling to improve labour productivity, and shares political responsibility not just in his home state Odisha but in the politically significant Uttar Pradesh.
While he was referred to as the ‘Ujjwala man’ in his previous term in the Modi government, his current responsibility is trickier as education is a politically sensitive subject. It is nuanced in its implications and runs the risk of inviting controversy with states, especially on a linguistic level. Other than executing the new national education policy, which is crucial for education reforms and improving the competitiveness of the country's youth, many believe that Pradhan has a mandate to push technical education in vernacular languages, a prickly issue in India.
Piyush Goyal: A chartered accountant by profession, Piyush Goyal worked as an investment banker before becoming a BJP parliamentarian. Considered a go-to man in the party, he has held several portfolios — coal, power, railways and finance — in the union government. Currently, he is the Minister of Commerce and Industry (2019-present), Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution (2020-present) and Textiles (2021-present). Besides, he is also the Leader of the Rajya Sabha. A former treasurer of the party, political observers believe he is still hands-on in raising funds for the party.
Other than his ministerial responsibilities, Goyal is a strong defender of the Modi government and champions a range of subjects — from startups and youth productivity, to FTAs and ease of doing business, to inviting investors to India. Goyal, many argue, represents a progressive face of India at trade and commerce forums in India and internationally, and is often heard underlining that “good economics makes for good politics”.