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Last Updated : May 31, 2019 01:24 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Politics | The takeaways from Modi’s new Cabinet

If a map of India is taken and the Modi’s 57 ministers are geo-tagged to the constituency they represent, it would spread across the nation. This is a reflection of the BJP’s presence across India.

Viju Cherian @VijuCherian

Viju Cherian

On May 30, President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath of office and secrecy to Narendra Modi, who started his second, consecutive term as Prime Minister of India. Along with Modi, 57 ministers took the oath, putting to rest the speculation as to who would make the cut and who would not.

While Modi has stuck to more or less his earlier team, the surprise entries and omissions are interesting. He has retained most of his Cabinet ministers — with a few rejigs here and there. This gives an idea that the tone and tenor, and style of functioning of the new government.

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The biggest speculation was whether BJP President and Gandhinagar MP Amit Shah would be a part of Modi’s Cabinet — his elevation is seen as a reward to his excellent work in not only expanding the BJP’s footprint across the country, but in also improving the party’s Lok Sabha tally from 282 in 2014 to 303 in 2019.

Earlier, media reports speculated that Shah would be given the finance portfolio — this could have been because former finance minister Arun Jaitley has excused himself from joining the Cabinet over health reasons. However, Shah has been made the Union home minister.

If Shah joining ‘Team Modi’ was anticipated, former foreign secretary S Jaishankar joining the Cabinet is also no surprise. In the three years he served as foreign secretary to Modi, Jaishankar proved to be a vital bureaucrat who played a crucial role in furthering Modi’s foreign policy vision. He has played an important role in India building ties with the West, strengthening relations with West Asia and reinvigorating ties with the East. Jaishankar’s political role also is a good example of domain experts getting lateral entry into the administration — a trend which needs more encouragement. No prizes for guessing, Jaishankar has been made the external affairs minister.

The swearing-in ceremony sent a clear message. Modi, by inviting leaders of the seven-nation BIMSTEC, has given a preview to an aspect of his foreign policy focus. If in 2014, he invited SAARC leaders and tried to improve relations with India’s neighbours, in 2019, his focus in on building ties with India’s neighbours sharing the Bay of Bengal. By turning to the east there could also be a message for Beijing that over the next five years New Delhi will be focusing in this region.

If a map of India is taken and the Modi’s 57 ministers are geo-tagged to the constituency they represent, it would spread across the nation. This is a reflection of the BJP’s presence across India. However, the representation from the two southern-most states is intriguing. Yes, the BJP failed to win a single seat from either Kerala or Tamil Nadu, but could any of the BJP candidates from these states found place in Modi’s Cabinet?

The representative from Kerala is V Muraleedharan, BJP’s state President and a Rajya Sabha member. One wonders why former Mizoram governor and BJP Kerala President Kummanam Rajasekharan, who gave Congress’ Shashi Tharoor a good fight in this election, missed the call from the PMO. After Kerala’s lone BJP MLA O Rajagopal, Rajasekharan is the party’s tallest state leader—giving him a national role could have helped in boosting the morale of the state cadre. Muraleedharan has been appointed minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs; and minister of state in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

There is no representative from Tamil Nadu. Though the BJP has tried to explain that Nirmala Sitaraman and Jaishankar hail from Tamil Nadu, it’s little comfort for the state unit or for BJP’s ally All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Even the lone AIADMK MP from the state, P Raveendranath Kumar, failed to make the cut. The intra-party politics in the AIADMK is attributed as the reason for no AIADMK representative in the Cabinet. Sitaraman, who was the defence minister in the earlier Cabinet, is now appointed finance minister.

It must be the experience over the past five years, but there is an intrigue (with a healthy mix of journalistic excitement and common man’s fear) as to what will be the next step by this government. If the past five years was spent on laying the foundation to deliver the basics, such as Aadhaar, Jan Dhan, Ayushman Bharat, the next five will be to build on these.

Finally, the message in retaining most of the ministers is that the second term will see a continuation of the past five years — as is said, ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’.

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First Published on May 31, 2019 01:13 pm
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