Modi 2.0: Blurs party-govt separation, rewards performance

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India
President Ram Nath Kovind administers oath of office and secrecy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the second consecutive term during the swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo PTI

Narendra Damodardas Modi has begun his second innings with a bang at the majestic forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday. His swearing-in ceremony as prime minister for the second consecutive term was a spectacle with 6,500 invitees, the largest ever, watching the event.

He took the oath of office and secrecy with the colourfully lit red sandstone building of Rashtrapati Bhavan forming the perfect background. It wasn’t the medium but the message that mattered: Narendra Modi 2.0 is a bold attempt with a single minded determination to hold power at the Centre and strengthen grassroots policy making in the states, a tool to build and strengthen the party organisation.

The newly minted cabinet reflects the personality of the Modi-Shah duo. It is lean, mean and represents, to borrow a cliché, “continuity with change”

It’s lean because only 57 ministers have been sworn in though he can go up to 80 as it is constitutionally mandated that the cabinet size should be limited to 15% of total Lok Sabha members. The Prime Minister is likely to use the headroom to accommodate more allies and provide more regional representation in the coming months.

Since only a representation each was given to the allies, JD(U) has decided to keep out. The BJP is likely to hold parleys to get the most important ally from Bihar into the cabinet. Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal has been left out of the council of ministers probably because the demands raised by her party could not be met by the BJP.

It’s mean because in this exercise Modi has dropped 37 ministers including nine cabinet ministers and four ministers of state with independent charge. Since the BJP has returned with a massive majority of its own it doesn’t require any allies. But since it has decided to be an NDA ministry rather than a BJP one, the terms are different.

Modi 2.0 is change with continuity because while a majority of the ministers have been retained in the second term, a whole lot of new faces have been brought in. Many of them are essentially giant slayers. For instance Smiriti Irani felled Rahul Gandhi; Gajendra Shekhawat had beaten Vaibhav Gehlot, Rajasthan chief minister’s son; and Rattan Lal Kataria had beaten Kumari Selja, Congress veteran in Haryana.

Of course it’s not just efficiency, but also the loyalty that has been kept in mind. The Modi-Shah accolades have been generously included. Besides the regulars there are new faces such as V Muraleedharan from Kerala (Rajya Sabha), who is considered close to Amit Shah. G Kishan Reddy, who won the Secunderabad seat, is a new favourite.

Starting with the finance ministry, all economic ministries will undergo a massive change. With Arun Jaitley out, whose performance was chequered in the previous government, the new inductee is expected to give a new thrust to economic ministries. With Suresh Prabhu out, commerce and industry will get a fresh face. Though Prabhu was considered efficient he seems to have fallen prey to Shiv Sena’s insistence that he should not be in the cabinet.

Civil aviation helmed earlier by Jayant Sinha is under distress. Since he is sacked it would see a new face. Similarly agriculture ministry will see a replacement to Radha Mohan Singh.

The “look south” policy of the BJP has not adequately reflected in the ministry-making as BJP has no Lok Sabha representation in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The cabinet has one RS member from Kerala. These are likely to be filled up in the next expansion.

Overall the new government is likely to see a very close association with the party. Modi 2.0 is crafted differently with two prominent faces — Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley — choosing to opt out. The synergy between governance and electoral politics is likely to be closer than ever in the past.