Modi govt 2.0

Narendra Modi was sworn in on Thursday as prime minister of India for the second time amid extraordinary expectations from his government. With a 303-seat haul for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and with a commanding 353 seats for the National Democratic Alliance, high expectations from the government are only to be expected. Though a majority of the names in the second cabinet of Mr Modi are familiar as they were part of the earlier Council of Ministers, the prime minister has sent a strong signal of “perform or perish” by dropping around 30 ministers. Only a prime minister as much in charge of his party and parliamentary contingent as Mr Modi could have done such a cleaning-up exercise. However, two of those who do not find place in the new team are Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley because of their ill health. The prime minister would surely miss Mr Jaitley, his long-time friend and colleague who served as finance minister in the first Modi government, was the BJP’s chief trouble-shooter and steered the economy reasonably well. The absence of any representative from the Janata Dal (United), one of the BJP’s close allies, is surprising and signals a simmering tension between the two parties. 

Mr Modi has done well to bring in some new names, many of whom have proven themselves at the state level. In another welcome development, he has given a ministry slot to S Jaishankar, an outstanding ex-bureaucrat, and Hardeep Puri, a former career diplomat and minister, even though he lost the election. Induction of more such people who can marry good ideas with efficient execution is the need of the hour. 

The biggest entry in the Cabinet obviously is Amit Shah, the master strategist in the BJP’s spectacular win in the Lok Sabha election. The ability to deliver the goods for his party, along with his strong equation with Mr Modi, clearly makes him the second-most powerful member of the Union Cabinet. While the portfolio he would manage is not officially known, the buzz is that he may be given charge of the finance ministry. Though not much is known about Mr Shah’s economic thinking, his political heft could come in handy in taking tough reforms decisions in case he moves into North Block. That is required at a time when deep-rooted economic challenges such as reviving India’s growth momentum, both on the investment and consumption side, await the new government. Consumption, which makes up over 60 per cent of gross domestic product, has weakened sharply. Fixed investments have been almost stagnant at about 30 per cent of GDP in the past four years, and foreign direct investment has declined for the first time in six years. 

One of Mr Modi’s oft-repeated slogans has been “minimum government, maximum governance” — something that got pride of place in this year’s BJP manifesto as well. By the yardstick of that slogan alone, the signals are not very encouraging. In 2014, the first phase of the swearing-in saw a 45-member Council, raising hopes that the prime minister would walk his talk. But that hope was dashed as the second phase — within two years — saw the cabinet size swell to 78 members, the largest in years. This time round, as many as 59 ministers have taken oath in the first phase, and it is to be hoped that Mr Modi would stick to his slogan and go in for a broad downsizing of the Council of Ministers.


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