Web Exclusive
Modi 2.0: Portfolios 10 key members of BJP might get in the new Cabinet

Topics Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and BJP President Amit Shah receive a grand welcome at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday | Photo: PTI
With the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returning to power at the Centre for another five years with a decisive mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, all eyes will now be on the shape the new Union Cabinet will take. The picture will get clearer on Thursday, with the swearing-in of the government.

Until then, bravely sticking our neck out, we look at the possible top ministers in the Narendra Modi Cabinet — starting with the ‘captain’ and ‘star player’ himself — based on intense buzz in political and bureaucratic circles:

Narendra Modi: Confounding all political pundits, commentators and journalists, he led the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to its highest-ever tally of 350 seats, with the BJP alone winning 303 seats, compared with the party’s tally of 282 in 2014. With such a crushing majority, expectations from the new government are, obviously, high. Bureaucratic sources say while the Modi government’s focus in its first term was on cleaning up the system, consolidation and curbing cronyism, in the second it will be on unleashing growth. The biggest challenges will be reviving the rural economy, boosting consumption and demand, and private investment. Officials are talking about widespread judicial reforms, and steps to reduce cost of capital, labour and land. The BJP’s manifesto had promised bringing the poverty rate (the poor as a proportion of total population) down to a single digit. It is also hoped that the prime minister, with a bigger mandate, would rein in the more extreme elements in his organisation and its ideological cousins. In his speech before NDA members of Parliament on Sunday, Modi spoke of an outreach to the minority communities as well.

Amit Shah: Considered by many as India’s shrewdest politician and the man behind the BJP’s two latest Lok Sabha victories, Shah is the person most trusted by the PM. The buzz in political and bureaucratic circles is increasingly getting louder that the BJP president would now join Modi’s Cabinet, picking either home or finance ministry. If that happens, he will no longer remain the party president. Informed sources have told Business Standard that Shah is the only person other than incumbent Arun Jaitley whom Modi would ideally want in the finance ministry. The other candidates for the ‘big four’ Raisina Hill ministries (home, finance, defence, external affairs), will be decided based on the portfolio Shah gets. Alternatively, Shah could continue as the BJP President, especially at a time when the Congress and its partner governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are on a weak footing. Also, some key state elections are around the corner — West Bengal, where Shah has made it his personal mission to defeat Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, goes to the polls in 2021. Either way, watch this space for more.

Rajnath Singh: The Union home minister in the first Narendra Modi government might have to give up the post if Shah is appointed to North Block. During his tenure, Singh had to deal with many challenges, including intelligence lapses leading to terror attacks in places like Uri, Pathankot and Pulwama. The situation in Kashmir is also said to have deteriorated. There remain many challenges for whoever ends up leading the home ministry. Singh, a former BJP President and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, is known as a moderate and could be acceptable to all parties in a role like that of the Lok Sabha speaker.

Sushma Swaraj: Although Swaraj did not contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, she made it clear that this was no retirement from politics. She could still have a second stint as the Minister of External Affairs or get another major Cabinet post, provided she is made a member of the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha within six months. At MEA, Swaraj had to work with the fact that the PMO decided on diplomatic matters and outreach, and Modi was said to be leading most of the bilateral and multilateral ties himself. Being accessible through social media, Swaraj was popular among the general public, but she ended up dealing mostly with passport and travel-related requests from Indians. If she does not continue in the Modi Cabinet, that will actually make things easier for Modi and Shah while deciding the new council of ministers.

Nirmala Sitharaman: Another one of the ministers whom Modi seems to trust, Sitharaman is the only second woman to hold the Defence portfolio after Indira Gandhi. It is learnt that if Jaitley cannot be Finance Minister because of his health, he will have a say in who succeeds him. In that case, it could be Sitharaman, as she is considered a capable administrator by him. Though Sitharaman did not make much inroads in overhauling defence procurement, she was at the helm of affairs when the Balakot strikes were carried out by the Indian Air Force, and also defended the government in Lok Sabha against the Rafale deal allegations by the opposition. Considered a rational, discreet politician, Sitharaman is also being touted for MEA in some circles.

Nitin Gadkari: Known as a doer during his term as Road Transport and Shipping Minister, there was a lot of talk of Gadkari being groomed as an alternative power centre to Modi and Shah who has support across parties. Though Gadkari has the backing of BJP’s ideological fount, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the magnitude of Modi’s victory means that there is a lot of speculation about what role Gadkari would be given in Modi’s new cabinet. There was talk of him either being given Defence or Finance, but that seems increasingly unlikely. The talk is that he could retain roads and shipping, or be made a combined transport minister encompassing roads, railways and shipping. There is also buzz about him being made the Agriculture Minister.

Smriti Irani: The ‘giant killer’ who defeated Congress President Rahul Gandhi in the Gandhi family pocket borough of Amethi is certainly due a promotion. She started Modi’s first term as Minister of the high-profile Human Resources Development and later held the posts in both Information and Broadcasting and Textiles, but from May 2018 onwards, only held the post of Minister of Textiles. It is said that her high-handedness rubbed many officials the wrong way, including those in the Press Information Bureau and the PMO. After being elected MP of Amethi however, she has redeemed herself and is due a bigger role in the new council of ministers. There is even talk of a major economic, social sector or infrastructure ministry.

Piyush Goyal: There is one significant factor here. The Confederation of All India Traders is known to be influential in the BJP government, and its views have been taken seriously. And, according to informed sources, the industry body's choice for finance minister is Piyush Goyal. The man ended the Modi government’s first term as the railway and coal minister and had been interim finance minister twice, from May 2018 to August 2018, and from mid-January to mid-February 2019, in Jaitley’s absence. Goyal presented the interim budget 2019-20 and even helmed a GST Council meeting. During his first short stint, project Shashakt was also launched, enabling banks to deal with non-performing assets before they were taken to the insolvency and bankruptcy process. Under Goyal, the Rail Ministry had increased the pace of infrastructure projects including track renewal and electrification. It is learnt that if Amit Shah has a say on who would be Finance Minister, it will be Goyal. Alternatively, he could be made the Minister of Transport, encompassing railways, roads and shipping.

Suresh Prabhu: Considered one of the few technocrats in the Modi government, he has led the Railways Ministry and after that the Commerce Ministry. During his time in Rail Ministry, the rail and union budgets were merged and initiatives like bullet train took shape and the implementation of the dedicated rail corridor were sped up. As commerce minister, Prabhu increased disbursals for marketing trade and export-related initiatives overseas but has failed to substantially increase India’s exports. There is still a chance he will find space in the new council of ministers.

Dharmendra Pradhan: The Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister is now being tipped to take over as the next BJP President if Shah gives up the post. Pradhan was a surprise candidate for the Petroleum Ministry in 2014 but later came to be known as an effective administrator. Key highlights include the Ujjwala scheme, policy decisions like natural gas pricing, new round of oil and gas auctions and increased cooking gas penetration from 56 per cent to 95 per cent. 

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel