The induction of party chief Amit Shah as No 3 in the Narendra Modi cabinet marks a definitive new verve and vitality for Modi's second innings. The enthusiastic pan-India participation of people from all walks of life and an array of heads of state from East Asian countries made the swearing-in ceremony yesterday a historic occasion.
Amit Shah's entry will bring a remarkable dynamism and direction to the new cabinet. His five-year stint as party president transformed the BJP into the most combative, vibrant and winning political formation in the country. He exudes confidence, commitment and is an inspirational quotient with strategic edge. This is sure to help Modi achieve the ambitious goals of his second term.
No other Prime Minister in recent memory had such a large and distinguished audience to witness his swearing-in. It is a measure of his popularity that the entire nation was buoyed to watch the swearing-in. What stood out, the novelty of the Modi team, was change with continuity.
Modi has retained a large number of his old team members though the performance of some of them was just ordinary. The significant aspect is that many talented veterans of the first term are absent in the new team. The prominent political personalities of the Advani era are now out of the cabinet. Mainly due to health reasons perhaps, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharati, Jual Oram are gone. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, because of their excellent performance, had carved out a niche for themselves. Their intelligent and reasoned articulation will be missing now.
During the election, Sushma Swaraj was in charge of the campaign literature team. She effectively popularized the big achievements of the Modi government through scores of beautifully designed leaflets and audio-video inputs. The entire media campaign strategy was monitored through the daily intervention of Arun Jaitley.
The new Modi team is a combination of pan-India presence and vitality. Many notable young faces have found a place in the 57-member team led by him. But this looks like a work in progress. Some states like Maharashtra and Bihar are over-represented. Some like Karnataka, UP, Orissa and Bengal are under-represented. And many like Tamil Nadu, Andhra, and the North East are scantily seen. Modi's confidence in ex-bureaucrats is evident from the induction of S. Jaishankar, Hardeep Puri and RK Singh in the cabinet. They may not bring any political capital but could be attractive to a certain segment. The presence of other political heavyweights who are rated highly for their performance like Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Dharmendra Pradhan have added to the glory of the new cabinet. Another shining star in the new team is the giant killer from Amethi, Smriti Irani. Her electrifying presence is infectious and will be inspirational for taking up what may appear to be impossible and insurmountable tasks ahead. In the poll campaign for 2019, one of the most heard slogans was "Modi hai to mumkin hai (Modi makes the impossible possible)". Smiriti Irani has personified this by defeating Rahul Gandhi on his turf.
The interest in the new team will also focus on the the choice of portfolios for seniors. Home, External Affairs, Finance, Infrastructure, Power, Petroleum and Gas were some of the high-performance areas of the first Modi government.
The absence of J P Nadda in Heath will be felt. The ambitious Modicare or Ayushman Yojana, one of Modi's ground-breaking initiatives, is very popular and in early stages of implementation. Under Nadda, the health sector had seen far-reaching reforms making health care affordable, popular and accessible. The reduction of drug prices, stents and cheaper heart and cancer treatment were some of the big achievements that ensured Modi his huge mandate. Nadda is likely to play a bigger role now.
It will be interesting to watch how the presence of Amit Shah will accelerate Modi's execution of his pet welfare schemes for uplifting the poor and making India great. Shah's USP is in setting high goals and achieving them. Another unfinished task is getting new allies and accommodating Janata Dal(U) into the new set up. Nitish Kumar has diametrically opposite views to the BJP on many important areas. But they are a winning combination in Bihar.
Jaganmohan Reddy's demand for special status for Andhra is another task the government has to deal with immediately. Both Jagan and K Chandrasekhar Rao were keen on a good rapport with NDA.
Modi is beginning his second term with a bigger mandate than in 2014 which has made him more powerful and widely acceptable. The world at large will be more confident of dealing with him. His earlier win was described by many as a one-time wonder. Now he has ensured his place in history.
(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)
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