Firm Message From Modi-Shah To The New Cabinet

Published: May 31, 2019 15:34 IST
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24 hours after all the glitz of the swearing-in, the cabinet list of Modi 2 was made public. It marked the big power debut of Amit Shah as union minister for Home Affairs after feverish speculation that he was going to get the Finance portfolio. Nirmala Sitharaman keeps shattering that glass ceiling: after becoming India's first woman Defence Minister, she is now the country's first woman Finance Minister in decades; Indira Gandhi held the portfolio while she was Prime Minister.

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Nirmala Sitharaman is now the country's first woman Finance Minister in decades

Rajnath Singh, the effective Number Two in Modi 2, has been given Defence (something he was pretty keen on) and former Indian Foreign Service official S Jaishankar got the Ministry of External Affairs, emerging as Modi's Manmohan Singh. Singh was first drafted in the cabinet in 1991 by the late Narasimha Rao.

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Rajnath Singh will get the Defence Ministry, while BJP chief Amit Shah will be the Home Minister

These then are the Big Four appointments. Nitin Gadkari, widely perceived as a doer, has retained his earlier remit of Transport and Small and Medium Industries. Dr Harsh Vardhan, an Ear Nose Throat specialist, has regained the Health portfolio which he held for a brief while in Modi 1.

Smriti Irani, champion of Amethi, has been rewarded with two portfolios with Women and Child Development added to her earlier ministry of Textiles. The affable Prakash Javadekar got two important portfolios: Environment and Information and Broadcasting.

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Smriti Irani will be Minister for Women and Child Development & Minister of Textiles

Piyush Goyal, till recently held as the front-runner for Finance, has kept Railways and added Commerce and Industry.

New entrant to the cabinet Ramesh Pokhriyal got Human Resource Development.

Ravi Shankar Prasad who won his first Lok Sabha election against Shatrughan Sinha from Patna Sahib got his domain, the Law Ministry.

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Ravi Shankar Prasad is Minister of Law and Justice; Minister of Communications; and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology

So what does this all mean? If we break it down, Modi has completely changed the composition of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) with two first-timers, Shah and Jaishankar, replacing Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj.

Shah, the all-conquering and most-successful BJP president in the party's history, had his pick of portfolios. Modi and Shah, the BJP's dream team, consulted for over nine hours on the cabinet and Shah then made the all-important phone calls to those who'd made the cut.

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Amit Shah (left), PM Modi and Rajnath Singh (right) at the swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan

Shah counts Sardar Patel as a huge inspiration and asked Modi for Home to carry out his and the BJP's vision for Jammu and Kashmir. This Home Minister will not be content being the cadre-controlling authority for Indian Police Service (IPS) officials. Expect a lot of action. The last executive job Shah held was the Home Minister of Gujarat under Modi as Chief Minister. That tenure was fairly controversial.

If Shah also holds on to his job as BJP President (he wants to oversee the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections), he will perhaps be the most powerful BJP leader in history.

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PM Narendra Modi was sworn in for the second time in a glittering ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan yesterday, with 57 ministers

Sitharaman did not win any laurels in her earlier stint as Commerce Minister and takes over the Finance Ministry at a critical time for the Indian economy. The election results euphoria will come up against the daunting realties of the Indian economy perceptibly slowing down. Investment, industrial production, export growth and unemployment are all either static or declining.

Jaishankar, who replaces Swaraj as Foreign Minister, is a huge Modi favourite and will ensure that the PMO works in complete sync with the Ministry of External Affairs with Modi's vision as the blueprint. Jaishankar knows his beat inside out and will hit the ground running with Pakistan, United States and China, India's most important bilateral relationships. His earlier stint as Ambassador to the US and Foreign Secretary smooth the way.

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S Jaishankar, a career diplomat, will be the Minister of External Affairs

Singh, who takes over Defence, will clamp down on the headline-making ministry specially with regard to the contentious Rafale deal. Singh listens to his officials but ensures an effective but low-key style of leadership. Huge defence acquisitions are pending and Singh will try and ensure that they are done.

The Modi 1 cabinet concentrated a lot of power in Jaitley as both Finance and Defence minister. That lopsided matrix is missing from Modi 2 with a very balanced portfolio allocation.

Modi 2 will start work from Day One, the message that both Modi and Shah have given all ministers. The Modi mantra to his ministers as told to me by one of the chosen is "Work hard, don't make headlines".

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.



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