By Mayank Jain:
“We have the best government that money can buy.” – Mark Twain
The swearing in ceremony that erupted with much grandeur and princely gestures, concluded last evening and we have our 15th Prime Minister in the office already. Accompanying him are the 44 ministers who took oath after him, they will form the council of ministers which is segregated further into union ministers, ministers of state with independent charge and cabinet ministers.
The country gears up to be led under the strongest mandate in thirty years and these are the 10 things you must know about the cabinet which might prove detrimental or decisive to India’s future:
- Home Affairs: Rajnath Singh is the current NDA president and an RSS patriarch who continues to hold the organization in good reverence. He swore as a cabinet minister yesterday and is likely to be the Minister for Home Affairs. In the light of India’s diversity and even more fragmented electorate that seeks different things from the ruling party; Home Affairs is going to be a challenge for him. On one hand, BJP has promised consideration to new states as well as a tough stand on terrorism and naxalism, and on the other hand Rajnath Singh will find himself struggling to balance party’s image among Muslims and other groups, to reduce the conflicts in the valleys of Kashmir or communal violence that occurred in Karnataka.
- Financing the Defence: Modi has reserved his best man for the most critical areas that the country faces. Arun Jaitely, who is a well-known lawyer and BJP leader is expected to be given Finance and Defence portfolios which make his job rather interesting. India’s border security is a sensitive issue on all sides. Pakistan has violated ceasefire multiple times in 2013 while Bangladesh border brings in lots of immigrants and the party has spilled fire against them during the campaign. Also, Indian defence needs to go indigenous and reduce the burden on international suppliers of arms like Russia and give breathing space to the budget too. Tired of paying high prices for everything and with the hope of a reduction of taxes, the common man voted for this government and it will be critically judged on the ability to manage inflation.
- Sushma Swaraj’s latest venture: Sushma Swaraj is BJP’s queen of firsts. She was the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi and the first woman spokesperson of a political party and she even won the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award before finally being given the charge of Ministry of External Affairs yesterday. She is the first woman to hold the position and her priorities should reflect BJP’s promise of “rebooting Indian foreign policy”, which can be done through making substantial progress in peace treaties with Pakistan and China. The ceasefire agreement is still not worded and it only reflects the lax attitude that UPA had.
- One Muslim Face in the Cabinet: Najma Heptullah, is the lone Muslim participant in Modi’s cabinet. She is the grandniece of freedom fighter Abdul Kalam Azad. She joined the NDA in 2004 and her representation will be a ray of hope to the Muslims whoÂ have long accused BJP of out casting them. Also, the current Lok Sabha will have lowest ever Muslim representation in the history with just 4.6% for the 10.5% of population that Muslims form in the country.
- Maneka Gandhi’s re-entry: She had a long wait, sitting on the sidelines; but now the staunch animal rights supporter has managed to get a Cabinet berth for herself. Maneka Gandhi is the wife of deceased Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi who joined BJP leaving the legacy party, Congress. She will be given the Women and Child Development ministry. Her experience in journalism, activism and law will prove beneficial for her to utilize. The challenge beforeÂ her would be to tackle malnutrition and bring progress on the family planning front.
- Uttar Pradesh’s dominance: Uttar Pradesh sends the most MPs to Lok Sabha, as many as 71 of them belong to the BJP and the party has rewarded the state quite proportionately. Modi government has showered 4 cabinet seats and 3 ministries of state out of which 2 come with independent charge. The state will have a healthy representation but the challenge of rising over caste and vote bank politics still loom large. The cabinet ministers will have to stick to the Party’s development agenda and not go astray delivering sops to communities in order to secure votes.
- Surprise from South: Rajasthan delivered all 25 seats to BJP but the party gave only one Cabinet berth to the state while Southern states in total couldn’t manage more than 6 seats in the council of ministers. The move might be keeping in view the relatively poor performance in those states but it will be a challenge to overcome bias and appear representative of the country as a whole for the party which is already suffering criticism and protests from Tamilians for inviting Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa who has been held accountable for the LTTE fiasco.
- Smriti Irani’s Lack of Experience: Her ascent from aÂ Miss India finalist to being BJP’s Vice-President is a story worth telling. But her task ahead as the Human Resources Development minister is full of obstacles. She has held party positions but her career is still not politically mature enough to tackle the challenges that HRD brings with itself. Her acumen and ability to work can’t be debated given the close contest she put against Rahul Gandhi in his stronghold, Amethi. She will find it hard to move from her TV actor and producer image and work towards an inclusive development agenda which is sharp, focused and youth oriented, the population that knows her the most and knows her the best. Interestingly, she also fasted against Modi some 10 years back.
- Mash up of Broadcasting and Environment: Two portfolios that lie poles apart have been put under the purview of Prakash Javadekar. He is one of the most well-known faces of the party as he is the national spokesperson of the party. He has been an activist during his days of association with ABVP but his lack of experience in environmental affairs remains a cause of concern. Moreover, he will find his hands too tied in I&B to concentrate on the glaring environmental concerns that confront the country.
- Gadkari’s responsibility increases: Nitin Gadkari is known for being one of the most vocal BJP Presidents when his term lasted from 2009-2013. He has been the PWD minister in the government of 1995-1999 and has been responsible for key projects including the Mumbai-Pune expressway. He appears to be one of the better suited people for the portfolio of surface transport and shipping. Though, he is never too far from controversy as he came into light for his business empire with interests in cooperative sugar manufacturing as well as his recent threats to Pakistan on the national television.
The cabinet is yet to be formed and the ministries are yet to be formally announced but the exit of Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi has signalled the beginning of a new generation of politics for the Bhartiya Janata Party.