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View: PM Modi's new Cabinet signals continuity

If 2014 was a vote for change, 2019 can then be considered a vote for continuity.

, ET Bureau|
Jun 01, 2019, 06.46 AM IST
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In hindsight, this should have been an easy cabinet to choose for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The frenzied and feverish speculation that accompanied this exercise looked a tad excessive when you consider the fact that PM Modi and the BJP won a much bigger mandate based on the work done by them in 2014-19. Welfare economics, the social welfare programmes and the aggressive infrastructure push in the past five years was heavily touted as having improved India’s standard of living, growth prospects and global prestige. It was also sold as having transformed the lives of the poor, especially those who didn't have access to basic facilities such as bank account, electricity etc.

The people of India believed it and voted the BJP back to power with a bigger mandate. The party not only won more seats but increased its vote share by more than 6% and made deep inroads into hitherto uncharted areas such as West Bengal, Telangana and Odisha. If the BJP’s sweep in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat in 2014 was impressive, a repeat performance in 2019 with more seats in Karnataka and Haryana and a consecutive clean sweep in Gujarat and Rajasthan was even more astonishing. Within six months of losing power in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it bounced back to comprehensively bury the Congress in what can only be called a command performance. Few seats were lost in UP despite the opposition ganging up and major inroads were made in the East and the South.

Therefore, if 2014 was a vote for change, 2019 can then be considered a vote for continuity. If people didn't want continuity, the BJP would either have not come back to power or would have got it with reduced majority.

So when PM Modi announced his cabinet on Thursday with few big changes and retained most of his ministers in earlier roles, it really was not much of a surprise given the message from the electorate. The only big changes were in the core cabinet comprising the ministries that form the cabinet committee on security (CCS). Defence, home, external affairs and finance. There were four big surprises here; The entry of Mr S Jaishankar, the exit of Mr Arun Jaitley, the entry of Mr Amit Shah and the shifting of Nirmala Sitharaman to finance. Everywhere else, the message of continuity was largely the major theme. Dharmendra Pradhan retained petroleum and natural gas and got additional charge of steel; Piyush Goyal didn't get finance but retained railways and got additional charge of another big ministry, commerce and industry. He had to give up coal which is now merged with mines under Prahlad Joshi who also got parliamentary affairs. High-flying Smriti Irani retained textiles and got additional charge of woman and child development. It may seem a lightweight ministry but she gets a chance to major things in the WCD ministry given the focus on improving the lives and welfare of women both within and outside the government. DV Sadananda Gowda and Dr Harsh Vardhan, one a former chief minister and the other a chief ministerial aspirant get big promotions. Gowda gets chemicals and fertilisers, which was handled by his now-deceased Karnataka colleague Ananth Kumar, while Harsh Vardhan gets health and family welfare with JP Nadda moving out. Ram Vilas Paswan, Harsimrat Badal Kaur, Nitin Gadkari, Ravi Shankar Prasad, all leading ministers in NDA 2 get to keep the same portfolios with some minor changes here and there. Outside of the CCS ministries and the others mentioned above, the big changes have been in agriculture, human resource development, tribal affairs. Prakash Javadekar is shifted out of HRD to his old ministry of environment and forests, Ramesh Pokhriyal gets HRD, while Arjun Munda gets tribal affairs in place Jual Oram. Narendra Singh Tomar gets agriculture in place of Radha Mohan Singh.

But these changes apart, the cabinet looks more or less the same with familiar faces holding familiar portfolios. The big change that is likely to keep political temperatures high in the nation’s capital and elsewhere is the appointment of Amit Shah as home minister. The common perception is that Shah is the BJP’s organisation man, the backroom strategist who mans the war room and plots strategic and tactical moves. The point to note however is that he may have well been that kind of a man in 2014 and 2017 but he has now moved well beyond that.

Shah today is coming up as mass leader, public speaker and crowd-puller for the BJP. In this election, he did nearly 250 rallies, conducted solo road shows in crucial places like Amethi and Kolkata. He actually did more rallies than prime minister Narendra Modi.

In the coming weeks and months, the home ministry is going to become the focal point of many important developments and decisions. The BJP has promised to implement the NRC (National Register of Citizens) nationwide and abrogate Article 35A and Article 370. The prime minister has also said that they will take a decision on ordinance for building the Ram Mandir after the supreme court gives its verdict on the issue. The home ministry, needless to say, will play a big role in all this and Amit Shah with his blunt, no-holds barred delivery style will be the man to watch. The home ministry is also examining the issue of Rahul Gandhi’s citizenship so anybody who thought that political drama ended on the evening of May 23 is in for a rude shock.

Prime Minister Modi read the 2019 electoral verdict in favour of continuity right in his cabinet formation. But he may have also read another message right. The message in favour of implementing some of the key promises in the BJP election manifesto especially those relating to Article 35A, Article 370, the NRC and the Ram Mandir. And he has ensured that his key lieutenant from his old Gujarat days is there on top to implement such decisions at an appropriate time.
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