At first, it does not appear to be a very inspiring team. Apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley, other senior ministers in the Modi Cabinet will have to provide evidence of efficient delivery in a government which has come to power promising `good governance.’ Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, etc., had not exactly made a mark in the Vajpayee Government. Modi has a proven track record as Gujarat Chief Minister, a widely recognised fact that has helped him immensely in becoming the country’s 15th Prime Minister. Jaitley too had a lot to his credit in the NDA regimes, whether it was as Disinvestment Minister or as Law and Justice Minister. Now, this is not to suggest that others are not capable. No. But they will have to prove that they are. The tough taskmaster that he is, Modi was not under any compulsion to accommodate mere passengers in his team. It is essentially his government, more than even that of the BJP or the NDA. The nation expects a lot from him. Therefore, whatever the choice of ministers, the credit or discredit will go to him. We strike a note of caution at the outset itself because barring a few prominent ministers, ordinary Indians will not find many familiar names in Team Modi. And even among the familiar names, some will raise eyebrows at the elevation of relatively inexperienced politicians to full cabinet status. Smriti Irani, for instance. She is articulate, sharp and a Modi loyalist. But the question is whether she can handle the all-important HRD Ministry. Veterans have been HRD ministers in the recent past. Yet, they all had very little to their credit. Maybe given her enthusiasm and grasp and the support of Modi, Irani can succeed where her predecessors had failed in mending the broken down educational system. There are other younger and largely unknown ministers who have been entrusted with key portfolios. It will help if the top officials in these ministries are efficient and make up for the inexperience of the ministers. Bureaucracy needs to be reassured that it will have nothing to fear should it take the right decisions and that honest mistakes will not attract penalty. Also, the selection of secretaries in various ministries must be made on merit alone. Modi succeeded in Gujarat by putting together a very competent team of officials who ran a very tight ship for him, even though he did have a full-fledged ministerial team. He will be tempted to assemble such a team as Prime Minister too, which could oversee and guide the working of key ministries. The accent has to be on delivery. It is notable that though the Modi team is nearly half the size of the one it has replaced, he too has had to accommodate various interests. Some states have got more representation while others have got none. Haryana, set to elect a new assembly in October, for instance, has got two ministers but Rajasthan has got only one, who reportedly was included at the last minute following protests by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. You cannot please everyone, especially when you want to make a clean break from the past. The BJP won seven out of a total of ten seats in Haryana, but in Rajasthan, it won all 25. There are other instances of such lopsidedness. Fortunately, there is adequate representation from the south, even if those included might have won their seats from elsewhere.
Combining ministries to bring synergies and efficiencies is a good beginning. Also, it does seem that defence has been given to Jaitley temporarily. The second instalment of ministry-making is scheduled after a month. By then, some inkling about the working of the ministry will be available. However, it is clear that Modi will have to personally ensure that his ministers are on course to fulfill the huge expectations of the voters. There are no parallel centres of power in his ministerial team or even in the party or the NDA, such being his mandate. His team might not boast of very many tall leaders, but his own public stature is so high that like a stern taskmaster, he alone will have to ensure that the performance of his government is demonstrably superior to that of the UPA. Inflation, economic growth, relations with neighbours, internal and external security, will need immediate attention. Hopefully, the first session of the 16th Lok Sabha will provide an inkling into the behaviour of the rejected and dejected Opposition. Should the ruling and the Opposition parties agree to cooperate, it will not be hard to meet the expectations of the people. Modi’s test has already begun.