New Delhi : Apart from the decision of not appointing a full-time Defence Minister, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not sprung any surprise while putting in place a 45-member three-tier team.
The big states have been given a fair share of cabinet berths, the allies have been accommodated, and although the portfolio allocation has not taken place formally, if the grapevine gets it right then there are no upsets in this segment as well. A few non-MPs have been included, but there are no signs of any technocrats in Modi’s dream team that has now been in the works for more than ten days.
The decision about the defence ministry speaks volumes about the strengths and weaknesses of the Modi government. In the first place it reveals that despite winning an impressive 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, the party has not been able to discover a talent worthy of this job. Then in picking Jaitley for both finance and defence, Modi has made it clear as to where his trust regarding expertise and ability lies. So, notwithstanding his Amritsar loss, Jaitley is the man Modi trusts most.
For the rest, all the big guns — Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj — are there and the obvious differences that Swaraj had with Modi the candidate seem to have vanished. Coming back with renewed vigour is the RSS-blue eyed boy Nitin Gadkari, who had exited under controversial circumstances when he was all set for an unprecedented second successive term as the party president. Riding on his reputation as a highly effective administrator on the strength of his stint as PWD minister in Maharashtra, which saw projects worth several thousands of crores completed, including the Mumbai-Pune Express-way, he is tipped to head the integrated transport and shipping ministry.
Maharashtra with half a dozen ministers has grabbed the lion’s share in this cabinet, and apart from Gadkari the other cabinet ministers are Gopinath Munde and Shiv Sena leader Anant Geete. Piyush Goyal, the party’s national treasurer who showcased skills during the campaign, and Prakash Javadekar, the efficient national spokesperson, have been chosen to be ministers of state with independent charge whereas the Jalna MP Rasaheb Danve is the lone minister of state. Given its strength of 18 MPs, the Shiv Sena does have a grouse about inadequate representation, but then under the political circumstances this appears to be a good deal.
After Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh is the other state to send a strong contingent of ministers in the Modi team. Beginning with Rajnath Singh, who relinquishes the party’s presidency to be the number two in the Modi cabinet, there is the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti who has won from Jhansi, along with the veteran Brahmin leader Kalraj Mishra, Maneka Gandhi — the representative of the Gandhi dynasty in the BJP — and Santosh Baliyan, the MP from Bareilly, better known for his role in the recent riots in Western UP.
But it is the women power in the Modi cabinet that forms an impressive subset. Interestingly the youngest among them all, Smriti Zubin Irani, the popular bahu of TV soaps, who at 38 has been entrusted the HRD ministry — closest to the hearts of RSS — appears to have emerged as the most powerful in this lot, to the extent that her entry has dwarfed veterans like Sushma Swaraj, Najma Heptulla, Uma Bharti, Maneka Gandhi and Nirmala Sitharaman.
Hand-picked by Modi, Irani is a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat and has been rewarded for cutting down the victory margin of Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the seventh lady member in the Modi team, comes from the Shiromani Akali Dal, and is the powerful wife of the Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
BJP President Rajnath Singh is getting the Home Ministry but despite media reports to that effect the ministry is not being hived off and internal security is not being handed over to the PMO. He would also be the number two in the Cabinet after Modi but is not being designated the deputy prime minister. M Venkaiah Naidu is likely to get Heavy Industries portfolio and Ravi Shankar Prasad likely to be in charge of Law and Telecom. Former Karnataka Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda is likely to get the Railways Ministry and Dr Najma Heptullah, the Muslim face of the government, is likely to get Minority Affairs portfolio.
Though the ministries have not yet been formally declared, soon after taking charge, Uma Bharati tweeted that she has been sworn in as the Water Resources Minister. Smriti Irani is likely to get HRD Ministry and the Information & Broadcasting Ministry is going to Prakash Javadekar.