Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set into motion his team for post-2019 scenario, confident that the wind is blowing in his favour. A fragmented and unfocused opposition has not been able to corner the government on any issue as the government enters fourth year in office.
The induction of former police commissioner of Mumbai Satya Pal Singh, former home secretary RK Singh, former DDA vice-chairman Alphhons K. and diplomat Hardeeep Singh Puri in the Cabinet indicates a clear preference for bureaucrats in the future scheme of the Prime Minister. Though most of them will be initially inducted as ministers of state, next 18 months their performance and grooming is expected to be closely monitored by Modi and his advisers. Puri had been considered as national security adviser in 2014, but the idea was later shelved.
Nirmala Sitharaman elevation as the defence minister, however, comes as a big surprise. With this, she becomes the first woman defence minister of the country. The export performance, a ministry under her charge, had been dismal and the initial talk had hinted at her ouster from the Cabinet. The internal factional dynamics of BJP may have helped her not only to survive, but gain in stature within the government.
By installing Piyush Goyal as the railways minister, the Prime Minister has relieved Suresh Prabhu who had received flak for a spate of accidents in recent years. As the commerce minister, Prabhu faces the challenge of improving the export performance which has been in doldrums for the past three years.
The induction of future leaders of the government is in consonance with strategy pursued by Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister, where his favourites Amit Shah and Saurabh Patel first cut their teeth in administration and politics as ministers of state. Former home secretary RK Singh has been given independent charge of the power ministry as the minister of state. Hardeep Puri has been made minister of state in charge of housing and urban affairs with independent charge.
The expansion also signals in many ways Modi’s confidence that he can do major part of the political management in the run up to next general elections in coordination with his confidant and party president Amit Shah. The assertive role played by the party president in a Cabinet formation has been a rarity as most ruling parties have treated party president’s role as secondary to the government.
K. Kamaraj as Congress president had played key role in deciding the Prime Ministers in post-Nehru scenario. However, the emergence of Indira Gandhi as sole centre of authority resulted in diminishing role of the party president. BJP with Vajpayee as Prime Minister pursued the same course. The winds, however, changed under Modi, who left the tricky organizational management issues to his trusted aide.
The running of government will be left to those with administrative experience or share the vision of the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party.The promotion of Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan to the Cabinet strengthens their position as the blue eyed boys of both Modi and Shah, the two who supervised and plotted the Cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion.
The biggest victim of the Cabinet expansion has been the latest BJP ally, Janata Dal (United). The party has been left in the lurch as it had been an aspirant for the Railway portfolio. With just two members of parliament in the Lok Sabha, the JD (U) does not have much influence to mount pressure on the Prime Minister. JD(U) has 13 MPs in the Rajya Sabha and it is to be seen how Niitish Kumar mounts pressure on the Prime Minister to strike a reasonable bargain.
The next significant development in coming days would be the role some of the dropped ministers would play in the party organization. Some of the leaders may also be sent to Raj Bhawans, where dual charge reflects paucity of talent amongst PM’s favourites.
Within a month, the final picture of team for 2019 may be in place.