Monday, May 26, 2014

A Journey Begins

With the Oath of Office and Secrecy having been administered by the President of the Union, Narendra Damodardas Modi completed his epic journey from the bylanes of Vadnagar in Gujarat to the corridors of power in the former Imperial Capital of Delhi - a historic, inspirational journey of the son of a poor tea-seller who went on to hold India's highest office and not because of family lineage but because of his own work. Indeed, outside the Nehru-Gandhi dyansty, there was probably never someone elected on the plank of being the Prime Minister.

However, as the glow of the pitched election campaign of 2014 ends, the time has come to do real work. The Government has just been formed and expectations are very high. However, if the Union Ministers sworn in with Modi are anything to go by, this government seems to be determined to meet those expectations. Before the campaign, everyone felt that Mission 272+ was wishful thinking - how wrong we all were. Now, most of us believe that he will not be able to meet the expectations that, in many ways, he helped create. Will we be wrong again?

Although the official list is not out yet, in true democratic tradition, the media seems to have the list anyway. From there, it seems that Arun Jaitley is a clear #2 in the Cabinet, holding both Finance and Defense and hence holding two votes in the all powerful CCS. Rajnath Singh with Home (and for a week or so, still holding on as BJP President) and Sushma Swaraj as EAM complete the top ring of the Cabinet. Swaraj is an interesting appointment because although it is important, it also pushes the Minister out of domestic administration and politics - possibly suitable for someone who is still seen as an Opposition leader.

But the real story is in the new faces. Smriti Irani, who was endorsed by this blog and really gave Rahul Gandhi a run for his money, is expected to be HRD Minister and the youngest minister in the Union Cabinet, a long way from her days as a TV starlet. Piyush Goel and Nirmala Sitharaman, well-known in TV studios, are expected to be MoS (I/C) while Gen. (Retd.) VK Singh is expected to be MoS in a security-related ministry, either Home or Defense. Outside the political appointments, Ajit Doval, a hero of Indian intelligence, could be the first NSA without an MEA background and this, if it happens, would be an excellent appointment. Modi has already appointed Nripendra Misra as Principal Secretary, moving out controversial Pulok Chatterjee, and he is expected to continue his no-nonsense style of administering the PMO.

The new Union Cabinet is expected to make some bold consolidation, with Piyush Goel expected to get a combined Power portfolio, subsuming everything from Coal to Renewable Energy. Nitin Gadkari, who is better known for his controversial businesses but actually has a lot of achievements under his belt as Maharashtra PWD Minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP Government, could get a combined Roads-Shipping portfolio. However, contrary to initial reports, Railways and Civil Aviation are expected to stay separate. In fact, for the first time in history, the Railways Ministry could be held by someone from Karnataka, Sadananda Gowda. Certainly a long way from the Bihar-Bengal rule in Rail Bhawan!

Allies have been given some representation, although unlike the last 25 years, none of them could push demands out. The only surprising absentee is Neiphu Rio from Nagaland, although it is expected that his real objective is to conclude a final Naga Accord and not run a Ministry. All-in-all, this Union Cabinet seems to be a merit-based exercise, with everyone above 75 being kept out. If reports are to be believed, Sumitra Mahajan from MP could be the next Speaker of the Lok Sabha, concluding the exercise. An excellent beginning - now lets see the journey. 

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