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All is not well in NDA camp

Thursday, June 06, 2019
By Bharatkumar Raut

Now it's all a routine again. The Indian population delivered its verdict that was loud and clear. The people of India returned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team of NDA to rule the nation for yet another term of five years.

However, all does not seem to be well. The pointer is that the Bihar Strongman Chief Minister Nitish Kumar raised the flag of rebellion even before the Modi Government was sworn -in Delhi on May 30. Nitish in a communication to the Prime Minister made it clear that his Janata dal (U) that won maximum seats in Bihar in alliance with the BJP shall not participate in the Union Cabinet though it would remain the part of the alliance. Nitish is reportedly fuming as he was offered only one berth in the cabinet like all other alliance partners. This incident did not get much publicity thanks to BJP's media management. However, this could not hide the wide gaps those have started developing within NDA right at the onset of its second inning.

Modi at work
Bowing to the wishes of the people, Modi began his work within a day after he took the oath of office and secrecy. 24 hours after all the glitz of the swearing-in, the portfolio list of Modi-2 was made public. It marked the big power debut of Amit Shah as union minister for Home Affairs after feverish speculation that he was going to get the Finance portfolio. Nirmala Sitharaman keeps shattering that glass ceiling: after becoming India's first woman Defence Minister, she is now the country's first woman Finance Minister in decades; Indira Gandhi held the portfolio while she was Prime Minister. Rajnath Singh, the effective Number Two in Modi 2, has been given Defence (something he was pretty keen on) and former Indian Foreign Service official S Jaishankar got the Ministry of External Affairs, emerging as Modi's Manmohan Singh. It may be recalled that Singh was first drafted in the cabinet in 1991 by the late Narsimha Rao.

Beyond these Big Four appointments, Nitin Gadkari, widely perceived as a doer, has retained his earlier remit of Transport and Small and Medium Industries. Dr Harsh Vardhan, an Ear Nose Throat specialist, has regained the Health portfolio which he held for a brief while in Modi-1. Smriti Irani, champion of Amethi, has been rewarded with two portfolios with Women and Child Development added to her earlier ministry of Textiles. The affable Prakash Javadekar got two important portfolios: Environment and Information and Broadcasting. Piyush Goyal, till recently held as the front-runner for Finance, has kept Railways and added Commerce and Industry. New entrant to the cabinet Ramesh Pokhriyal got Human Resource Development.

Ravi Shankar Prasad who won his first Lok Sabha election against Shatrughan Sinha from Patna Sahib got his domain, the Law Ministry.

This new Home Minister will not be content being the cadre-controlling authority for Indian Police Service (IPS) officials. Expect a lot of action. The last executive job Shah held was the Home Minister of Gujarat under Modi as Chief Minister. That tenure was fairly controversial. If Shah also holds on to his job as BJP President (he wants to oversee the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections), he will perhaps be the most powerful BJP leader in history.

Sitharaman did not win any laurels in her earlier stint as Commerce Minister and takes over the Finance Ministry at a critical time for the Indian economy. The election results euphoria will come up against the daunting realties of the Indian economy perceptibly slowing down. Investment, industrial production, export growth and unemployment are all either static or declining.

The celebrated diplomat, Jaishankar, who replaces Sushma Swaraj as Foreign Minister, is a huge Modi favourite and will ensure that the PMO works in complete sync with the Ministry of External Affairs with Modi's vision as the blueprint. Jaishankar knows his beat inside out and will hit the ground running with Pakistan, United States and China, India's most important bilateral relationships. His earlier stint as Ambassador to the US and Foreign Secretary smooth the way. Rajnath Singh, who takes over Defence, will clamp down on the headline-making ministry especially with regard to the contentious Rafael deal. Singh listens to his officials but ensures an effective but low-key style of leadership. Huge defence acquisitions are pending and Rajnath Singh will try and ensure that they are done.

While the Modi-1 cabinet concentrated a lot of power in Jaitley as both Finance and Defence minister. That lopsided matrix is missing from Modi 2 with a very balanced portfolio allocation. Modi-2 started the work from Day One, the message that both Modi and Shah have given all ministers. The secret Modi mantra to his ministers is "Work hard, don't make headlines".

Maharashtra, Haryana waiting
Having said this entire one must also be on a note of precaution and alert.

Now that elections of State Legislative Assemblies for Maharashtra, Haryana and few other states are just four month-away, all eyes are set on the initial performance of the Modi-2 Government. If the ministers deliver, it would be reflected in the Assembly results. Remember, after 2014 historic win, the BJP had failed to repeat its performance of 7-0 in Delhi the next year. It was reduced to meagre three seats in the 70-member Delhi State Assembly.  It only means that now people do not believe or take interest in five-day Cricket. They are into T20 mode and thus expect quick and immediate results.

Shiv Sena workers are palpably unhappy and annoyed because Modi offered, like last term only one berth to the Sena though it remains the second largest partner. Sena leaders and followers are also questioning the wisdom behind offering the 'Heavy Industries' portfolio to the Sena nominee Arvind Sawant. Many are even demanding that the Sena leader should quit the Cabinet to register its protest.

When cracks are created in the roof and walls, they start widening during rains and summer and finally give up sooner than later that invite house collapses. Let's hope the gaps would be bridged sooner to avoid avoidable accident.

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