Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his second innings with the team selection that has thrown up some surprises, even while representing continuity with change in a blend of new faces and the old guard. The inclusion of Amit Shah, the indefatigable BJP president credited with ensuring a string of electoral victories for the party, is bound to raise many eyebrows, given his controversial stint as a junior minister in Gujarat in the past and his hardline Hindutva views. Ironic, as it may sound, the major challenge before Shah, in his new role as the country’s Home Minister, will be to rein in the rabid Hindutva elements and vigilante groups who have been targeting minorities in the name of cow protection. The appointment of Giriraj Singh, known for his provocative utterances, as the Animal Husbandry Minister has sent a wrong signal as he is seen as part of the cow protection brigade. Overall, the newly-minted Union Cabinet reflects the personality of the Modi-Shah duo—lean, mean, aggressive and disruptive—and blurs the line separating the party and government. There is a clear signal that the new government is likely to see a very close association with the saffron party which appears in a perpetual mode of electoral preparedness. The size of the cabinet has been limited to 58 including 26 new faces, though the constitutionally mandated upper limit is 80. This will provide an elbow room for the Prime Minister to accommodate more allies and provide more regional representation in near future.
The induction of a career diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as External Affairs Minister is certainly a bold move and will help infuse professionalism in resetting the foreign policy in tune with changing geopolitics. Jaishankar, a retired foreign secretary with over 40 years of experience in handling international affairs, will be an asset to take on some of the challenges that India faces in its neighbourhood and in relationship with big powers like the United States and China. Iranian oil crisis, the need to further isolate Pakistan on the terrorism issue, tight-rope walking to handle trade-related issues with the US and China are among the challenges before the new minister. Similarly, Nirmala Sitharaman, who becomes the country’s first woman Finance Minister, has her task cut out. The economic slowdown for a second consecutive year, rising fiscal deficit, global uncertainties, growing unemployment and an imminent crisis in the financial sector are some of the immediate challenges before her. Loyalty has been a key factor as the Modi-Shah accolades have been generously rewarded with cabinet berths. Notwithstanding the “look south” policy of the BJP, the southern states find grossly inadequate representation since the party has no MPs from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.