Tough Challenges for Brand Modi, But It’s an Action-Packed Start
Already two weeks into his new role as Prime Minister and Narendra Modi has come out with bold moves beginning with a small sized Cabinet and abolishing all 30 ministerial groups to ensure that his colleagues heading various portfolios take faster decisions with more accountability.
There were nine empowered groups of ministers (EGOMs) and 21 groups of ministers (GOMs) in operation. They were to take decisions on various matters — and several of them on matters seen as tricky — before coming up before the cabinet for consideration. “This (the decision taken Thursday) would expedite the process of decision making and usher in greater accountability in the system,” an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
In a way, this decision also poses greater accountability on Modi himself as he will now have to adjudicate matters where there are differences among cabinet colleagues, rather than let a panel of colleagues deliberate on them first.
The new Prime Minister has also asked the party general secretaries not to take anything for granted and start preparing for the state elections due in 2016 — in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala among other states. He said the party should be the bridge between people and the government, and listed specific measures — for instance creation of grievance redressal cells.
On day one of assuming office on May 27, Modi set a scorching pace and set up a Special Investigation Task (SIT) to investigate about black money stashed abroad. Law Minister and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad later announced that the BJP-led government has decided to form a SIT on black money with retired Supreme Court judge M.B. Shah as its head.
Although there is no official figure, various estimates put the quantum of black money stashed abroad at up to $1.4 trillion. The BJP in a report in 2011, when it was in the opposition, had estimated India’s black economy to be between $500 billion and $1.4 trillion. The BJP in its poll manifesto had also promised to bring back black money.
India is in the grip of a new euphoria. After a historic election, a rank outsider to Delhi’s politics, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed into its citadels of power by decimating the Congress party that has ruled the country for much of the period since Independence. On May 26, Modi was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister in a ceremony that was billed equally historic with one of the largest gatherings attended by about 4,000 guests including leaders from neighbouring countries.
The oath of office and secrecy was administered by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, with the setting sun serving as a backdrop to the momentous event. A council of ministers, numbering around 45, also took oath. The Modi government succeeds the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose UPA coalition government was in power for 10 years.
On May 16 when results to the general elections were announced, Modi won with a parliamentary record margin of over 570,000 votes from Vadodara, one of the two constituencies from which he contested, the other being Varanasi, from where also he won. “I have been elected as the prime worker of the people,” said Modi, seeking to project his humility in a victory speech at Vadodara, in Gujarat, where he received an almost rockstar-like adulation from screaming supporters, both men and women and thousands of young people. “All the people of this country are ours. It is our responsibility to take everyone along. Our mission will be: With all, development for all,” said he, seeking to allay fears among minorities about his rise.
The Congress, India’s oldest party which had ruled the country for a decade since 2004, faced its worst humiliation, raising question marks about the future of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has given India most of its prime ministers. Congress’ de facto prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great grandfather were all prime ministers, was humbled by Modi in a way that the Congress plummeted to its lowest ever two-digit tally in a national election.
Highlights of Modi taking over were marked by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attending the swearing in ceremony. In a surprise move that disarmed many of his critics, Modi had invited Sharif to his inauguration and held bilateral talks with him. “Let us together dream of a strong, developed and inclusive India that actively engages with the global community to strengthen the cause of world peace and development,” Modi said as he was sworn in on Monday.
It was the first time an Indian prime minister hosted a Pakistani leader for official talks in New Delhi since the rupture in relations that followed the 2008 attacks in Mumbai when 166 people were killed. The Mumbai killings were blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group which is now accused of being behind an attack by gunmen last week on an Indian diplomatic mission in western Afghanistan.
On his part, Sharif promised to pick up the threads of a failed peace process which went on during his second term in office — coinciding with the last time Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power in India.
The outcome of the two leaders’ meeting was better than expected, Sharif’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz said in Islamabad.
Minimum for maximum government is the policy behind the first announcement of a thin Team Modi. A look at the Cabinet ministers:
Rajnath Singh: Home Minster
Sushma Swaraj: External Affairs & Overseas Indian Affairs
Arun Jaitley: Finance Corporate Affairs & Defence
M. Venkaiah Naidu: Urban Development Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation & Parliamentary Affairs
Nitin Jairam Gadkari: Road Transport and Highways Shipping
D.V. Sadananda Gowda: Railways
Uma Bharati: Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
Dr. Najma A. Heptulla: Minority Affairs
Gopinathrao Munde: Rural Development, Panchayati Raj & Drinking Water and Sanitation
Ramvilas Paswan: Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution
Kalraj Mishra: Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
Maneka Gandhi: Women and Child Development
Ananthkumar: Chemicals and Fertilizers
Ravi Shankar Prasad: Communications and Information Technology & Law and Justice
Ashok Gajapathi Raju: Civil Aviation
Anant Geete: Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises
Harsimrat Kaur Badal: Food Processing Industries
Narendra Singh Tomar: Mines & Steel Labour and Employment
Jual Oram: Tribal Affairs
Radha Mohan Singh: Agriculture
Thaawar Chand Gehlot: Social Justice and Empowerment
Smriti Zubin Irani: Human Resource Development
Dr. Harsh Vardhan: Health and Family Welfare
BJP’s now-famous “Achhe din aane wale hain (good days are ahead)” have greatly raised expectations. In all the celebrations of Modi’s tremendous victory, a lot of people are overlooking the extent of the problems Modi is inheriting from the previous government, experts say. The new Prime Minister will need to really work hard to undo the damage of the past five years — and need a lot of luck as well.
By Indira Laisram