The new cabinet of Narendra Modi as it stands today is of moderate size. But with the proposed expansion way, we may see at least another 10 ministers added to the list which will make it a large size cabinet.
The composition of the cabinet shows that it is not much different from the pattern of the previous Congress cabinets except that the number of junior ministers, from allied parties are a little less. The expectation that there will be a concrete effort to merge ministries into clusters has not materialized. The attempt at merger of ministries appears to have been a failed attempt and very limited success has been achieved on this front.
Arun Jaitley has been overburdened with Finance, Corporate Affairs and Defence. This is a time when the Finance Minister has to prepare the Budget and Economic Survey at short notice. Overburdened, as he is, one wonders how much justice the FM will be able to do to the budget preparation exercise.
Portfolios have been assigned with great care. However, one wonders whether some of the ministers will be able to come up to the expectations, particularly the HRD and Petroleum ministers. The Prime Minister has resisted pressure from allies in cabinet formation and he has also boldly excluded the very old. However, it still remains to be seen whether the allies manage to re-exert themselves which will only be clear after the proposed cabinet expansion.
There are certain anomalies in the portfolio allocation such as the Environment Ministry clubbed with I&B and V K Singh getting both North East and External Affairs. Another such anomaly was that of clubbing together of Telecom and Law. It is probable that such anomalies will be corrected at the time of cabinet expansion.
There are three super ministers in the cabinet – Rajnath, Jaitley and Sushma. The fourth super minister is conspicuous by his/her absence. This omission leads to the speculation whether there is a shortage of talent in BJP at the top level, particularly of leaders who enjoy the confidence of the PM. There are also indications pointing to shortage of talent at other levels.
A crucial omission in the process of cabinet formation was that of Arun Shourie. It is possible that Shourie will be rewarded later on with the post of Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission. Subraminian Swamy was omitted possibly due to his unpredictable nature.
Shri Ram Vilas Paswan is a minister noted for his socialistic outlook. Paswan having got the Food portfolio there is very little possibility of the new government making changes in the Food Security legislation as enacted by the UPA government.
There was an expectation that technocrats will be inducted into the cabinet. Probably the Prime Minister is not in favour of any such move.
Perhaps a most non-controversial person has been selected for the Petroleum and Gas portfolio. While being non controversial is an asset, ability to take bold, reform-oriented decisions is also a quality expected of the Petroleum Minister. In this respect the new minister will have to prove his credentials.
It also remains to be seen whether the HRD Minister will come up to the expectations of the people. She will also be required to prove her credentials. Modi has been accused of bringing about development of the economic sectors in Gujarat while neglecting the social sectors. Only time will tell whether the posting of Smriti Irani in the HRD portfolio was a wise move by the PM or was a case of according lower priority to social development of the country as was the case under 10 years of Modi rule in Gujarat. Does Modi consider an important ministry such as HRD less significant?
The cabinet formation exercise has been a good one. But let us hope that the over-burdened ministers such as Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari and several others will be provided some relief at the time of cabinet expansion. The cabinet expansion will also give the PM an opportunity to consider grievances of the allies and bring about greater regional balance in the ministry besides correcting anomalies. Need-less-to-say such an exercise in cabinet expansion will make the Modi cabinet a replica of former Congress and NDA cabinets.