Modi retains key cabinet ministers in India’s new govt

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s retention of key cabinet ministers signals that he still calls the shots despite relying on coalition allies for a parliamentary majority. (Reuters pic)
NEW DELHI: India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has retained all key cabinet ministers in their portfolios in the new government, signalling that he still calls the shots despite having to rely on coalition allies for a majority in parliament.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell well short of the majority mark on its own in the election that ended this month, but the government announced there will be no change in personnel at the four senior-most ministries – finance, home affairs, defence, and foreign affairs. The party also retained other key ministries like commerce and agriculture.
Delhi was abuzz with talk of haggling by the allies for key portfolios in the lead-up to Modi taking office for a rare third straight term, and analysts said there could be some anger over the cabinet choices but no immediate fallout.
“He has managed to prevail over his allies to keep all the important portfolios to demonstrate continuity, and they seem to have gone along,” said Tarun Basu, director of the New Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies think tank.
“Despite this outward projection, there will inevitably be internal pulls and pressures within the coalition, though these may not come out in the public so quickly.”
The BJP won 240 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament in the election. The alliance it leads won a total of 293 seats, crossing the majority mark of 272 seats.
“We believe that the distribution of seats displays continuity at its best and equitable treatment of allies, which is a big plus,” PhillipCapital analyst Anjali Verma wrote in a note, referring to the five cabinet berths given to the allies out of 30.
Aside from the Hindu nationalist BJP, the main two constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are two regional parties focused on getting funds for their states, Andhra Pradesh in the south and Bihar in the east.
Andhra-based Telugu Desam Party and Bihar’s Janata Dal (United) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The BJP said it respects its partners and their aspirations, but added that the allies had given a free hand to Modi.
“It’s a pre-poll alliance and the plan for the next five years has been deliberated and discussed with everyone,” said BJP spokesman Syed Zafar Islam.
“There is unconditional support and the focus is to ensure there is momentum in the economy, and continuity is important. There is no condition for their support – they also want the economy to be accelerated, for lots of jobs to be created.”
The leaders of the allied parties, Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal, are veteran politicians who are known to have views that could be at odds with the BJP and its agenda of muscular Hinduism.
“Modi will need to moderate his positions on certain ideological issues that do not align with the views of his allies…who are past masters in coalition politics,” said Basu of Society for Policy Studies.
“These leaders…are bound to have their pound of flesh although they may not be vocal about their differences unless they reach a stand-off point.”

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