This post is part of a series on the Indian elections.
India’s Election Commission will begin counting the nearly 550 million ballots cast across the country’s 930,000 polling stations at 8:00 a.m. Indian Standard Time. Results should be available by 5:00 p.m., or 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time in the United States. The exit polls released on May 12 have uniformly indicated a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, either handsomely (News 24 Chanakya’s poll, predicting 340 seats for the National Democratic Alliance) or hovering just around the 272 halfway mark, making government formation a relatively straightforward process. Barring some surprise in the results—which of course has precedent with the 2004 election polls—Indian citizens will likely elect a stable BJP-led government with sufficient political space to make relying on a diverse array of parties with differing ideological views unnecessary.
So what comes next? Outside observers interested in looking for clues to how the next Indian government will function should follow personnel choices in the following five positions closely. Each will be consequential in their own right, and together will indicate the direction to come.
1. The Finance Ministry: The finance minister heads a mammoth bureaucracy which covers everything from developing the budget, collecting taxes, collecting data about every aspect of the Indian economy, coordinating with the financial services regulators, and disinvesting from the array of state owned enterprises. Turning around India’s economy was a central focus of the BJP’s campaign, so stewardship of this ministry will matter greatly. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley’s name has featured prominently in speculation for the position, as have Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha. There has been some press speculation that the current Ministry of Corporate Affairs might be folded into the Finance Ministry.
2. The Ministry of Home: India’s home minister commands an enormous portfolio covering everything from paramilitary forces, internal intelligence, border management, national counterterrorism capabilities, the census, disaster management, official language issues, relations with the states, all the way to managing immigration matters among many other responsibilities. It is widely considered one of the most powerful ministerial berths in India. Several news stories this week have suggested that Mr. Modi might seek to retain this crucial portfolio himself, or entrust it to the BJP president, Rajnath Singh. Media reports have suggested that this massive ministry may undergo restructuring in a Modi administration.
3. The Ministry of External Affairs: India’s external affairs minister (foreign minister) has responsibility for India’s foreign relations, including overseeing the professional diplomatic corps, as well as India’s new development partnership agency. This position may have the opportunity to oversee India’s international trade negotiations as well, should Mr. Modi decide to move the responsibility for international trade out of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and over to External Affairs, as some have speculated. Names in the press include current Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
4. The Ministry of Defense: India’s minister of defense, or “Raksha Mantri (RM)” oversees one of the world’s largest militaries. India has also been the world’s largest importer of arms for the last five years, part of a military modernization program expected to upgrade much of India’s hardware over the next decade—but some of the procurement processes in recent years have gotten caught up in corruption scandals. This crucial portfolio wields tremendous power in India. Again, Sushma Swaraj’s name has come up in the press as a potential RM, as has Rajnath Singh.
5. The NSA: The national security adviser occupies a very powerful position in the prime minister’s office, providing advice on both internal and external security matters, including overseeing the development of India’s cyber security authority. The position holds minister of state rank. It has been filled previously by distinguished former diplomats or former intelligence experts. Will Mr. Modi decide to keep a single national security adviser, or will he restore the twin positions of internal and external national security advisers, as existed during the United Progressive Alliance’s first term? The question of whom he will select obviously will be watched closely. Some speculation has focused on former intelligence bureau chief Ajit Doval. An article earlier this week suggested that names in the mix include former foreign secretaries Kanwal Sibal and Shyam Saran, former permanent representative to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri, and current Indian ambassador to the United States S. Jaishankar.
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