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Five Slots to Watch in the New Indian Government

by Alyssa Ayres
May 15, 2014

Narendra Modi (L), the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), receives a bouquet of flowers from BJP's Gujarat State President R.C. Faldu upon his arrival to meet party leaders and workers at Gandhinagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat on May 13, 2014 (Amit Dave/Courtesy: Reuters). Narendra Modi (L), the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), receives a bouquet of flowers from the BJP's Gujarat state president, R.C. Faldu, upon his arrival to meet party leaders and workers at Gandhinagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat on May 13, 2014 (Amit Dave/Courtesy: Reuters).


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.

Follow me on Twitter: @AyresAlyssa


Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by nakul gote

    Thank you for the great overview. It is interesting to know that the roles and responsibilities of the Ministries may change.

  • Posted by George Chakko

    Here is my corrected version. Hope you will publish this version only. not the previous dispatch .

    From George Chakko

    Comment on Alyssa Ayers “Five Slots” in CFR’s Indian Election report, May 16, 2014

    Alyssa’s guesstimates of future composition of a new Indian Government are fairly factual. This is an agenda that needs close watch by democratic governments across Globe, esp. by the U.S. Washington is predestined to play a potential vital role in cooperative partnership as natural ally with world’s largest democracy, despite recent, irksome diplomatic bungles and strain in Indo-U.S. relations. No matter whoever rules in White House in future, Asia Pivot will remain by necessity a top priority engagement for the U.S. at Capitol Hill, and India is an inalienable element in it to be worked upon, if the power-waning U.S. is not to lose influence to drop out of the Asian game. In short White House has to recast it’s Asia Pivot, its TPP anew with a stronger, a more studied strategy, as I suggested in my comment to CFR’s Elizabeth Economy’s article in Global Times (Oct.29, 2013, titled – ‘Pivot necessary to sustain long-term US interests’)

    There are certain other aspects that need be considered in predicting Narendra Modi’s Cabinet choice.

    1) With a large mandate vested in him Modi is obviously planning a 10 year rule. One key factor that enabled Modi landslide is India’s “mobile”- prone youth. It would be wise on him to induct few capable from them at least at the Deputy Minister levels (In India called the Minister of State) in all the 5 slots Alyssa mentioned) and could also be expected. [Even the outgoing Prime Minster Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Office was filled with plenty of qualified IITians (those who rolled out of India’s elite India Institutes of Technology) and computer specialists.] Modi being a great lover and fan of modern high-tech, it would be safe to presume he will definitely tread this trail and bring more young talent possibly at Minister levels, instead of playing slave to RSS dictates [(Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the far right wing, so-called “militant” group, in the BJP structure). Interestingly, the RSS has tactfully announced that its mission of getting Modi elected ended, it would not further interfere with Modi’s work as Prime Minister. Whether it will remain that way remains to be seen].

    2) The culture of appointing one from the defeated opposite parties for a top post is absent in India. Nevertheless, if Modi wants to be innovative, and has proclaimed his pledge to be all-India inclusive, it would be fair to offer a qualified person from the opposition or a highly qualified, but politically neutral person to head areas as cyber security structure. Comes to mind such names as Nandan Nilekhani (of the Congress Party), a billionaire, and a software giant Infosy’s co-founder. The advantage of a qualified billionaire is that being awash in money the temptation to embezzle in a poor India will be absent. There is no guarantee in India that ex-Generals are anti- corruption- prone, especially if such are chosen to head the Defence Ministry.

    3) This being the second decade of the 21st century, Modi’s problem will be to select a high, technically qualified person with an enlightened, diplomatic and political outlook to fill in the 5 posts mentioned. Alyssa missed out on the Environment Ministry. India’s environment is degenerating heavily and health-wise corrosive as each day passes, destroying Indian life and its economic potential and a wise Modi should upgrade it with at least 5 times its present budget to get things under control. Again, there is no population or demographic control in India, unlike in China, and indiscriminate population growth is eating away all advances India makes in other fronts, as pointed out by Prof. U. R. Rao to a Space Specialists conference in Alpach here in Austria in 1997. A strong Ministry to target this serious issue needs be instituted. Will Modi do that? India badly needs a reconstituted Energy Ministry. Here one needs to induct a technocratic scientist and not a politician, who in Indian conditions is bound to be corrupt, because corruption has taken deep roots in India.

    It would be Utopian, if not hypocritical to believe a BJP-led government will be corruption-free. Modi is challenged to prove the opposite. India lacks an Ombudsman Anti-Corruption Control Organ. One shouldn’t be surprised if an anti-corruption ministry is instituted under his leadership to give the semblance of upholding election promise, but that later turns absolutely corrupt in the course of its operations. Once corruption has got deeply entrenched in a society, (which is the case in India), it takes a long time for an anti-corruption culture to take roots to neutralise it, observed Prof. Pino Arlaachi (former UN Director-General of UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria, now Member, European Parliament). One shouldn’t write off Modi in this regard. He is now given a chance to prove as a national leader capable of running a transparently clean anti-corrupt government.

    George Chakko, Former U.N. correspondent at the Vienna International Center, now retiree in Vienna, Austria. May 16, 2014, 23.25 hrs.

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