Are you shocked, happy or dissatisfied with the #CabinetAnnouncement2019 ?
Here are my takeaways from the selection of Ministers in the 12 most important ministries (according to me) and the portfolios allocated to them:
(1) TEAM HOME: A lot needs to be accomplished if Modi’s vision of a “New India” which is strong on national security has to be accomplished. The Kashmir problem has to be solved. The Naxal issue has to be solved. The Ayodhya issue has to be solved. State Chief Ministers such as Mamata Banerjee, who are challenging the centre’s constitutional authority, have to be tackled without affecting our federal structure. Keeping all of this in mind, Amit Shah is the best man for the job. I had already chosen him in my blog post of May 28. He is tough and hard working. In fact, in my mind, he is more suited as India’s Home Minister than as Finance Minister. He has been a very effective Home Minister in the Gujarat state government. This is the first time in 58 years that both the PM and HM are from the same state. Shah has been given two junior ministers. G. Kishan Reddy is a grassroots party worker and there is no doubt he has been handpicked by Amit Shah. Reddy started his career as a youth leader in the late 20th century . He was elected as National President of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha from 2002 to 2005. He has been 3-term MLA in Telangana (unified Andhra Pradesh during his first 2 terms). As the other junior minister, 53-year-old Nityanand Rai from Bihar adds the blend of youth to this ministry. He has been elected as MLA in Bihar 4 times, He is the BJP Bihar state president. In this Lok Sabha election, he beat the First Modi Ministry minister Upendra Kushwaha by more than 2,77,000 votes. Overall, the ministry has a good blend of youth, experience and geographical experience.
(2) TEAM FINANCE: The precarious situation with our economy is the biggest challenge facing India. India’s economy grew by a pathetic 5.8% in the last quarter, and only 6.8% for the full year, the lowest in five years. Demand (and therefore consumption) has been plummeting, banks are not lending, businesses are not investing, NBFCs lack liquidity, and job growth is too slow. Therefore, the best talent should have been allocated to the Finance Ministry. After serving for 19 months as the first full-time Defence Minister of India in history, Nirmala Sitharaman has been appointed as the country’s first full-time Finance Minister. Is this the best choice? Going in her favour, Ms. Sitharaman does have a BA and a MA degree in Economics. She was an assistant to the Economist in the Agricultural Engineers Association in UK, as well as a Senior Manager (R&D) for Price Waterhouse in UK. Additionally, she was the Commerce and Industry Minister in the First Modi Ministry for 28 months. But all of this adds to very little, especially for the job of the Finance Minister of the world’s third largest economy (by PPP). She only has 5 years’ experience as a union minister. The junior minister (MOS) in the ministry is the 45-year-old Anurag Thakur. This 4th time MP is a first-time minister, and has absolutely no experience in the subject. Overall, the composition of this all-important ministry leaves much to desire.
(3) TEAM DEFENCE: Rajnath Singh is one of the most experienced ministers in #ModiSarkar2.0 Apart from being the CM of Uttar Pradesh, he has been Surface Transport Minister and then Agriculture Minister of India (in the Vajpayee government) and Home Minister in the First Modi Ministry. He tackled the MHA (Ministry for Home Affairs) in the First Modi Ministry quite well, as we had a full 5 years without any major terrorism incidents outside of Jammu & Kashmir. He also met the demands of the paramilitary forces (such as CRPF and BSF) quite effectively. His junior minister Shripad Yesso Naik also has independent charge of a relatively lightweight ministry – AYUSH. He held this portfolio for 4½ years in the First Modi Ministry. Therefore, Naik should be able to spend the required time in the defence ministry. He is a 5-term MP from Goa. The priorities of the Ministry of Defence are to quickly modernise our forces and to increase domestic defence production. One major decision will be to acquire 90 more advanced warplanes (jets) for the Indian Air Force. If these will be under the Make in India program, a decision will have to be taken very fast, because it will take time to make these jets in India. Other arms and ammunitions also have to be procured at the earliest. Can they achieve this? I reserve my answer at this time. I would have liked to see former Army chief General V.K. Singh as the junior minister in the Defence Ministry, if not as the cabinet Minister of Defence. Superpowers such as USA, China and Russia almost always have former senior armed forces officers as defence ministers. Why can’t we do the same in India? Have you read my book “Mr. President…Yes, Prime Minister” which shows you the comparison of ministers in India and USA?
(4) TEAM HRD: Thank God that Prakash Javadekar is no longer the HRD Minister. Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ has been appointed to head this extremely important ministry. He himself is highly educated, with a PhD (Honours) and a D. Litt. He was MLA in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand for five consecutive terms from 1991 to 2012. Pokhriyal was appointed cabinet minister for Uttaranchal Development in the UP Government in 1999 and then Minister for Cultural Fulfilment and Endowments. In 2000, after creation of Uttarakhand state, he was appointed for twelve departments including finance, revenue, tax and water divisions for the State of Uttarakhand. In 2007, he was appointed minister for Health and Family Welfare, Language and Science departments in Uttarakhand. In 2009, he became the youngest Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, and held this office for 27 months. In 2014, he was elected to the Lok Sabha and this is his second term as an MP. He has also published 10 books (Being an author myself, I like that). His junior minister is Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre. He is a Mechanical Engineer, a 1-term MLA from Maharashtra and a 4-term Lok Sabha MP. He is a member of 5 parliamentary committees. It is high time he was made a minister. The New Education Policy seeks to replace the 10+2 system, eliminate the Class 10 and Class 12 Board exams with several subject-wise modular assessments that can be taken anytime between Class 9 and Class 12, and deregulate higher education, among other measures. There is much more to be done. Education is key if India has to develop. That is why I rank this ministry higher than MEA, Commerce & Industry, Agriculture, Railways, Roads & Highways, and even Labour & Employment. This is a much better composition of the HRD Ministry than in the First Modi Ministry and I have high expectations from this duo.
(5) TEAM EXTERNAL AFFAIRS: India’s new Foreign Minister (Minister of External Affairs) is not a politician. He is a career diplomat. That is a bold and excellent move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has an MA in Political Science and an M.Phil as well as Ph.D. in International Relations, with specialisation in nuclear diplomacy. Jaishankar is married to Kyoko, a Japanese lady. In addition to English, Hindi and Tamil, Jaishankar speaks Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Hungarian. Joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1977, Jaishankar served in Indian missions at Washington, D.C., Moscow, Colombo and Budapest, and handled the USA and East Europe desks at the MEA in New Delhi. He was then Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy in Tokyo from 1996 to 2000. In 2000, he was appointed India’s ambassador to the Czech Republic. From 2004 to 2007, Jaishankar was Joint Secretary (Americas) at the MEA in New Delhi. He was involved in improving defence co-operation between India and USA. In 2006–2007, Jaishankar led the Indian team during the negotiations on the 123 Agreement (nuclear deal) with USA. From 2007 to 2009, Jaishankar served as India’s High Commissioner to Singapore . He helped implement the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and oversaw a defence arrangement by which Singapore keeps some of its military equipment in India on a permanent basis. From June 2009 to December 2013, Jaishankar was India’s longest-serving ambassador to China. His tenure greatly helped in improving Sino-Indian relations. From December 2013 to January 2015, he was India’s Ambassador to USA. From Jan 2015 to Jan 2018, Jaishankar was Foreign Secretary in the First Modi Ministry. Many felt he was de facto Foreign Minister, as he travelled with PM Modi on most of the PM’s important overseas visits, while Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj was kept busy solving passport and/or visa issues of Indian citizens and NRIs. Having served at the three most important Indian missions in Washington, D.C., Beijing and Moscow, and with the ability to speak Mandarin, Russian and Japanese, there is no better man for the post than S. Jaishankar. His major task will be to balance ties with the two other world powers – USA and China. He also has to deal with Pakistan. His junior minister is V. Muraleedharan has been a BJP party worker for 43 years, having started as an ABVP leader. He was BJP Kerala president from 2010 to 2015. Not sure he is suited for the MEA.
(6) TEAM COMMERCE & INDUSTRY: The 55-year-old Piyush Goyal is an all-India 2nd rank holder Chartered Accountant and 2nd rank holder in Law in Mumbai University. He has participated in Leadership Programs at Yale University (2011), Oxford University (2012) and Princeton University (2013). Goyal started his career as an investment banker and served on the board of State Bank of India 2001-2004 and Bank of Baroda 2002-2004 as a Government nominee. He was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance and the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Defence. Goyal is an active member of the Managing Committee of Indian Merchants Chamber. During his 28-year-long political career, he has served on the National Executive and held several important positions in the BJP including the national treasurer. Goyal has done an excellent job in all the ministries he handled from time to time in the First Modi Ministry, including Power, New and Renewable Energy (Independent Charge from May 2014 to September 2017); Coal (Independent Charge during full-term of the First Modi Ministry); Railways (since September 2017); Mines (Independent Charge from July 2016 to September 2017); and Finance (100 days in 2018 and 23 days in 2019, during which time he presented the Union Budget). As Power Minister, Goyal ensured that all unelectrified villages in the country receive electricity. He will certainly do a good job in this important ministry, though he has to shuffle his time with the all-important Railway Ministry also. He will be ably assisted by two junior ministers, Hardeep Singh Puri and Som Parkash. Between 1988 and 1991, Puri was the Coordinator of the UNDP/UNCTAD Multilateral Trade Negotiations Project to help Developing Countries in Multilateral Trade Negotiations. He has served as Joint secretary in the MEA from 1994 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2002. He has also served as Joint secretary in the Ministry of Defence from 1997 to 1999. He served as Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA from 2009 to 2013, and as Permanent Representative of India to the UN. Puri has been stationed at diplomatic posts in Brazil, Japan, Sri Lanka, and the UK. He also served as the chairman of the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee from January 2011 to February 2013, and as President of the United Nations Security Council in August 2011 and November 2012. Puri continues to have independent charge of his previous Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and has also been given independent charge of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. That’s a lot for him to handle. Som Parkash is a former IAS officer, 2-term MLA in Punjab and first-term Lok Sabha MP. Overall, a very good team. Apart from continuing the push for growth of merchandise exports (which grew 9% to $331 billion in fiscal year 2018-19), they have to revive FDI (foreign direct investment), which declined 1% to $44.4 billion for the first time in 6 years.
(7) TEAM MSME: Former BJP party president (2009-2013) Nitin Jairam Gadkari was (arguably) the best performing minister in the First Modi Ministry. While his earlier portfolios of Shipping, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation have been taken away, he has been given the all-important MSME ministry, as that ministry will also (apart from the finance ministry) be key to help improve the economy – create jobs and increase exports. And who better than Gadkari to handle this portfolio? The junior minister is social worker Pratap Chandra Sarangi, a 2-term MLA from Odisha and first-time Lok Sabha MP. Sarangi is a bachelor who lives in a thatched house, rides a bicycle and leads a simple life. Since he is a first-time Minister, we will have to wait for at least a year to see how he performs.
(8) TEAM AGRICULTURE & FARMERS WELFARE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT & PANCHAYATI RAJ: The previous minister, Radha Mohan Singh, DID NOT PERFORM to expectations, and that’s probably why he has been axed. Narendra Singh Tomar has been handling the Ministries of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj since July 5, 2016 (almost 3 years). He also had additional charge of Parliamentary Affairs since November 2018, when then minister Ananth Kumar had an untimely demise. Apart from that, he headed the ministries of Mines (May 2014 to July 2016 and again from September 2017 to May 2019); Steel (May 2014 to July 2016); Labour & Employment (May to November 2014); and Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation for a brief period in 2017. While he has been retained in Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, he has been given the all-important Agriculture & Farmers Welfare portfolio this time. Tomar is a 2-term MLA from Madhya Pradesh and 3-term MP. Obviously, PM Modi and Amit Shah are happy with his work in the various different ministries during the last 5 years. Tomar has been allocated 3 junior ministers. While Parshottam Rupala and Kailash Chowdhary are the 2 MOS in the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti is MOS in the Ministry of Rural Development. Rupala was MOS Panchayati Raj since July 5, 2016, but he has not been continued in this ministry. He was also MOS Agriculture & Farmers Welfare since September 3, 2017, and he has been continued as MOS in this ministry. 46-year-old Chowdhary is a 1-term Rajasthan MLA and first-time MP. He is considered one of the giant killers of this election, as he beat turncoat Manvendra Singh by almost 3,24,000 votes. Colonel Manvendra Singh is the son of former BJP union minister Jaswant Singh and was a BJP Lok Sabha MP from 2004 to 2009. In 2014, he was suspended from BJP because of his campaign against BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate. Just before the 2018 Rajasthan Legislative Assembly elections, he quit BJP to join the Congress. Niranjan Jyoti was MOS for Food Processing Industries for most of the First Modi Ministry. Let us see if this 4-member team is able to address the distress that has been plaguing our farmers (more than half of India’s population) for the last several years, including during the UPA government.
(9) TEAM ROAD TRANSPORT & HIGHWAYS: The cabinet minister is Nitin Gadkari, who held this portfolio for the full 5 years in the First Modi Ministry. He strongly supports privatisation of infrastructure projects and has been able to get private investors to execute several public-private-partnership projects. He increased the pace of road creation in the country from 12 Km/day in 2013-14 to 30 Km/day by the end of 2018. India built 92,851 Km of national highways in 66.75 years since independence @ average 3.81 Km/day. Under Gadkari, 38,475 Km were built in 5 years, @ average 21.1 Km/day. Almost 1,93,000 Km of rural roads were constructed under Gadkari during the First Modi Ministry. He reserved an amount of 1% of the total projects awarded worth ₹2 trillion ($29 billion) for trees and beautification. Before becoming a union minister, he was the Minister for Public Works in Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999, during which he played a crucial rule in the construction of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway in a little over 2 years. The other major achievement of Gadkari as state minister was the construction of 55 flyovers in Mumbai, which eased the city traffic problems significantly. During his tenure, all-weather road connectivity in Maharashtra was extended to 98% of the population. The central government of PM Vajpayee appointed him as the Chairman of National Rural Road Development Committee. Gadkari submitted his report to the central government. His report was accepted and a new rural road connecting scheme now popularly known as Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana was launched. It is an excellent move by PM Modi to continue Nitin Gadkari in this portfolio, so that he can further increase the pace of road and highway development, as well as their beautification as well as greenification, if there is such a word in the English language. The junior minister in this ministry is former Chief of Army Staff, General (Ret’d) V.K.Singh, who did an excellent job as MOS External Affairs for the full-term of the First Modi Ministry, in which he also did brief stints as MOS (Independent Charge) for Development of the North-Eastern Region for 4½ months in 2014 and MOS (Independent Charge) for Statistics and Program Implementation from November 2014 to July 2016. General Singh is praised for leading Operation Raahat, a rescue mission to evacuate Indian citizens and other foreign nationals from Yemen during the 2015 Yemeni Crisis. Back in April 2015, PM Modi had said, “I believe this is the first time in the world that a government minister has stood on the battlefield like a soldier to do this work … I salute General V. K. Singh.” In my opinion, this ministry has got the best team of all.
(10) TEAM RAILWAYS: The cabinet minister is Piyush Goyal, whose background I have already given above under the Commerce & Industry ministry paragraph. He has been handling this important ministry for the last 21 months (since September 3, 2017). His tenure saw Indian Railways achieve its best ever safety record in 2018-19, through measures such as elimination of unmanned level crossings from the broad gauge network, production of safer coaches, etc. Additionally, Goyal oversaw the launch of the first indigenous semi-high speed train Vande Bharat Express (also known as Train 18) between Delhi and Varanasi. Goyal’s junior minister is Suresh Angadi Channabassapa, a 4-term Lok Sabha MP who is a first-time minister. He is an RSS activist, educationist and successful businessman. Goyal has repeatedly said that his goal for the Indian Railways was to reach ‘zero accident standard’ and to improve the service experience for passengers. BJP’s manifesto promised an expenditure of ₹100 lakh crores on infrastructure in the next five years, and ₹20-25 lakh crores is expected to be on improving the railway infrastructure, including dedicated freight corridors, 100% track electrification within 4 years, many more semi-high speed trains, some more bullet trains and on station redevelopment/modernisation. Undoubtedly, Goyal and Angadi will have a lot of money to spend – let’s hope they spend it wisely. I have fairly high hopes from this ministry.
(11): TEAM SKILL DEVELOPMENT & ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Current Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal handled this ministry for just 5½ months in 2014, when he was transferred to Assam after BJP won the assembly elections there. For the next 34 months, it was handled by Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who did not do much. Then the ministry got a cabinet minister in Dharmendra Pradhan, but Pradhan also had the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The new cabinet minister is Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey. Born exactly 8 years before me, he is the President of BJP Uttar Pradesh, a powerful post within the world’s largest political party. He received a MA degree in Journalism and completed his Ph.D in Hindi from Banaras Hindu University. He is a 2-term MLA from UP and a 2-term Lok Sabha MP. Between 1996 and 2002, he had been in the state government of UP, first as MOS for Housing and Urban Development, followed by MOS for Planning (Independent Charge), and then MOS, Panchayati Raj. In the First Modi Ministry, Dr. Pandey was MOD in the HRD Ministry for 39 months from May 2014 to August 2017, first under Smriti Irani and then under Prakash Javadekar. Why he was removed is known probably only to the Prime Minister. The junior minister is former IAS officer and former Home Secretary of India, R.K. Singh. This second-term MP will continue to handle his previous portfolios as MOS (Independent Charge) of Power, as well as MOS (Independent Charge) of New and Renewable Energy, both of which he has been handling for 21 months, since September 3, 2017. During this short stint, Singh electrified 2.63 crore households under the Saubhagya Yojana in 20 months, and the PM is obviously happy with his work, which explains how he got this additional portfolio. With two able people, this ministry should at least now be able to perform well, but only time will tell.
(12): TEAM LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT: This ministry does not have a cabinet rank minister, and that is sad. The MOS (Independent Charge) is Santosh Kumar Gangwar, who has handled this portfolio for 21 months, since September 3, 2017. The 71-year-old Gangwar is an 8-term Lok Sabha MP, having been elected from 1989 to 2019 (except 2009). He was MOS Science and Technology, MOS Parliamentary Affairs and MOS Petroleum and Natural Gas under PM Vajpayee. In the First Modi Ministry, he was MOS (Independent Charge) for Textiles from May 2014 to July 2016, MOS Finance from July 2016 to September 2017, after which he took over this ministry. Obviously, the PM must be happy with his work, though many pre-election surveys suggested that the lack of employment generation (JOBS) was the No.1 issue in the 2019 elections. In this era of automation, AI and machine learning, can a 71-year-old do justice to this important ministry? I do NOT think so.
Overall, Modi Sarkar 2.0 gets 8 out of 12 points in my assessment.