Prime Minister Narendra Modi has outwitted the commentariat who had been predicting that the new man at the helm will induct technocrats because he means business and wants to get work done. On Monday evening, as the names were read out at the swearing-in ceremony, it became clear that Modi has stuck to politicians from the BJP and its allies. The 45-member cabinet might be smaller than is usually the case, but he has left enough room to induct people at a later stage. This became evident when finance minister Arun Jaitley made it known that he is holding the defence portfolio for the time being, until a new minister is appointed. So, Modi is keeping his options open. He has also not moved on the much talked about clusters of ministries to be turned into super-ministries. At the moment, the ministries are as before. Modi is not going to make any radical changes in the structure of the ministries instantaneously with the wave of a magical wand.
It is possible to discern a certain pattern in the choice of his cabinet members. Women got a fair deal, with them taking a quarter of the berths of cabinet minister rank, six of 23. It is something that the BJP has done even in its organisational structure. The council of ministers is almost neatly divided into two equal compartments of cabinet ministers and ministers of state, and half of the ministers of state have independent charge. Again, Modi has also inducted into the cabinet all the party big-wigs which included party president Rajnath Singh and former party presidents M Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari. The generational shift is evident, with all the top rung ministers belonging to a post-Independence generation.
What is of greater import is the fact that the BJP is still to grow as a national party and as a party of governance because it does not have enough persons in its ranks with the required experience in offices of power and professional competence of other kinds. All the people who pass muster on this count are in, and there are very few who have been left out at this stage. This would make it necessary for Modi to try out the green-horns because a start has to be made somewhere sometime. This should explain, and the raised eyebrows will remain raised for sometime to come, the decision to give new-comer and young Smriti Irani the rank of a cabinet minister and also the important ministry of human resources development (HRD). She is a newcomer, with less than two years in the Rajya Sabha, but she has shown herself to be a quick learner and articulate. It is possible that Modi is pushing Irani to deal with some of the weighty tasks and this could serve as a precedent to try out young and inexperienced people in important positions.
It is also the case that Modi has brought into his team all those with enough experience in government and in Parliament. Three of the ministers dealing with parliamentary affairs, Naidu, a cabinet minister, and Santosh Kumar Gangwar and Prakash Javdekar as ministers of state, are those who can reach out across party lines. It is the case that with 282 seats of its own, the BJP is not dependent on others for passing bills. It seems the government considers legislative business to be of utmost importance and it is a good sign. Modi has put together a team from the talent pool in the BJP and in the NDA, and it has been done reasonably well.