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Government on course, opposition rudderless

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

While the Congress is still to take up discussions on the leader of opposition, PM-designate Narendra Modi is on course to form his government. He is likely to keep his cabinet "smart and small".

In keeping with his style and slogan of minimum government maximum governance, Modi is expected to confine the strength of his cabinet to around 20. It will be a compact cabinet with some ministries rolled into one, sources said.

In Gujarat, there are just seven cabinet ministers and 15 ministers of state while in neighbouring Maharashtra there are 27 cabinet ministers and 10 ministers of state.

Unlike the Vajpayee regime, when the size of the cabinet was one of the largest, Modi is not under pressure to accommodate too many allies. "In those days the government was dependent on allies. Names and in some cases the demand for portfolios used to come from them. This time, the government is not dependent on allies and there are only two with double digits," said media advisor to Vajpayee Ashok Tandon.

Party sources said the cabinet was expected to be in place within a week. Meetings continued at the Gujarat Bhavan, where Modi has been holding fort since Sunday.
Sushma Swaraj, who had stayed away from the hectic parleys among BJP leaders, met Modi amidst feverish speculation that there was a sense of finality about the top four portfolios of home, external affairs, defence and finance.

Swaraj is staking claims for external affairs, party chief Rajnath Singh is likely to pick up defence, while it looks like Arun Jaitley, a key Modi confidant, will take over finance. But it is not official yet.

A senior party leader said the consultation process was democratic and Modi was considering the views of the state units.

Modi will be formally elected leader of the BJP parliamentary party on Tuesday noon at the Central Hall of Parliament. A BJP delegation will meet president Pranab Mukherjee and make the formal claim to form the government. Modi will also meet NDA allies' leaders, including Uddhav Thackeray and TDP leaders.

Modi will leave for Gujarat where he is expected to address a public meeting and he will be in Ahmedabad on May 21, where the new government will take over.
It is only after his return to Delhi that Modi will finalise the cabinet list, including the top four ministers who will be members of the cabinet committee on security, sources said.
Modi held discussions with his close aide and BJP general secretary Amit Shah, who also held a long meeting with RSS leaders. Several newly-elected BJP MPs met senior RSS functionaries at the Sangh office.

Meanwhile, struggling to come to terms with its new role as opposition after the worst ever performance in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is still to choose its leader to lead them in Parliament. "There was no discussion at the CWC meeting on choosing the leader of opposition, as the fortunes of the whole organisation is at stake," a senior CWC member told dna soon after the meeting.

Rumour mills at the AICC headquarters said Rahul Gandhi was not keen to lead the opposition in the 16th Lok Sabha. With her ailments, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is not in a position to be present in the House most of the times. Therefore, it is speculated that Kamal Nath may shoulder the responsibility in Lok Sabha. In Rajya Sabha, where the party has a majority will not bank on outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, who has led the party in the House of elders as leader of opposition and later as leader of House as well. Senior leaders AK Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad have been shortlisted so far to lead the party in the Rajya Sabha.

Also, the worst-ever performance has reduced it to such a level that its leader may not get the status and facilities extended to the leader of opposition. This situation will, on the other hand, give a free run to the government where it mandatorily requires the opinion of the opposition leader while making key appointments in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Lokpal and CBI. There is still the possibility of Congress getting this post, but it will depend entirely on the speaker of the House.

Modi's top four:
Arun Jaitley: Finance minister. He is Modi's confidant in the BJP's parliamentary board. The party's first priority: get the economy back on track
JP Nadda: Home minister. Modi trusts the party general secretary the most to have control over intelligence agencies falling under the home ministry
Rajnath Singh: Defence minister: The BJP president will be seen as the second in command
Sushma Swaraj: External affairs minister: Known for her oratory and communication skills, the former leader of opposition would be the best brand ambassador of the government

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