Narendra Modi’s mantra of ‘minimum government maximum government’ as well as concentration of power in a few hands for the promise of effective government was reflected strongly in the reconstitution of six key Cabinet Committees by the government last Thursday. Four of the committees are being headed by the prime minister himself, while two are being looked after by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
The Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI), which was formed by the UPA government to give a boost to stalled projects, is not mentioned in this regime.
In stark contrast to the UPA, the power centre has been changed as now more responsibilities lie on the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). Earlier this month, Modi scrapped the Cabinet Committee on Prices, World Trade Matters and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), and their functions will now be handled by the CCEA. With regard to the Cabinet Committee on UIDAI-related issues, major decisions have already been taken and the remaining issues will be brought to the CCEA.
The functions of the Cabinet Committee on World Trade Organisation Matters will also be handled by the CCEA, and, whenever necessary, by the full Cabinet.
The CCEA, whose members include Modi, Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, finance minister Arun Jaitley, urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu and transport minister Nitin Gadkari, shows how power is vested in just a few hands. Whether this decision would lead to taking quick decisions or result in stalling of projects will only be seen in the long run.
While the former NDA government had paid a lot of attention to allies, Modi’s government has invited only two ministers from allied parties — food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju — to be a part of CCEA. Other strong contenders, food and consumer affairs minister Ramvilas Paswan and heavy industries minister Anant Geete, have also been left out.
In the previous NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Shiv Sena had managed to stall disinvestment decisions just as the DMK did during UPA-1. Both these regional allies were part of the CCEA.
In order to give some representation to allies, Modi has followed the UPA model and included four allies — Ramvilas Paswan (LJP), Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati (TDP), Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) and Harsimrat Kaur Badal (SAD) — in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
The Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA) is perhaps the only body whose charges are similar to the UPA’s as it is being headed by a senior minister and not the PM himself. The eight-member committee has three special invitees and is chaired by Rajnath Singh. Ramvilas Paswan is the only ally included as a member.
Modi has also followed the past practice initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and later followed by Manmohan Singh, of getting senior Cabinet colleagues to head CCPA and CCA, both of which requires good management of relations with opposition leaders and MPs. Vajpayee had LK Advani, while Manmohan Singh had Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony.
Most of the committees are in a truncated form as compared to the Manmohan Singh government, which had as many as 12 cabinet committees apart from dozens of groups of ministers (GoMs) and empowered groups of ministers (eGoMs). While this time CCEA has 11 members and three special invitees, the UPA government had 14 members and three permanent invitees. The committee on accommodation has been reduced from seven members to a four-member body.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), which finalizes appointments of all senior bureaucrats, will now include only the prime minister and the home minister, a departure from the UPA government which also brought in the minister in charge of the concerned ministry into the panel while selecting officials for their departments.
While the previous Congress governments laid stress on more members in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), it has only four members in this Modi government. With CCS having a history of surprise inductions into the committee, whether the Modi government follow suit is yet to be seen. Nehru had inducted Lal Bahadur Shastri on the committee even when he was minister without a portfolio. Similarly, PV Narasimha Rao had included his HRD minister Arjun Singh into the committee.
Contrary to the former UPA government, which gained notoriety for procrastination in decision making by creating 68 GoMs and 14 eGoMs in its second term, Modi has opted for smaller Cabinet committees for a faster decision making process. He has even done away with GoMs and eGoMs so that projects are not stalled. As of April 3, 2014, 20 GoMs and nine eGoMs installed by the UPA were yet to be functional.