The much-awaited coronation of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister for a second term took place Thursday evening at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Anything that Modi does in politics is always high on optics and is meticulously planned. And that’s why the inclusion of BJP president Amit Shah in the new Modi government is no surprise.
Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have become an inseparable pair when it comes to strategising and winning election after election for the party.
As in 2014 in Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah ran a successful campaign in the ‘killing fields’ of Bengal, which has a history of witnessing political violence during elections, be it in the form of the CPM’s ‘scientific rigging’ or the TMC’s ‘strong-arm’ methods.
Amit Shah came across as a no-nonsense man who stood by his workers and challenged the state government’s diktats. As home minister with total control over law-enforcing agencies, Amit Shah is one person Mamata didi must be worried about.
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One can expect home minister Amit Shah to continue with his hard-line approach on internal security, which he has already exhibited as the BJP president.
The social media is already comparing him with ‘Iron Man’ Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, also from Gujarat.
Foreign policy gets an impetus
Along with Amit Shah, the other new key entrant in Modi’s cabinet is S. Jaishankar, a former foreign secretary who assumed charge as external affairs minister.
The pulls and pressures of a global economy are such that India cannot afford to look at foreign policy, trade, commerce and industry in isolation. That’s why having a seasoned diplomat like Jaishankar run the external affairs ministry is a smart move.
The ongoing US-China trade war and China’s forays into India’s strategic backyard require greater strategic depth in our external policies and internal economic initiatives.
The new foreign minister’s first challenge will come from China – New Delhi needs to act fast on the growing economic-military asymmetry with Beijing. It also needs to ensure that it doesn’t get drawn into the US-China trade war vortex. Jaishankar’s stint as India’s ambassador to both the US and China should be helpful.
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His expertise as a former foreign secretary will come handy as Prime Minister Modi would like to recalibrate his foreign policy in his second term in office.
New Delhi has witnessed many hiccups in its efforts to make SAARC a working organisation due to the spoilsport attitude of Islamabad. During his first term, Modi’s pet theme of ‘neighbourhood first’ went for a toss due to an uncooperative Pakistan.
In this background, the decision to invite BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) leaders to the swearing-in ceremony was a great idea. BIMSTEC includes important countries in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region (Pakistan is not a member-country) and India needs to build deep economic and strategic ties with these countries to counter China’s aggressive posturing.
The attendance of Kyrgyzstan president Sooronbay Jeenbekov, a last-minute addition to the swearing-in ceremony reportedly due to the efforts of former foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, was significant too. The central Asian country can act as a key link to India’s outreach efforts in the region.
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Agriculture, a key ministry
While economy and foreign policy will have to be the top priority of the new Modi government, agriculture is another area crying for attention.
Narendra Singh Tomar, who comes from an agrarian state like Madhya Pradesh, has the much-needed experience to head this ministry, given his earlier stint as the Panchayati raj minister. Tomar has been assigned Panchayati raj portfolio this time too.
Agriculture has seen no big investment or research over several years now. With elections in states like Haryana and Maharashtra around the corner, where agrarian crisis is a big issue, the ministry assumes greater significance.
If the issue of agrarian crisis is not handled properly, it could upset the BJP’s apple cart. An agriculture minister from Maharashtra would have probably helped the Devendra Fadnavis government a little more.
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Modi’s twin tasks
As PM Modi and his new cabinet get down to resolving key issues of policy and governance, a question that many in the BJP are now asking is who will lead the party.
With serial election winner Amit Shah now in the cabinet, the BJP will face some trouble finding a person who can match his political acumen and capability. At the same time, it would be a bad precedent if ousted ministers are accommodated in the party at the cost of gen-next aspiring workers and leaders.
Narendra Modi now has the twin responsibility of running an effective government and keeping the party fighting fit. And his time begins now.
The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.
BJP and RSS leaders or “thinkers” are prompt at spreading rumors about a person’s mettle. In that sense they are all propagandists. Not very long ago we had another “iron man” from BJP. Now we have Amit Shah who allegedly fills the same bill.
My one-line take is this: Sardar Patel worked to integrate India. Amit Shah will work to disintegrate India.
There is a portrait of Sardar Patel in North Block, on the landing between ground and first floors, as one enters from Gate no 4. Calm, imperturbable, able to carry the weight of a nation’s internal security challenges on his sturdy, peasant’s shoulders. He remains the gold standard for those who succeed him. May the new incumbent continue to draw inspiration from him, his words and actions.
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