Business Standard

PM Modi takes over

But the Council of Ministers is a let-down

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was sworn in as prime minister of India on Monday amidst extraordinary expectations of his government. It must be underlined that, with an easy majority for his Bharatiya Janata Party, and with a commanding 336 seats for the National Democratic Alliance, good-faith attempts to meet those expectations are only to be expected. One of Mr Modi's oft-repeated slogans - which also receives prominent play on the prime minister's website, which went live a few seconds after Mr Modi was sworn in - is "minimum government, maximum governance". It is these few words that most raised the hopes of those who believe in economic reform.

By the yardstick of that slogan alone, the initial signals from the process of formation are not encouraging. It was earlier expected that a broad downsizing of the would take place. On Monday, a 45-member Council was sworn in, one more than the entire Congress Parliamentary Party. That is down from the 70-plus that marked the end of the United Progressive Alliance era. More, however, could have been expected - especially since it was reported that a second round was coming in which the ministry would be expanded, with more "representation" for people from Rajasthan, among others. This is disappointing, as an expansion would merely take the size of the Council close to what it was under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had a real coalition to run. This is not dramatic change.

Questions can also be asked about those who have been chosen in this round. Many of them have proven themselves at the Centre in the past, or at the state level. Still, there are questions. Is a complete absence of technocrats a good idea? The eight chosen ministers from Uttar Pradesh, the largest contingent, include Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra, Maneka Gandhi, in the Cabinet; and, among the others, former Army Chief V K Singh. Some of these names do not inspire confidence. A prime minister as much in charge of his party and parliamentary contingent as Mr Modi is should certainly do better.

The prime minister has had more than a week in which to plan a genuine reorganisation of ministries, of the sort only a government with a stable majority could conduct. Rationalisation and integration were expected. The final shape is still not known for certain. But concerns exist: why, for example, are some ministers likely to be given dual responsibility for unrelated, and large ministries? Defence and finance, for example, have nothing in common. Surely such dual responsibility does not reflect a paucity of talent in a 336-member contingent? Rationalisation must be rational - if a super-ministry of transport is created without aviation, it is meaningless. If industry does not include chemicals and fertilisers, it is meaningless. The new prime minister's first steps are not quite as dramatic as many were hoping and expecting.

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