Slowly but steadily, India’s new Prime Minister seems to be settling into his job. He has outlined a specific 10-point agenda to his cabinet colleagues and in his first interaction with the Chinese Premier has laid the ground stone for future bilateral talks. All this in a day when Smriti Irani broke her silence over the education controversy and opposition cried foul on the appointment of PM’s Principal Secretary Nripendra Singh.
Narendra Modi riding high on an unprecedented mandate given to a BJP government is well aware of the enormous expectations of the aam janta. After laying out ground rules for the bureaucrats today he outlined top 10 priorities to his Ministers. Modi seems to have taken a cue from what went wrong with the UPA2 government to begin in a right footing. Thus special thrust will be given on inter-ministerial cooperation, on transparency and effective handling of the bureaucracy. Most of the ministers are not domain experts in their respective fields, thus they will be heavily dependent on their secretaries. Hence, the Ministers have been asked to give a free hand to them so that they can express themselves.
Each Ministry has been asked to outline priorities for an initial phase of 100 days. But the overall focus of the Modi sarkar will be on education, health, water, energy and roads. Special priority will also be given to boost fledging economy and infrastructure of the country. To promote transparency increased use of e-governance has been stressed upon by the Prime Minister.
It is left to be seen how ministers in the Modi government match up to these challenges. Many of them are political newbies with very little experience so far. Appointing low-key people has been seen as a ploy by Modi to keep a leash over critical ministries. But it may well turn out to be a double-edged sword, if the respective Ministers lose their plot and all the good intentions may soon get bogged down in sarkari red tape.
Modi though is scouting for more fresh faces as he will be soon expanding his government. As many as 25 new Ministers (most of them MOS) may be inducted in the next phase, possibly after 12 June. The 16th Lok Sabha will have its first session from 4th June and will continue till 11th. It will start with a joint address of both the houses by President Pranab Mukherjee. It has been decided that Kamal Nath will temporarily preside over the house till the time Lok Sabha elects a new Speaker.
It is speculated that important allies like TDP and Shiv Sena will be given additional Ministries in the next expansion. Also states like Rajasthan, Himachal, and Uttarakhand which voted handsomely for BJP but were overlooked last time may be given fair share of representation.
On a lighter note, seems like Modi is getting addicted to clicking pictures like many people belonging to the “Facebook Generation”. Today he took a tour of the PMO, and promptly posted pictures of him with his staff. Before that Modi had a brief telephonic conversation with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Both expressed pleasantries and PM invited Li to visit India this year. Modi in his election speeches especially in Arunachal had raised voice against China. But now in office, he has considerably mellowed down his tone affirming to Li that relationship with China is one of the chief priorities of India. Foreign policy is one aspect that broadly thrives on continuity irrespective of who is in the helm and Modi is likely to continue that tradition forward. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit India next month to meet with him and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Narendra Modi today resigned from his Vadodara Lok Sabha seat. As widely expected he will retain Varanasi. Speculations are rife about who will stand from Vadodara. Names of Amit Shah, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar are all making the rounds.
Smriti Irani today broke her silence on controversy surrounding her educational qualification. Irani said that she should be judged on the basis of her work as HRD Minister. At 38, Smriti is the youngest Minister in the Modi cabinet. The former TV Actress alleged that some people are trying to divert her attention from impending work. Initially, Congress targeted her for just being a class 12 pass. Later the goalpost was shifted to target discrepancy in her affidavit to Election Commission. Today BJP sighted Rahul Gandhi’s election affidavit to claim that Gandhi scion had lied. The same politics of ‘my mistakes lesser than yours’’ happening again and again!!
Sensex was today down by 322 points, its biggest slide in nearly four months. Nifty was also down by nearly 94 points. Analysts though attribute it primarily to the high profile exits in Infosys giving the perception that the tech giant is in a shaky ground. FIIs were in a profit booking spree further bringing down the index.
Congress has got its first real ammunition to corner the Central government. The controversial ordinance route which Government took to change TRAI provisions to appoint Nripendra Mishra as the Principal Secretary of Narendra Modi has been branded devious by Congress leader Ajay Maken. The ordinance has to be passed in both the houses of Parliament. In Rajya Sabha, government doesn’t have a majority and will face a major hurdle to push it through.
Another contentious issue which has been raised in the last few days is that of Article 370. Today, Congress leader Dr Karan Singh said that a rethink is required about relevance of Article 370 in this age and time but stressed that talks should be done in a peaceful atmosphere and not with undue hostility. Incidentally Karan Singh’s father Hari Singh was Maharaja of Kashmir and he, by signing the Instrument of Accession in October 1947 had paved the way for the state to be part of India.
Ministers in the Modi government though are looking for some cosmetic changes to start with. Among those changes, Hyderabad Airport may be renamed from Rajiv Gandhi International Airport to NT Rama Rao Airport. Final decision is yet to be taken in this issue. New Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju has indicated that Robert Vadra may be stripped of his privilege of being barred from checking in airports. At present, Vadra is in the shortlist of people who have the privilege of not being frisked in any airport in India. It is quite evident that the new government is systematically trying to reduce the hegemony of Gandhi-Nehru family in India’s polity albeit symbolically to begin with.
Civil Aviation Minister also said that they are open to privatisation of Air India. Most of the ministers have taken charge and they are slowly outlining their top priorities. New Transport & Highways and Shipping minister, Nitin Gadkari has zeroed in on promoting ethanol-friendly cars, turning river Ganga into a waterway and starting work on 50 stalled road projects as his primary goal. He is looking at a carrot and stick policy to expedite work of highway construction. Often these projects are stalled due to lack of environment clearances. To ensure that babus don’t seat on files new Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar unveiled a system for online submission of forms for clearances.
The pluses have widely outweighed the negatives in the first few days of Modi sarkar. It is left to be seen how government can sustain this momentum.
Finally, a look at the key economic parameters as of today…