On completion of one year in office, various political analysts have been evaluating the Prime Minister and his government’s performance as a whole. But how have his ministers fared in their individual portfolios? Have they fulfilled the role and responsibility given to them and most of all, how do the people view their performance thus far. We take a look at the performance of some of the senior ministers of the Narendra Modi-led Cabinet.
Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance
Arun Jaitley has been a successful lawyer, a staunch BJP member and spokesperson for the party. Despite losing the election from Amritsar constituency in the 2014 General Elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reposed his faith in him and appointed him as the Finance Minister, a great responsibility given the tough economic situation prevailing in the country at the time. Inflation was riding high and the CAD was a serious concern. This along with a directionless bureaucracy that was low on morale posed a tough challenge for Arun Jaitley.
On taking office and stock of the prevailing situation, he rightfully prioritised reigning in inflation and getting CAD under control, as his top priorities. One year down, one can credit him for pursuing a balanced fiscal policy, one that controlled inflation and reduced fiscal deficit, while progressively opening up the economy and creating a favourable investment climate. Thanks to his vision and backed by an equally competent economist in RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan, the duo have set India on a high growth trajectory.
Rajnath Singh, Minister of Home Affairs
Being a Home Minister in India is always a tough challenge and one of the most important portfolios in the Cabinet. The role requires a strong personality who is decisive and has clarity on the existing social, political, religious and economic scenario prevailing in the country. The role requires a lot of tact along with strategic thinking and backed by the ability to carry all stakeholders towards a mutually acceptable solution in crisis situations, as they emerge. The PM saw all of these when he chose to appoint Rajnath Singh as the Home Minister.
To his credit, Rajnath Singh has largely been a silent and behind-the-scenes minister so far. He, however, has been very busy handling emerging cross border situations in J&K, to constantly tracking and keeping in check various groups involved in terror activities, to fighting Maoists in the hinterland. The recent attacks on the army in Manipur and the follow-up retaliatory action across the North East, as also the sectarian conflicts in Assam, have all seen Rajnath Singh taking stock and action.
He may not have been very visible and rightly so, but the one time Chief Minister and former Cabinet Minister, has more than lived up to the challenges as the Home Minister. The PM continues to repose his faith in Rajnath Singh and fully backs him in all his actions taken so far.
Amit Shah, President BJP
Amit Shah remains the Prime Minister’s most trusted lieutenant and political strategist. Amit Shah consolidated his already strong position in Gujarat politics and remained Narendra Modi’s close confidante while he was the Chief Minister. During the 2014 General Elections, he was put in charge of the election campaign in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh and he demonstrated his political management skills in leading the BJP to a record win grabbing 73 out of 80 seats.
He was subsequently appointed party President and was given the mandate to expand BJP’s footprint nationally. He continued to demonstrate shrewd political skill in successfully bringing together various rival factions within the party in every state where state elections were being fought. After tasting a golden run, Amit Shah saw his first failure when the party was decimated in Delhi.
Today, he stands as the most feared political stalwart in the BJP and many regional parties have taken umbrage to aggressive political tactics undertaken by the BJP, under his leadership. The PM, however, continues to rely on Amit Shah for holding the BJP flag flying and leading the party in forthcoming elections in various states.
Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs
Sushma Swaraj has been the one of the most vocal and visible BJP leaders and was chosen by the PM to take charge of the crucial External Affairs Ministry. Having found herself in a rare situation, where the Prime Minister was actively and successfully playing the role of the External Affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj rightly chose to take the back seat and let the PM take charge of leading India’s diplomatic initiative. On her part, she complimented the PM’s initiative with a pro-active follow-up agenda and has been viewed favorably for her role, both in India and within the international diplomatic community.
Very unfortunately, she has recently found herself embroiled in a rather ugly controversy involving a controversial sports entrepreneur, Lalit Modi, who happens to be the person who ideated IPL and has been its former President. He came under investigation for various irregularities and fled to UK where he has been staying since. He has a light blue corner notice issued by the Enforcement Directorate but Lalit Modi has been evading coming to India and facing the investigation agencies, citing threat to his life.
Given his controversial role, the External Affairs Minister, it turns out, endorsed his travel papers that facilitated his travel from UK to Portugal and back, despite being wanted in India. The timing of the controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time, as she had to visit the US to lead India’s celebration of the International Yoga Day. The controversy has also put BJP on the back foot, as it has been the first major political setback for the party, which has seen a golden run so far. At the time of writing, the controversy continues unabated and only time will tell of the impact on Sushma Swaraj’s career.
Venkaiah Naidu, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Minister of Urban Development, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation
Venkaiah Naidu has been a grassroots political worker for the BJP who rose from student politics to the national level. Well versed with the interpersonal equations in political circles of Delhi, he was chosen by the Prime Minister to head the crucial Parliamentary Affairs Ministry. The party holds a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha but is short on numbers in the Rajya Sabha. This makes his role even more challenging as it requires deft political handling to get various parties and their members to agree to the passage of various crucial Bills. So far, his performance as a Minister of Parliamentary Affairs has been a mix of hits and misses but it is a role the PM fully backs.
In his role as the Minister of Urban Development, he has been given the mandate to fulfill the Prime Minister’s dream project of building 100 Smart Cities and transitioning urban India into a green and sustainable living space for all. In addition, he is also responsible for the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) project under which 500 cities will be developed with improved sanitation, sewerage and waste management systems, improved public transportation and modern health facilities. The success in both missions will serve as crucial benchmarks for the present government and Venkaiah Naidu’s role remains critical for successful execution.
As Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, he has initiated several projects that remain crucial to the government’s overall plan for ‘affordable housing for all’ project and poverty alleviation in urban areas. The work remains in progress and one year is still early to pass judgement on his performance.
Smriti Irani, Minister of Human Resource Development
For a first time minister to earn the epithet of being the ‘most controversial minister in the Modi-led government’, is not a welcoming feature for anyone let alone for Smriti Irani.
From television acting to becoming the Minister of Human Resource Development has been a dream career run for the very vocal public personality, despite losing the General Election in 2014 to Rahul Gandhi.
Since taking office, she has found herself making headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons and causing much embarrassment to the party.
Unfortunately, she got off to a wrong start due to a mismatch between stated qualifications in separate affidavits to the Election Commission. A case has been filed and the concerned Judge has issued an order that the case against her is ‘maintainable’. Time will tell how this case will impact Smriti Irani’s career.
This was followed by a very embarrassing public statement on her ‘Degree’ from Yale University, which turned out to be a mere ‘Certificate of Program Participation’ for a six-day programme on leadership.
She further courted controversy when she appointed persons who were apparently sympathisers of the Sangh Parivar. This controversy was followed by another when she wrote a letter seeking to rename Teacher’s Day as Guru Mahotsav.
Other actions that drew criticism included the sacking of the Delhi University Vice Chancellor over the FYUP programme controversy, dropping of the German language from Kendriya Vidyalayas’ curriculum as the third language option, the resignation of Anil Kakodkar from Chairmanship of the Board of Governors at IIT Bombay, and the resignation of the Director of IIT Delhi, amongst several other controversies.
Smriti Irani continues to function as the HRD Minister but remains a major source of embarrassment for the party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be credited with picking an effective team and then allowing them the freedom to function, while ensuring overall control. It has largely worked thus far but with the Lalit Modi controversy breaking out at the end of the first year in office, the party would do well to close ranks and ensure that no further controversy arises.
The PM has built a reputation as a decisive leader who does not shy away from taking tough decisions, therefore, he would do well to be more publicly vocal whenever a major controversy breaks. Prolonged silence has only helped the opposition to further hype each issue in public forums.
The first year’s performance has been largely positive for most ministers but five years is a long time. The nation hopes for a continuance but only time will tell.
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