With the Union ministry’s size ballooning to 78 including the Prime Minister, the ‘minimum government, maximum governce’ pre-election promise by rendra Modi stands well and truly buried. It cannot be otherwise, given the dictates of realpolitik. This is a far cry from the 45-strong ministry that took oath in 2014 when the Modi tsumi swept the country; the ministry strength of 78 is the same as that of the Manmohan Singh-led ministry before the last general elections. The Modi ministry’s size is now just three short of the maximum limit of 82 imposed constitutiolly. But then crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab next year, followed by Gujarat and Kartaka among the 7 states going to the polls in 2018 — are obviously weighing on PM Modi’s mind as he eyes re-election prospects in 2019. Thus it is that the 19 new faces in the expanded Union ministry are drawn from 10 states, five being dalits, two from OBCs and three adivasis. It is being seen as a careful balancing exercise, with the stress upon rewarding groups that voted for the BJP in 2014. Overall, UP’s representation in the Union ministry now stands highest at 16, while Bihar and Madhya Pradesh figure next with eight representatives each. The BJP’s electoral compulsions have squelched Assam’s hopes of two representatives in the ministry, the State having delivered the first ever BJP-led government in the Northeast. Only Rajen Gohain has made the cut as Minister of State (for Railways), thereby taking the place of Sarbanda Sonowal. Another Modi criteria also seems to have been given the go by this time, mely the maximum 75 year age to be minister. The retaining of jma Heptulla and Kalraj Mishra is again attributed to UP politics. Despite caste and community considerations so obviously holding sway, the BJP has claimed that for the Prime Minister, three E’s mattered in the ministry rejig exercise — mely, experience, expertise and energy.
The saffron party has pointed out that the PM last week exhaustively reviewed the work of all his ministers, who had to make detailed presentations on the performance of their ministries. It is true that when the Modi government completed two years on May 26 last, most political observers agreed that his ministry has been short of experience and talent to deliver satisfactorily on his vision. Significant initiatives have been undertaken like fincial inclusion through Jan Dhan bank accounts, streamlining of LPG subsidies, getting the real estate regulation and bankruptcy code passed in Parliament, propelling the cleanliness campaign to Swacch Bharat level and the e-governce drive under Digital India. The PM is actively pushing for Make in India, Aadhaar, Smart Cities and a host of welfare schemes, along with a quantum jump in electricity generation and promoting clean energy like solar and wind power. But though Modi has dumped the Planning Commission, its replacement NITI-Aayog is yet to get going in its new indicative and advisory role, while many states including Assam and other NE states have serious issues with Central funding. The Modi government is also anxious to get the Goods & Services Tax (GST) law and land ordince passed soon, particularly with its numbers improving lately in the Rajya Sabha. Above all, this government has to make some big bang progress on the employment generation and rural distress alleviation front, if the NDA is to make an impression on voters by 2019. Nearing the half-way mark practically in its term, the Modi dispensation has made appreciable progress in faster decision making, a cleaner administration, a more hands-on bureaucracy and cutting the thicket of outdated laws and regulations. The shifting of Smriti Irani from Human Resources Development to Textiles ministry, and the upgrading of Prakash Javadekar to cabinet status and full charge of HRD is being interpreted as Modi’s subtle message to steer clear of needless controversies and coordite closely with the PM’s office. The Prime Minister is a man in a hurry, and needs his team to play well to score in 2019.