India's Cabinet Ministers Announced

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his 45-member Cabinet were sworn in on Monday, May 26.  Although Mr. Modi is largely seen as someone who keeps his cards close to his chest, he is also known for working closely with and through his ministers and the bureaucracy (as in Gujarat). Therefore, the Ministers in the Cabinet will be instrumental to the country’s development.

Mr. Modi’s choice of his Cabinet is a significant departure from the previous Cabinet. He has lived up to the first part of his “minimum government, maximum governance” saying – his Cabinet is much leaner than the previous United Progressive Alliance II’s 72-member Cabinet. To bring in greater efficiency and accountability, key ministries have been brought down to 36 from 47 – for example, corporate affairs has been brought under finance, and road transport & highways has been combined with shipping. This is also a young Cabinet – the average age is 56 years – compared to 68 years in the previous one. Mr. Modi’s aim, it seems, is to groom younger leaders: when choosing the Ministers, there was an informal cap of 75 years.

That said, the Cabinet also has several experienced members, including Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, who have been given the crucial portfolios of home affairs, finance & defense, and external affairs, respectively. Although the BJP has a simple majority in the Lok Sabha (Lower House), Mr. Modi has also given cabinet berths to one leader each from his pre-poll alliances. He is expected to undertake his first Cabinet expansion in June in the run-up to the Budget Session.

The Cabinet Ministers have assumed office and several have made very positive statements about their immediate strategies and action plans. However, it is still premature to predict their leanings accurately. While the expectation is pro-business and pro-investment government, one cannot expect it to be unequivocally pro-market and open to FDI on every issue – there are areas in which the new government will be conservative to begin with. Early signs though are that there will be room left open for dialogue. Nevertheless, this government will be decisive and will offer greater clarity on policies. The private sector will not get the kind of mixed signals for which the previous government was known.

The strong mandate that the BJP won in the elections – 282 seats of 543 in the Lower House – has given the people, investors and industry the confidence that this government will not face the policy paralysis that crippled the previous regime. Mr. Modi’s reputation as an able administrator has infused hopes of good governance and a revival of the economy. The mood in the country is buoyant, and the burden of expectations, tremendous. Hopefully, Mr. Modi and his Cabinet will be able to deliver.