After the heat and acrimony of a fiercely contested election, the ushering in of the new government was a calm and sober pageant. As Narendra Modi was formally sworn in as prime minister of India along with his council of ministers, the impressive ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan was attended by thousands, including a phalanx of SAARC heads of government. The event was perfectly choreographed, with the PMO website going live seconds after Prime Minister Modi took the oath of office.
The council of ministers is a calibrated mix of those who have featured in older NDA governments and new faces, showcasing a heartening representation to women. It frames, also, the new prime minister’s attempt to reach out to his own party after a campaign that focused on his persona and seemed to dwarf other leaders.
There will soon be greater clarity on the way ministries have been restructured for maximum cohesion. At least half a dozen ministries have reportedly had their functions reassessed, and allied departments have been grouped together to avoid delay, duplication and working at cross-purposes. The new council of ministers is an unusually small entity, at a mere 44 right now, the smallest to take oath in the last 15 years.
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In comparison, the previous Manmohan Singh government had 78. To some extent, this is simply the difference between a ruling party with an unambiguous majority and a coalition struggling to reward and accommodate allies. But it also fits in with Narendra Modi’s stated governing philosophy, one that he has repeated through his election campaign. At first glance, therefore, this appears to be a purposeful cabinet streamlined for efficiency. With the strong mandate he has, and given his position as someone who won the BJP establishment this historic victory, Modi has the luxury of choosing the right person for the job, rather than being caught in a web of obligations.
What is difficult to miss is the generational shift, the remarkable change that has coursed through the NDA. The cabinet committee on security, for instance, which includes the ministers of defence, finance, home and external affairs and makes the most critical decisions for the government, is composed entirely of first-timers, including Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. This lack of experience is also an opportunity. The absence of jadedness could potentially infuse a new energy into decision-making. Given the weight of vaulting public expectations, which the Modi government cannot but be acutely conscious of, an agile and coordinated executive that hits the ground running is of prime importance.