Narendra Modi is back with a bang in the Prime Minister’s Office. A bigger majority in the Lok Sabha and a weaker and disoriented Opposition will see a stronger Narendra Modi government-II.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have the luxury of Arun Jaitley, his confidant, and Sushma Swaraj, the amma for all Indians living abroad. PM Modi will miss their presence in the top four cabinet berths.
Arun Jaitley was PM Modi’s go-to-man for his first tenure. The two had chemistry since the days Narendra Modi was the Gujarat chief minister. Jaitley was among the first group of central BJP leaders who foresaw a leadership role for Narendra Modi.
He was instrumental in getting Narendra Modi designated as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election that also saw the sidelining of party veterans LK Advani and MM Joshi.
With Jaitley in the first Modi government, the power equation of the Union cabinet also changed. Earlier, the Union home minister was considered the No. 2 but in the past five years, the finance minister with Jaitley in office emerged as the second most powerful person in the cabinet.
Almost all flagship and wide-impacting programmes of PM Modi were implemented through the finance ministry Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar linking, demonetisation, rollout of goods and services tax, benami property law and the insolvency code, to name a few. Jaitley was the not the law minister but he gave crucial inputs to the Modi government on all big issues that landed in the Supreme Court.
Jaitley was at the forefront in defending the Modi government over a range of controversies arising out of demonetisation, GST and also Rafale deal even though he was not the defence minister when the defence contract was signed or when Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched a frontal attack on the Modi government alleging malfeasance.
Importance of being Sushma Swaraj
Foreign affairs was another key area for the Modi government-I. During his first tenure, the prime minister visited more than 90 countries and devoted a lot of energy in building Brand India to attract investment and nourish India’s diplomatic muscle. Sushma Swaraj proved the most important cog in the wheel.
Swaraj prepared the ground for every significant bilateral and multilateral talk that PM Modi held over the past five years. By Modi’s own admission, it was Swaraj who prevailed over the prime minister at his first UN address in 2014. PM Modi wanted to deliver an impromptu speech but Swaraj insisted on and prevailed in having him read out a written speech so that the message was not lost on the international community.
Many political observers viewed Swaraj as a challenger to Modi in the initial months of the government. But the outgoing external affairs minister adjusted to the role she was assigned and gave the ministry a human face for the first time. She was the troubleshooter for any Indian stuck anywhere abroad.
She took personal interest in resolving minor issues like issuance of visa to the needy and getting relief to Indians in distress. She built an Indian human capital abroad and the response was an outpouring of support for the Modi government from the non-resident Indian community.
The BJP leaders cite improvement in relations with Islamic countries as an achievement of the Modi government and a proof that it was not anti-Muslim in nature. But the credit goes to Swaraj, who was instrumental in formulating a favourable relation for India.
Her efforts were rewarded when she was made the guest of honour at the plenary conclave of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in March this year in the face of vehement opposition from Pakistan. This was the first time when India was invited by the OIC to attend its session.
Both Jaitley and Swaraj will be missed in PM Modi’s new cabinet. Though PM Modi took a break from tradition when the prime ministers used to designate a senior minister as No. 2, who would preside over the cabinet meetings in his/her absence, it was Swaraj who took such meetings at least in the early months. Home Minister Rajnath Singh was the other senior leader to preside over cabinet meetings in PM Modi’s absence. By the end of the tenure, Jaitley was the undisputed No. 2 in the Modi cabinet.