Fresh faces more likely in cabinet

May 19, 2014 - 7:10:14 am

NEW DELHI: Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi was huddled in discussions with close aides and advisers yesterday, finalising the names of people to join his cabinet and grappling with the crucial decision of who will be his finance minister.

Two days after he won a thumping victory in the general election, there was little clarity about who Modi would include in his team, even in other key portfolios like defence, interior and external affairs.

One of his most important decisions will be whether to name front-runner Arun Jaitley to the finance minister’s post.  Jaitley is eminently suited, sources in the BJP said, but he was defeated in his race for a parliamentary seat and that is a minus point. Yet Jaitley is a former commerce minister, is regarded as a capable administrator, and is one of the few people in the party who has experience but is not too old at 61.

The BJP was last in power 10 years ago, and some of the ministers who served then are now past their sell by date, leaving Modi a relatively small pool of experience at his disposal. On the plus side, the party’s runaway success in the election has brought a lot of new faces into the decision-making lower house of parliament.

All government ministers have to be members of parliament, either the Upper or Lower House, although they have six months to comply. Jaitley remains a member of the Upper House.

Sources close to Modi’s campaign say the final decision on who will become finance minister has not yet been taken, with other names being mentioned that include Deepak Parekh, the chairman of the Housing Development Finance Corporation Ltd, and K V Kamath, a former chairman of Infosys and CEO of ICICI, a bank.

Neither has political experience but sources have said Modi may look to competent leaders in the states, or even try to bring professionals into his cabinet.

Modi, 63, is entering New Delhi’s power circle for the first time after running the western state of Gujarat for 13 years. 

During a religious ceremony on the banks of the Ganges river in Varanasi on Saturday, Modi sat flanked by his closest lieutenants, party president Rajnath Singh and long-term aide Amit Shah. Shah, who served as home minister in Gujarat, is the new prime minister’s most trusted aide and would be an obvious choice for a top job if it were not for one thing — he has three charges of murder against him.

Almost every other major post seems to still be up for grabs, with no clarity yet on who will take over defence, foreign affairs, trade and the home (interior) ministry.

Expectations are that these top jobs will go to seniors in the party, including party president Singh, who is being considered to run the powerful home ministry or defence ministry but may be unwilling to leave his current job. Sushma Swaraj, who led the opposition in the lower house of parliament for the past five years but is not close to Modi, is also likely to get a top post as is party treasurer, businessman Piyush Goyal.

Modi, who campaigned on promises of “smaller government, more governance,” may look at restructuring and merging some ministries, in particular those that deal with energy, BJP sources said. India currently has separate ministries for petroleum, power, coal and renewable energy.

“There will be less number of ministries...that decision should come when the cabinet is decided,” said Gopal Agarwal, a member of BJP’s executive committee who was until recently the head of its economic cell. Reuters