Such was the secrecy with which Narendra Modi went about the process of selecting his council of ministers that in the past week even the senior most leaders of his own party had hardly a clue about what was going on in his mind.
In the end, the 45-member team that he announced bore the stamp of one man, Modi himself. Of course, he’d sought the views of a team of leaders—confidantes, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah, and party president Rajnath Singh, besides taking suggestions from the party’s parent organisation, the RSS — but his final choice reflects his own mind more than anything else.
For the most important cabinet roles, Modi drew on his most experienced colleagues (all from his own party, which has a majority with 282 seats on its own). He is believed to have decided to give finance (and, additionally, defence) to his close colleague Jaitley; home to Rajnath Singh; external affairs to Sushma Swaraj despite the not-so-cordial vibes from her during his campaign; and a beefed-up transport portfolio to Nitin Gadkari.
With Rajnath joining government, Shah is the frontrunner to be the next BJP chief.
Modi has kept his council of ministers young, with the average age at 57; has inducted seven women into his council; and included a number of fresh faces, rewarding some for either decisive wins in the election (former chief of army staff Gen. VK Singh), giving a good fight (Smriti Irani who contested against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi), being a consistent spokesperson throughout his campaign (Nirmala Seetharaman), or managing a successful campaign (Piyush Goyal).
For now, he and his council of ministers number 46, compared to the 71 that the UPA had at the end. The number may go up slightly as tweaks follow over the next few months.
In his choice of ministers, it wasn’t that Modi overruled everyone but neither did he succumb to any pressure. The BJP’s parent organisation, the RSS, is believed to have been in favour of either the home, defence, finance or external affairs portfolio for Gadkari, advice Modi is learnt to have chosen to ignore.
Despite their seniority, Modi did not include in his cabinet party elders, LK Advani, 86, and Murli Manohar Joshi, 80, presumably because he wanted to keep the average age of his cabinet relatively young.
Interestingly, not a single minister in Modi’s cabinet has a dynastic advantage. Two serving and one former chief minister are believed to have wanted their sons to be accommodated in the council of ministers but the prime minister didn’t allow that.
Despite the BJP’s majority on a standalone basis, he did give some jobs to the allies, picking, among others, the Shiv Sena’s Anant Geethe, the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Badal, and the Telugu Desam’s Ashok Gajapati Raju.