With core team in place, he must get cracking
Now that Mr Narendra Modi has assumed charge as the country's Prime Minister, backed by a massive mandate, he must begin and hasten the process of change which he has promised. He has assembled his core team, and now it time to get cracking. Interestingly, he took the first step even before he took the oath, when he invited leaders of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries for his swearing-in ceremony on May 26. Most foreign policy experts hailed it as a master stroke that demonstrated New Delhi's resolve to not only improve bilateral relations with its immediate neighbours but also forge strategic regional alliances and enhance the region's collective bargaining power globally. It was a clear hint that national interests will no longer be dictated by the whims and desires of regional satraps. The second step he has taken is to settle for a compact Union Council of Ministers, with just 24 Cabinet Ministers and 21 Ministers of State to start with. While there could be additions in the weeks to come, it is certain that Mr Modi will not follow his predecessor in having a humongous and non-performing Council of Ministers. The third initiative which he has adopted in the direction of keeping his vow to provide a positive shift in governance is the reduction (though tentative) in the number of ministries through convergence. Certain portfolios have been brought under one ministry for not just better coordination but also because they deal with a similar subject. Retaining them as separate ministries only adds to paperwork, leads to turf wars and delays critical decisions. The fourth change, that we shall soon see, is the complete revamp in the way the bureaucracy works. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr Modi is said to have given enormous freedom to the civil servants to implement the policies and programmes of the Government. He took their suggestions seriously, and even encouraged them to offer out-of-the-box solutions. At the same time, he brooked no excuses and ruthlessly held the officials accountable if they failed to deliver despite enjoying his backing and having the needed resources at their command. He will sustain this work culture in his new job. Already, in a first of its kind for a Prime Minister who is just hours into his job, he has scheduled a meeting of Secretaries who have to make presentations to him on their respective departments — and that too without the help of aides, if media reports are to be believed. And the fifth departure from Mr Manmohan Singh's regime will be the teeth that the Prime Minister's Office will get. The PMO will, for a change from over the last decade, not be reporting to a ‘higher authority' outside the Government. Mr Modi will be in complete control with the help of his trusted aides.
The structure of the Council of Ministers clearly indicates that Mr Modi is going to work closely with his Ministers of State, 10 of whom have been given independent charge. If he has reposed trust in them, it's because he believes they have the potential to deliver. These are not individuals who are part of the Government because of coalition or regional compulsions. They are people who, if they perform, can expect higher rewards in due course of time. On the other hand, if they fail, they must expect no mercy. This is true of Mr Modi's senior Ministers as well.
What is remarkable in the composition of the Council of Ministers is the right blend of experience and freshness. Whether in the Cabinet or among the junior Ministers, the Prime Minister has taken care to reward the first and encourage the second. First-timers (who held no ministerial berths before) have made it to the Cabinet rank or even as Ministers of State with independent charge, indicating that Mr Modi has not blindly stuck to the age-old concept of seniority as the deciding factor. Finally, what stands out is the sizeable representation that women have got in the Cabinet: Nearly 25 per cent of Cabinet Ministers who took oath of office on Monday are women.