Naidu and Modi embrace

By P.K.Balachandran   

Colombo, June 13: Undeterred by a negative electoral verdict, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has quickly arrogated to himself all the levers of executive power, that he had unabashedly used to break opposition parties and quell dissent in the last ten years.

When Modi was sworn-in on Sunday as India’s Prime Minister for the third time since 2014, it was generally believed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government he heads was destined to fall within weeks or months.

His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won only 240 seats in a House of 543 seats, had to rely on its partners in the NDA to get past the minimum requirement of 272 seats to form a government. But the two partners the BJP was dependent on, namely, Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) and Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), had a reputation for switching sides.

The speculation was that Nitish and Naidu would seek their pound of flesh and if Modi did not concede, would switch sides as they had done in the past.   

But by the time he was sworn-in on June 9, Narendra Modi had acquired a firm grip on the government.  He had his way in the distribution of ministries and kept the two potentially troublesome allies, Nitish and Naidu, out of harm’s way.

Modi told the constituents of the NDA that the BJP, being the single largest party in the coalition, had to keep the key portfolios with it. It therefore kept Home (Internal Affairs and Internal Security), Defence, Finance, Commerce, Agriculture and Foreign Affairs.

Modi then appointed his tried and tested lieutenants in the BJP to the top ministerial positions. Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Piush Goyal and Shivraj Chouhan are Ministers of Home, Defence, Finance, Commerce and Agriculture respectively. There was no reshuffle or  the introduction of new faces to refurbish the image of the Modi government after its poor performance in the elections.

Only five out of the 30 cabinet seats were given to the allies and among the ministries given to them were civil aviation, food processing, steel, animal husbandry, and small and medium enterprises.

Being an astute politician, Modi figured out that the potentially troublesome Nitish Kumar from Bihar and Chandrababu Naidu from Andhra Pradesh, were primarily interested in exercising power in their respective States and were not craving for power in the Central government. And to strengthen their hold on their State they needed funds from the Centre for their development schemes. Both have for long been demanding a “special package”.

Nitish desperately needs a Special Package because Bihar is one of the most backward States in India especially after it was bifurcated and a separate State of Jharkhand was formed, depriving it of rich mineral resources.

Naidu needs the Special Package to develop Andhra Pradesh and build a new capital city, after the State was bifurcated to create a new State of Telangana. Hyderabad, the high tech city which Naidu helped develop, became the capital of Telangana. In the first week of June this year, the Andhra Pradesh government ceased to function from Hyderabad.

Thus, Naidu is duty bound to complete the stalled construction activity in the new capital named Amaravati in Guntur district.

It is learnt that Nitish and Naidu did seek the Speakership of parliament for their parties, as it is powerful post. But they quickly climbed down when Modi made it clear that the BJP, being the single largest party, had to get the Speakership.

Challenges Before Modi

However, Modi government has many other challenges to meet. The first challenge is economic. The election result had made it clear that Modi will have to attend to the distress created by soaring unemployment which is 8%, up from 6% before the pandemic. Joblessness among the young is well into the double digits.

Economic growth has been too concentrated, calling for an inclusive model. The budget to be presented in July has to have allocations for widespread growth not growth’s sake but also for employment.

That calls for enhanced manufacturing especially in the medium and small scale sector. It also calls for more foreign investment. Inflation has to be kept under control as high prices were among the main complaints about the Modi government.

The new Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act that would come into effect on July 1, could run into opposition from many States as they require high technical knowledge and skill to administer.

The Modi government’s opposition to reservation for Muslims in educational institutions and government jobs will face opposition from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, as Muslims form a significant voter base for  parties in these States.  

The Womens’ Reservation Bill has to be implemented after the delimitation of constituencies in 2026, taking into account the latest census. But the Central government is still to conduct the decennial  national census which was due in 2021.

Home Minister Amit Shah has been wanting to compile a National Register of Citizens (NRC) but there has been widespread opposition to it as it demands that each resident of India has to produce documents to prove that he had been living in India legally for a given number of years

The NRC exercise was conducted in Assam to identify and root out illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. Of the 30 million applicants in Assam, nearly 2 million were excluded from the NRC that was published on August 31. 2021. In India, millions do not even a birth or a marriage certificate.

Later the government said that for illiterate citizens, who may not have any documents, the authorities may allow them to produce witnesses or local proof supported by members of the community.

Though the exercise was abandoned subsequently, Home Minister Amit Shah kept saying that it would be carried out at the all-India level despite opposition from West Bengal and a few other States and of course the Muslim community who felt particularly threatened.

In the last ten years, the Modi government had widely used central investigating agencies to file cases and jail opposition leaders, dissidents and critics. The threat to investigate was used to secure political defections and split opposition parties.

Since Modi and Amit Shah still have these agencies under their control, they could be used to quell dissent, gag opposition voices and split opposition parties.

The 2024 parliamentary elections and their aftermath show that the more India changes, the more it remains the same.



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