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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Weakened Modi names coalition cabinet as allies start making unhappy noises


Narendra Modi took oath as prime minister of India on Sunday and signed the first order of his third term allocating funds for farmers on Monday even as the allocation of ministerial portfolios is yet to be finalised.

After failing to secure an outright majority in the election just gone, Mr Modi took office at the head of a coalition government and named a new cabinet of 72 ministers.

Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won 240 seats, 32 short of a simple parliamentary majority, making him dependent on mercurial allies, some of whom are already making disgruntled noises.

The Shiv Sena faction led by Eknath Shinde and the Nationalist Congress Party faction of Ajit Pawar — both from the western Maharashtra state — are reported to be unhappy with their shares in the new ministry.

The latter has rejected a junior ministerial portfolio for Praful Patel, seeing it as a “demotion” considering his experience, and is demanding a full cabinet berth, The Indian Express reported.

The Sena was eyeing three posts but received a solitary junior minister position.

Both parties, while expressing support for the Modi government, expect their demands to be met in future cabinet expansions.

“We have one Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha MP,” Mr Pawar told reporters on Sunday, referring to the lower and upper houses of parliament. “In the coming months we will have two more Rajya Sabha MPs. Then we will have four MPs and should get a cabinet berth. We are ready to wait but want a cabinet berth.”

“I see accepting a minister of state with independent charge as a demotion,” he added. “We have informed the BJP leadership and they assured us remedial measures will be taken. This does not indicate a major problem.”

Maharashtra is scheduled to hold state elections later this year and the opposition parties there have quickly moved to exploit any dissension in the ranks of the ruling alliance.

The “minuscule” representation of Mr Modi’s Maharashtra allies in his cabinet shows the BJP has shown them their place, Press Trust of India quoted Shiv Sena UBT spokesperson Sanjay Raut as saying.

“This is what you get when you decide to be someone’s slaves,” Mr Raut said.

Shiv Sena UBT, part of the opposition INDIA bloc, was formed after the Eknath Shinde faction split away.

Alongside his new allies, Mr Modi’s cabinet features key figures from the previous term like Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, S Jaishankar, Rajnath Singh, and Piyush Goyal. Their portfolios are expected to be announced after a meeting of the ruling NDA on Monday.

But there was no place for 37 ministers from the last term such as Smriti Irani, Anurag Thakur, Narayan Rane, Arjun Munda, RK Singh, Mahendra Nath Pandey, and VK Singh. Nearly half of them lost the election.

L Murugan was retained as a junior minister despite losing, The Hindu reported.

Ms Irani, who ran key ministries in both of Mr Modi’s previous terms, lost her prestige constituency of Amethi by a sizeable margin. She had taken the seat in 2019 from Rahul Gandhi, now the leader of the opposition.

Mr Rane, who joined the BJP in 2019, won the election but lost the cabinet berth.

Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, the largest ally of Mr Modi, got four berths in the cabinet. Another crucial partner, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United, received two.

Mr Naidu’s party, a regional player in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, having won 16 seats, had asked for four ministerial berths as well as the post of speaker. Mr Kumar’s party, which has a base in the eastern state of Bihar, wanted two berths after securing 12 seats in the election.

Mr Modi has come in for criticism for not giving a place in his new cabinet to a representative of the minority Muslim community.

This is the first time in India’s history that there’s no Muslim minister in the central cabinet. Muslims are over 14 per cent of the country’s population.

The ruling coalition does not have a single Muslim, Sikh or Christian among its 293 MPs.

Modi signed his first file of the new term on Monday, authorising the distribution of Rs 20,000 crore to 9.3 crore farmers across the country.

Jairam Ramesh of the Congress party said the allocation was due in January but was delayed and accused Mr Modi of presenting routine actions as “grand gestures”.

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