Will the second term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi see more reforms and actions than symbolism and sloganeering witnessed in the first term? No doubt, the massive mandate won by Modi shows that India has put its trust in him.
Riding on a humongous mandate to office for a second term Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent assertion of an all inclusive society and to win the trust of everyone kicks off a new narrative. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bagged 303 seats on its own in the 545 member Lok Sabha in the recently concluded seven phased national polls and with allies in the National Democratic Alliance, they won 353 seats. This is quite significant as this is the first time in India’s history that a non-Congress led government has returned to power for a second consecutive term after winning a majority.
“We are for the 130 crore people of the country, we cannot differentiate between anyone. We cannot differentiate on the basis of caste and religion or region. We have shown how to achieve Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (development for all) and now we have to win Sabka Vishwas (trust of everyone). We are for the people who trusted us and those whose trust we need to win. Nobody should be the ‘other’ for us. It takes a lot of strength to try and win the hearts of people,” asserted Modi during the parliamentary party meeting of the NDA.
With this clarion call for winning the trust of everyone it is hoped that cow vigilantes and right wing ultra nationalist who have had a field day across India during the first term of Prime Minister Modi from 2014 to 2019 will be reined in this time.
Modi and his cabinet, which was sworn in on May 30 in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan by President of India Ram Nath Kovind, are packed with people who are known for their strategies and experience. Having achieved political consolidation and strengthened the grip over the political landscape Modi has several challenges in hand in terms of governance.
Reviving the economy
First is the rejuvenation of Indian economic growth story. Can Nirmala Sitharaman India’s new finance minister turn around the Indian economy? Nirmala, 59, who had held portfolios of commerce and defence ministry, has to get the economy moving again, create new jobs for millions of unemployed, infuse capital to address the issue of non-performing assets in banks, address weakness in exports, simplify GST among other things. According to the World Bank India needs 8.1 million new jobs every year.
Looking at big-ticket defence reforms
Similarly challenges also await the new defence minister Rajnath Singh who was the home minister in the previous government. Flanked by two arch rivals-Pakistan and China India needs to plan and be prepared for emerging challenges from them.
Singh will have to look at big-ticket defence reforms amid the ongoing modernisation process. Among the major procurements that the new defence minister will need to give a go ahead is critical military equipment. Close to 400 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force and over 50 for the Navy, 111 light Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), submarines, warships, armoured vehicles, UAVs and military helicopters need to be procured on a priority basis.
A major task at hand before the new minister is the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and integrated operations for the three services. The government also needs to make the Indian defence industry, particularly the public sector, more competitive as compared to foreign players by investing in research and development. One big headache for Singh will be on how to find finance as India spends less than two per cent of the GDP on defence modernisation.
Boosting India’s trade ties
S Jaishankar, India’s longest serving foreign secretary in recent times from 2015-2018 was the surprise pick as the new external affairs minister. However Jaishankar is not the first career diplomat to be appointed as Union External Affairs Minister. In fact K Natwar Singh was the IFS officer who was appointed as the external affairs minister in UPA government. A confidant of Modi, Jaishankar son of illustrious national security expert K Subhrahmanyam too has his hands full as he has to navigate a trade war between the United States and China and rising tension between the US and Iran. Another challenge for him will be to further strengthen India’s ties with China, badly hit by the Doklam standoff in mid 2017.
A major focus of the ministry under his leadership is likely to be on further boosting India’s trade and defence ties with the US, Russia, France, Japan and the European Union as well as with the countries of the neighbourhood. Getting the long-awaited membership of the UN Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers Group are expected to be other areas of interest of the new government. His other immediate priorities will be to take a call on whether or not India should allow resumption of the SAARC summit process. The summit is due in Islamabad.
Tackling issues from Kashmir to Assam
For Amit Shah, India’s Home Minister who was instrumental in Bharatiya Janata Party’s political consolidation in two General Elections 2014 and 2019 and several assembly elections has work cut out for him from Kashmir to Assam and modernisation of police force.
His immediate challenge will be how he handles implementation of National Register of Citizens in Assam which is being monitored by the Supreme Court of India. The first draft of the NRC was released on July 2018, leaving out as many as four million of the state’s residents. The fate of those who fail to qualify as Indian citizens hangs in balance.
His biggest challenge will be containing separatism in Kashmir abetted by Pakistan. Sustained counter-terror operations by the military, paramilitary and the local police have pushed violence levels down but the BJP may want to push ahead with its articulated promise of doing away with Articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution giving special privileges and powers to the state.
Let us wait and watch how the second term of Modi shapes India into a better and a developed nation.