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Modi's fledgling ministers face steep learning curve

Publication Date : 28-05-2014


Many see new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's lean and trim Cabinet as a welcome change, but his ministers' relative inexperience has also raised eyebrows.

With three in four being first- timers in the federal government, they face a steep learning curve if they are to fulfil the enormous expectations of voters.

This is expected to change the dynamics of power in government, making Modi and his office all-powerful as the inexperienced ministers focus on implementing his vision, say analysts.

But that may not be such a bad thing, they add, noting how the previous Congress government of Dr Manmohan Singh struggled with a lack of cohesion as individual ministers often pursued independent and controversial paths.

"I admit to have been a trifle underwhelmed by Modi's choice of ministers," said R. Jagannathan, editor-in-chief of publications at the Network18 media group.

"If one sets aside the all-star cast at the top and some promising artists lower down the order, there was no wow factor to the ministry. How, I thought, was Modi going to deliver with this motley bunch, given the electorate's sky-high expectations."

Business Standard, a respectable financial daily, echoed that view in an editorial, which called the Modi Cabinet a "let-down".

"A prime minister as much in charge of his party and parliamentary contingent as Modi is should certainly do better," it said.

Modi was sworn in on Monday together with his Cabinet of 23 full and 22 junior ministers.

Analysts also expressed surprise that Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was put in charge of two key ministries - finance and defence.

But Jaitley told reporters that he was holding the defence portfolio only until Modi appointed a full-time minister.

BJP national spokesman M.J. Akbar sought to downplay the inexperience of the Cabinet.

"Every politician has to be a first-timer some time. One cannot be a second-timer without being a first-timer. Infusion of fresh talent and fresh ability is definitely a great asset," Akbar told The Straits Times.

Forming a government is always complicated, he said, but Modi "knows what he is doing and the timeframe in which to do it".

Jagannathan said his initial scepticism has turned to optimism as he now believes that a new team without egos will perform better.

"There may be no wow factor to the Cabinet, but there is a new energy in it. A wow factor would have ended up raising expectations ever further, and Modi has ensured that his team is less preoccupied with show than substance," he said.

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