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June 24, 2024

THE AGENDA FOR TEAM MODI 3.0

When Narendra Modi entered the hallowed precincts of South Block on June 10, officials who had worked with him in the Prime Minister's Office lined the corridor and greeted him with applause. Modi walked straight to his spartan corner office and the first document he signed was an order authorising the release of the 17th instalment of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi to distribute Rs 2,000 each to the 93 million farmers in the country, an expense of Rs 20,000 crore for the exchequer. For Modi, this was all familiar territory--he has been here, done this for the past 10 years, over two terms. But there is a clear difference this time. Unlike the previous stints, he is heading a coalition government in his third term, Election 2024 having thrown up a verdict that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) surprisingly falling short of a simple majority of 272 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. The party won 240 seats, 32 short of the required halfway mark. That has left it dependent on its 24 National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners, who won 53 seats, to run the governmentThis brings its own set of compulsions, contradictions and possible conflicts that Modi will have to weather. It will certainly not be smooth sailing given that he has so far headed majority governments, be it his long innings as Gujarat chief minister between 2001 and 2014 or as prime minister from 2014 to 2024. But Modi was quick to dispel the notion that he has no experience in tackling coalition politics. He told close aides that his first major experience of handling ideologically diverse parties was during the Emergency when, as a young RSS pracharak, he coordinated with major Opposition leaders such as Morarji Desai, George Fernandes, Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS and even Jamaat-e-Islami leaders who were a part of the underground movement to protest its imposition. He reportedly acquitted himself wellLater, when the Congress ruled Gujarat in the 1990s, Modi, as an organisation leader of the state BJP that was in the Opposition, was the point person for the ruling dispensation to reach out to and hammer out a consensus on contentious issues. Then, in the late '90s, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister for the second time, Modi, as BJP's organisational general secretary, played a key role in coordinating with allies, including Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee. Citing this to demonstrate that he is no novice in matters of coalition politics, Modi will use the experience to handle the nitty-gritty of running a coalition government. MESSAGE IN THE MODI CABINET W hile forming his cabinet, Modi set the tone and tenor of the new NDA government, with the BJP retaining all the heavyweight portfolios, such as finance, defence, home, foreign affairs and commerce, accounting in all for 85 per cent of the total. The message was unambiguous: Modi and the BJP may not have a majority on their own, but he will run the government pretty much how he wants to. By keeping the ministers unchanged in these portfolios, Modi has signalled continuity in policy that should be reassuring to all the stakeholders in each of these ministries. His 72-strong ministry comes with vast experience, including as it does six former state chief ministers and 43 ministers who have served three or more terms in Parliament (see accompanying graphic, The Modi Sarkar). There is plenty of fresh blood and new energy too, with 26 of the inductees never having held a ministerial post before. The prime minister's new cabinet is also very inclusive, in that 24 of the 28 states are represented. Nine NDA partners have been assigned 11 portfolios, with the largest of them--the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which won 16 seats, and the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), which got 12--getting two ministries each. In terms of the overall caste break-up, more

FIREPOWER, MADE IN INDIA

The challenges facing the government in the defence sector require careful strategic planning, followed by decisive action. In its election manifesto, the BJP promised to expand India's defence footprint across strategic locations and partner with friendly countries to protect its security interests in the Indian Ocean Region. On defence manufacturing, it has promised to continue support for start-ups, so that indigenisation can be accelerated. The other emphasis is to increase exports of Made in India defence equipment. In the 2023–24 financial year, defence exports reached a record high of Rs 21,083 crore (around $2.63 billion). The government has set up a target of Rs 35,000 crore by 2025. Continuing robust vigilance along the tense Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China is an imperative too, along with managing internal security threats, including insurgencies and terrorism. Adapting to the military/ security challenges posed by climate change—like the threat rising sea levels pose to naval bases—are on the agenda. Defence strategists point to the need to enhance the frequency of military training exercises with countries in West and Southeast Asia. The armed forces should also have a greater role in acquiring defence platforms. Visualising future battlefield environments would lead to the formulation of a capability development plan, which would direct acquisitions and indigenisation

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