Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi yesterday summoned senior figures from his Bharatiya Janata Party for talks on forming a new government that is set to steer India sharply to the right.
Modi was holding meetings in New Delhi with aides, advisers and state and national leaders of the BJP after storming to power at the general election with a strong mandate for economic reform.
A day after jubilant parties, street parades and religious ceremonies were held around the country to celebrate the BJP’s landslide election victory, Modi was behind closed doors working to form his cabinet.
“All kinds of people are meeting Modi,” senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar said, declining to reveal who were frontrunners for the finance, foreign, defence and other key portfolios.
Modi, a former tea boy who has governed his home state of Gujarat for the last 13 years, is expected to take office later this week after securing the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in 30 years.
The BJP trounced the Congress piling humiliation on the famous Gandhi family that dominates the party.
Modi faces enormous expectations from tens of millions of voters after pledging to create jobs and increase development to revive the economy, which is growing at the lowest level in a decade.
After his presidential-style campaign dominated the election, Modi reiterated yesterday his pledge to work with his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to make India a world leader “once again.”
“NDA is committed to creating new opportunities to empower the people of India & to make India a Jagat (world) Guru once again,” he said on his official Twitter account.
Modi has toned down his Hindu nationalist rhetoric and promised unity amid predictions from opponents that he will alienate the country’s 150mn Muslims and other religious minorities once in power.
Modi is tainted by allegations he failed to stop anti-Muslim riots on his watch in Gujarat that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002. He has denied wrongdoing and a court investigation found no case to prosecute.
The composition of Modi’s government will now be keenly watched as an indication of what policies the 63-year-old politician will pursue in office. Many expect that he will further sideline the “old guard” within the BJP, relying instead on those with proven personal loyalty to him. Key figures who masterminded Modi’s successful campaign strategy and communications are likely to be favoured, analysts say.
Yesterday Modi met the party’s elder statesman L K Advani, with whom he fell out last year, at his Delhi residence to brief him on the latest stage of the negotiations, according to local media.
Modi’s most trusted aide Amit Shah, who steered the BJP’s thunderous victory in the critical state of Uttar Pradesh, is tipped to become his boss’s enforcer with a top post in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Successful lawyer Arun Jaitley, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, has been widely tipped to become finance minister. Jaitley is eminently suited, sources in the BJP said, but he was defeated in his race for a Lok Sabha seat and that is a minus point.
Yet Jaitley is a former commerce minister, is regarded as a capable administrator, and is one of the few people in the party who has experience but is not too old at 61.
BJP president Rajnath Singh, a past federal minister, could also be tapped for a key ministry.
Sushma Swaraj, who led the opposition in the Lok Sabha, the lower house, in recent years and is the BJP’s most senior woman leader, is also expected to receive a key cabinet position, although she is not considered close to Modi.
Modi and his inner circle have played their cards close to their chests and are unlikely to reveal who will take senior cabinet posts until a meeting of the BJP parliamentary leadership tomorrow, one senior party leader said. Modi was considering merging some ministries to streamline government, other sources said.
The meeting is expected to confirm Modi as the party’s parliamentary leader, after which he will meet President Pranab Mukherjee to formally start the process of forming the government. He is likely to be sworn in as prime minister this week.
Top BJP leaders were also meeting in Delhi with the rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist organisation seen as the ideological fountainhead of the BJP.
A senior BJP leader denied they would be taking orders from the RSS on who should be appointed to the new cabinet.
“We come to the RSS headquarters and meet seniors, it is part of our life,” M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters as he arrived there.
The BJP secured 282 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the biggest victory since 1984. Congress was devastated, holding just 44 seats - a quarter of its tally at the 2009 election.
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