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Modi's cabinet sends message of continuity

Top four positions remain unchanged, with its 'neighbors first' policy in focus

By APARAJIT CHAKRABORTY in New Delhi | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-13 09:31

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd, during a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India, June 9, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen to keep his top four ministers in his new cabinet and is expected to pursue a "neighbors first" strategy in the new term, while sending out a message of continuity for major policies, experts say.

Despite his Bharatiya Janata Party losing its majority in the recently concluded election, there was no change in the top four positions for Modi's new government. Federal External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have all retained their current posts.

In addition, key infrastructure ministries are left largely unchanged. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal have also kept their positions.

The only major change is Ram Mohan Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, a regional BJP ally. He was named minister of civil aviation, a position earlier held by the BJP.

This new cabinet and distribution of portfolios send out a strong message of continuity and "business as usual", said Balveer Arora, chairman of the Centre for Multilevel Federalism at the Institute of Social Sciences in New Delhi.

Tanvir Aeijaz, a professor in Ramjas College at the University of Delhi, agreed, saying Modi is giving the government an appearance of continuity.

A great amount of attention is cast again on the core part of India's "Neighborhood First" foreign policy, conceived by Modi more than a decade ago, that guides its approach toward its engagement with neighboring countries.

It aims to enhance physical, digital and people-to-people connectivity across the region, and to augment trade and commerce, according to India's External Affairs Ministry.

The policy has evolved into an institutional priority for all the relevant arms of the government managing relations and policies in India's neighborhood, the ministry added.

Jaishankar, who just assumed his second term as the external affairs minister, said "Bharat First" and "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", the latter meaning the world is one family, will be the two guiding axioms, the Press Trust of India reported. Bharat is a Sanskrit word that is recognized in India's Constitution as a second name for the country.

He said India's relations with neighboring countries will be the first priority, the Times of India reported.

On ties with China, Jaishankar said India will focus on resolving border issues. On its relations with Pakistan, the focus is on finding solutions to the age-old problem of cross-border terrorism.

More chances for peace

Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, former dean and professor of the law faculty at the Kazakh-American University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, said there are more chances for peace and stability in South Asia after India's recent elections.

"The election results show that Modi has lost his shine," said Dosmukhamedov, who is also former deputy ambassador of Kazakhstan to Germany.

China and Pakistan offer the shortest and most natural policy routes "to correct Modi's past mistakes", he said.

Sibaji Pratim Basu, a political scientist and former vice-chancellor of Vidyasagar University in West Bengal state, said the Modiled government has tried to foment a nationalistic credo in the past 10 years.

"Image-wise, some changes may happen in terms of the South Asian region as well as with Pakistan and China," Basu said.

Now that Modi's party no longer enjoys an absolute majority, it will have to make compromises with its partners of the National Democratic Alliance, Basu said.

Arunava Das in Kolkata, Kaswar Klasra in Islamabad and Xu Weiwei in Hong Kong contributed to this story.

Aparajit Chakraborty is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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