If exit polls (and virtually all polls, leading up to India’s six-week elections) are correct, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi will have delivered his conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its allies to a potentially historic victory — and an equally historic defeat for the ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).
Whatever happens when election results are announced, there’s no doubt that Modi led one of the most ‘presidential’ campaigns in Indian history. If the BJP emerges victorious, as expected, it will be a mandate for Modi as much as for the BJP.
The magic number is 272 — if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) can win an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament, Modi will certainly be India’s next prime minister, and he’ll likely steer a relatively stable government that should last for its full five-year term.
If the BJP and its allies fall short of 272 seats, while still emerging as the largest bloc in the Lok Sabha, they will also likely form the next government by forging a series of alliances with regional parties, including any of the following:
- the ruling, Dravidian AIADMK of Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa;
- the Uttar Pradesh-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of former chief minister Mayawati; or
- the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which is a former member of the NDA, and is forecast to win both state and Lok Sabha elections in the state of Odisha.
While regional allies might temper the Hindutva tendencies of a stronger BJP government, they might also prevent Modi from enacting the kind of economic reforms that he has promised to unleash greater GDP growth and development and to stymie bureaucratic waste and massive corruption.
In any event, almost every sign indicates that Modi will become India’s next prime minister, and he was already gathering with top BJP officials in Gujarat yesterday planning his new government (pictured below in a photo that Modi tweeted):
So who are the individuals that could become the most important officials in a Modi administration?
Here is Suffragio‘s guide to Modi-world — a list of 25 Indian politicians and leaders who are most expected to play a role in a government that promises to be very different than the current government.
The officials are divided into four categories:
- the BJP’s ‘old guard,’ which controlled the party in the its first major stint in government between 1998 and 2004;
- the BJP’s ‘new guard,’ the new generation of leadership with whom Modi is more comfortable;
- the Gujaratis, the members of Modi’s own inner circle after 13 years of state government; and
- the allies, those non-BJP party leaders who might be expected to take key roles within the NDA and otherwise in the next government.
The BJP’s new guard
Since the BJP’s disastrous 2004 ‘India shining’ campaign, when it unexpectedly lost power to the government of Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh that’s held office for the past decade, a new generation of BJP leaders has emerged within the party. It’s this new generation that has most loudly cheered Modi’s rise from top-performing chief minister to the BJP’s definitive prime ministerial candidate. These are the folks who are expected to hold the most senior positions in a Modi government.
Jaitley, 61, is poised to become one of the leading ministers in the Modi government, though it’s unclear whether he’ll become finance minister, external affairs minister or, possibly, home minister. An attorney by training, Jaitley served as law and justice minister and as commerce and industry minister in the previous NDA government of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He’s currently the leader of the opposition in India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, though he stood for election in the Lok Sabha in the current 2014 elections from the Amritsar constituency in Punjab state. Jaitley is a longtime Modi confidant, and he ran Modi’s successful reelection campaign in 2007.
Singh, 62, assumed the BJP presidency for the second time in 2013, and in that role, he’s been a key player smoothing over the internal tensions between the BJP’s old and new guards. Singh got his start in Uttar Pradesh state politics, serving as education minister in the 1990s and as UP chief minister between 2000 and 2002. In 2003, he became minister of agriculture in Vajpayee’s central government. He previously served as BJP president from 2005 to 2009, and he assumed the role again after Nitin Gadkari resigned the position under a cloud of corruption suspicion. It’s likely that Singh won’t hold both a major cabinet position and the party presidency. If Singh moves to the cabinet, he’s been mentioned as a potential home or defence minister. Though he’s indicated he wishes above all to remain on as party president, he might still switch roles with Gadkari. Currently a member of the Lok Sabha, Singh contested the Lucknow constituency in Uttar Pradesh in 2014.
Gadkari, 57, who served as the BJP president between 2009 and 2013, came to national prominence after a term as the public works minister in Maharashtra state, where he received high marks for his work building bridges, highways and other infrastructure in and around the Mumbai megapolis. Though he lost a bid for a second term as BJP president in the wake of a tax authority raid on the offices of his private company, the Purti Group, he now seems to have been cleared of any corruption charges. A favorite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu organization that plays a key role in BJP politics, Gadkari seems poised for a key role in the Modi era. Though he reportedly prefers to return as BJP president, he could possibly become minister for railways, urban development or infrastructure.
Sushil Kumar Modi
Back in the days when Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar still aligned himself with the BJP, Sushil Modi, 62, served as his finance minister and deputy chief minister for eight years, winning plaudits along the way for reversing Bihar’s decades-long trend of low growth and poor development. Though Gujarat gets much of the credit for state-level economic performance, growth rates in Bihar have been even higher under Kumar and Sushil Modi. That all came to an end in June 2013 when Kumar broke with the NDA, ostensibly over the BJP’s decision to proclaim Modi as the leader of its 2014 campaign. That decision hasn’t worked out politically for Kumar, whose local party, the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)), may lose many of its Lok Sabha seats in this year’s election. In any event, Kumar’s decision has left Modi (no relation) underemployed. While he’s an outside shot as finance minister, there might still be a role for him in Modi’s cabinet or in leading the Bihar campaign for the BJP in 2015.
Raman Singh has served as the chief minister of Chhattisgarh since 2003, and he led the BJP to another state-level victory there in November 2013. He previously served as minister for commerce and industry from 1999 to 2003 under Vajpayee. As chief minister, he’s cracked down on the Maoist Naxalite groups that continue to operate throughout the state. Though he may not take a role in the Modi government, he’s a fellow three-term BJP chief minister that championed Modi’s rise within the party, so he’ll have significant influence in the Modi era, even from outside the government.
Shahnawaz Hussain, 45, is the chief party spokesperson, a rising BJP star and one of its few prominent Muslim officials. In the Vajpayee era, he became the youngest government minister in Indian history, taking on the civil aviation portfolio in 2001 and, later, textiles in 2003. It’s almost certain that he’ll have a cabinet ministry in a Modi government, and he can play a particularly useful role allaying fears among India’s 165 million-plus Muslims who worry about Modi’s record on religious freedom and the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.
A handful of officials in Gujarat state government might also rise in prominence, either by taking a larger role in governing Gujarat when Modi leaves for New Delhi or by joining Modi in the central government.
Among the members of Modi-world, none elicits as much controversy as Amit Shah, 50, the campaign strategist that headed the BJP’s campaign efforts in Uttar Pradesh, where 80 seats to the Lok Sabha are up for grabs. Shah is one of Modi’s closest advisers, and he served for seven years as Gujarat’s home minister. He resigned in 2010 after his arrest on charges that he organized killings of wanted individuals in Gujarat. Though Shah was never convicted of any crimes, the incident has severely undermined Modi’s reputation for good governance. That makes Shah something like the Karl Rove of India — if, say, Rove had once been arrested for organizing the Texas Rangers to kill suspected criminals. Though Shah’s controversial past makes it unlikely that he’ll join Modi’s cabinet, he’ll still play an important strategic role as Modi and the BJP hope to make further gains, including in the all-important state elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
As Gujarat’s chief minister, Modi himself has served as his own finance minister, and he held other ministerial portfolios in his 13 years running a state government. That’s to say that Modi is more of a micro-manager and a workaholic than a delegator. That means he may reserve some of the cabinet portfolios for himself if he becomes prime minister.
Anandiben Patel, 72, is currently the frontrunner to take over as Gujarat’s chief minister if Modi becomes prime minister. She moved from a seat in the Rajya Sabha in 1998 to become a member of Gujarat’s legislative assembly, and she’s been a member of Modi’s inner circle in Gujarat through his entire government — she currently serves as the minister for roads, building, revenue, urban development, urban housing, disaster management and capital projects. She got her start in politics three decades ago as a star candidate — she had saved the lives of two local girls from drowning. Above all, Modi will want a steady hand to keep Gujarat running smoothly while he’s prime minister, and there’s probably not a steadier hand in Gujarati government than Patel. Moreover, from a purely political standpoint, she is probably too old to have enough time to develop a competing power base to Modi.
Currently Modi’s finance minister in Gujarat, Nitin Patel, 58, has openly mentioned his availability to succeed Modi as chief minister. Though the other Patel is more likely to win that role, Nitin Patel could be one of the Gujarati ministers who follows Modi to the central government. Given Modi’s comfort with a tight-knit group of loyal allies, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bring a handful of top Gujarati performers to national prominence.
The final ‘Patel’ on the short list of possibilities to succeed Modi as chief minister is Saurabh Patel, 55, currently Gujarat’s minister for energy, mining, tourism, labor and civil aviation. Like Nitin Patel, however, he seems likelier to head to New Delhi as a national minister than take the top job in Gujarat. In fact, because Nitin Patel is currently the second-ranked official in Gujarat, Saurabh Patel may be more likely to move to the central government, perhaps as commerce minister, given his closes ties to the Gujarati business sector.
The BJP’s old guard
Modi’s rise to the top hasn’t been easy. At every step of the way, he’s faced opposition from the BJP’s founding generation, which held out hope that after its stunning 2004 defeat and tepid 2009 effort, it might have one more chance running government in 2014. But Modi has sidelined many of them, including people once viewed as Modi’s mentors, sometimes with ruthlessness. For example, Jaswant Singh, a former finance, external affairs and defence minister, was expelled from the BJP in March after refusing to withdraw as an independent candidate in the Barmer constituency in Rajastan state — he had demanded to run in that constituency, though Modi’s BJP allies wanted him to run elsewhere.
Though he led the BJP to its successful 1998 and 1999 electoral campaigns, LK Advani, 86, was always deemed too controversial to win the top job, and he settled instead for home minister and deputy prime minister under Vajpayee. Advani remains a founding patriarch of the party that Modi now leads. Though he was one of Modi’s mentors, it’s clear Advani believes he should be on the verge on becoming prime minister today — not Modi. He briefly resigned from all of his party posts last summer as it became clear that Modi would become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, and he’s made it routinely clear that he’s not impressed with the way that he’s been treated. As far as Modi is concerned, the sooner that he can please Advani, the better. There are already reports, however, that Advani turned down an offer from Modi, via Rajnath Singh, to become the next speaker of the Lok Sabha. Advani may instead be designated as party chairman, along with Vajpayee, who now avoids public appearances after a stroke left him unable to speak.
After Modi finds a place for Advani in the new order, he’ll have to turn next to Sushma Swaraj, 62, a longtime BJP figure who most recently has served as the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha since 2009. She began her political career in Haryana state, and she was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996 from South Delhi. She served briefly as chief minister of Delhi in October 1998 before serving as minister of health between 2000 and 2004 in the Vajpayee government. If Jaitley becomes finance minister, Swaraj might become external affairs minister. If not, it seems almost certain that Modi will find a top-shelf appointment for her, including possibly as home secretary or defence secretary.
Yashwant Sinha, 76, a former finance and external affairs minister, isn’t likely to play a major role in the Modi government, most of all because he stepped down from his Jharkhand-based seat in the Lok Sabha in favor of his son Jayant. But Sinha would bring gravitas and credibility to any role, especially in the early days of a Modi administration. He remains an outside choice to repeat either as finance or external affairs minister, though he’s more likely to play a more subdued role.
A former journalist, Arun Shourie, 72, served as minister for disinvestment and communications in the Vajpayee government. Like Sinha, he would bring instant economic credibility to any role he plays in the Modi administration, and he could be considered a dark-horse candidate for finance or energy minister. Also like Sinha, however, he may be perfectly happy for a minor advisory role.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, 55, isn’t necessarily part of the BJP’s old guard, but as another three-term chief minister, the old guard often points to him as a foil for Modi. He leads the government of Madhya Pradesh, a state with 12 million more people than Modi’s Gujarat, and he won an overwhelming reelection in November 2013. He has a reputation as a soft-spoken, consensus-driven, development-oriented official. Nevertheless, in the interest of BJP unity, Modi would be wise to keep the MP chief minister in his good graces. If election results are really poor for the BJP, against all expectations, Chouhan could emerge as a viable prime ministerial alternative to Modi.
Ravi Shankar Prasad
Ravi Shankar Prasad, 59, another RSS favorite and a leading BJP politician from Bihar state, is currently the deputy leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the Indian parliament’s upper house. Like Jaitley, he’s an attorney, so many news outlets in India have pegged him as a frontrunner to become the next law and justice minister.
Modi will need assistance from public officials outside the BJP in order to make his government a success, including prominent faces to US and European policymakers. In the most immediate sense, however, he’ll need to consider the interests of the key parties that are within the NDA, and he may also need to work with regional party leaders outside the NDA to advance his agenda.
You don’t necessarily need to believe the hype that Modi may be readying to name world-renowned Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, 79, as a surprise all-star technocratic finance minister. But Bhagwati could become a helpful ally advising the Modi government on economic reform and serving as an ambassador for Modi in the United States. Though Modi has run on a platform of delivering higher economic growth, there are plenty of protectionists in the BJP. While Congress’s record over the past decade is poor in terms of economic reform, it was Bhagwati’s friend and outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh who, as finance minister in the early 1990s, executed the most overarching liberalization reforms in India’s history.
So long as inflation continues to be the focus of his hawkish monetary policy (he’s raised interest rates 0.75% since taking office last September), there’s not a lot that Raghuram Rajan, 52, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India can do that will boost short-term growth. But despite grumbles that Modi should fire Rajan as the RBI governor, Modi’s best interests lie in respecting the RBI’s independence to set monetary policy and maintaining Rajan, a respected University of Chicago economist who has strong ties to the international economic elite. Moreover, were Modi to fire Rajan, it would look like a sign of weakness from the least economically liberal wing of his party — and a sign to global investors that Modi doesn’t take economic reform seriously.
As Scroll.in reported yesterday, Modi’s rise to power won’t just stir up the BJP, it will also stir up the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), too, where Dattatreya Hosable, 59, will now become the chief liaison between the RSS and the BJP, taking more of the role typical reserved for the RSS leader, Suresh Soni. The behind-the-scenes role of the RSS isn’t always clear in Indian politics, but the RSS seems to have a clear seat at the table of BJP interest groups in pulling for its champions within government. That means that while Hosable won’t join the government in any official capacity, he could serve as a key offstage voice. Modi, it’s worth remembering, is himself a member of the RSS.
In Maharashtra state, the BJP has a longtime alliance with Shiv Sena, (शिव सेना) a right-wing Marathi nationalist party that shares its roots in the same Hindutva movement as the BJP. Its leader, Uddhav Thackeray, 53, has been Shiv Sena’s leader since 2004, when he succeeded his father. It’s currently the second-largest party in the NDA, with 11 seats in the Lok Sabha, and it’s expected to hold steady or possibly gain seats when the 2014 results are announced. Though Shiv Sena is a steady and dependable ally of the BJP, Modi will almost certainly hold open a few portfolios for it — it held three junior ministries in the previous Vajpayee government.
Sukhbir Singh Badal
Another longtime NDA ally is the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD, ਸ਼੍ਰੋਮਣੀ ਅਕਾਲੀ ਦਲ), a prominent party in Punjab state, where 60% of the population is Sikh. The Akali Dal is primarily oriented toward advancing the interests of Sikhs in India and, especially, in Punjab, where it currently controls the government. Parkash Singh Badal, who first served as chief minister in 1970, holds the role today, and his son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, 51, serves as deputy chief minister. The Badal dynasty in Punjab nearly rivals that of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty within the Congress Party and in India, generally. Given the misgivings over Modi’s record, bringing one or two Akali Dal ministers into government could highlight religious diversity, especially considering that Manmohan Singh, the outgoing prime minister, was India’s first Sikh head of government.
Nara Chandrababu Naidu
Modi brought the Telugu Desam Party (TDP, తెలుగు దేశం పార్టీ) back into the NDA for the 2014 elections after nine years out of the alliance. The TDP is a regional party in Andhra Pradesh, a sprawling southern state that’s set to become a bit smaller in June when its Telangana region becomes a separate state. According to polls, though, the TDP will return to power in what’s left of the state of Andhra Pradesh in state elections conducted at the same time as national elections. That means that Nara Chandrababu Naidu, 64, previously chief minister from 1995 to 2004, will return to the same role again. Even with polls forecasting a ‘Modi wave,’ the BJP has traditionally been unable to break into southern India. Though Modi will need to reward the TDP for its support, he’ll also be keen on bringing southern faces to a cabinet that will otherwise be dominated by Indians from Gujarat and the ‘Hindu belt.’
Jayalalithaa, 66, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, a film star-turned-politician, led her party, the Dravidian AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) into coalition with Vajpayee’s first NDA government in 1998. When she left the coalition a year later, it led to his government’s collapse and snap elections. But of the three regional queens of Indian politics, also including West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, Jayalalithaa is the most likely to form an alliance this time around with Modi, even though she spent the campaign mocking his ‘Gujarat model.’ Somewhat of a personality cult has developed in Tamil Nadu around Jayalalithaa, whose face greets Tamil residents in ‘Amma canteens’ for subsidized food and on the sides of ‘Amma’ branded bottled water. Given her political prowess and support base, she would would almost certainly drive a hard bargain, given that exit polls show the AIADMK is set to become the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha.
If Modi falls short of an absolute majority, he’ll also turn to Odisha for support, where chief minister Naveen Patnaik, 67, could make for an incredibly compatible coalition partner. Patnaik is expected to win a fourth consecutive term as chief minister in Odisha state, where he’s developed a reputation as one of Indian’s least corrupt politicians. What’s more, his party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD, ବିଜୁ ଜନତା ଦଳ), was once a member of the NDA. Though Patnaik has kept his distance from Modi during the campaign, he would almost certainly be one of the most natural allies of a Modi government, as part of a formal coalition or support in Modi from outside government. Patnaik’s squeaky-clean image could also boost Modi’s claims to run a government that reduces corruption. Patnaik, who is more social democratic in his policy, might also pull a Modi government a little further to the center-left.