The Weekend Leader - Railways Ministry at the Heart of Power Tussle in Modi's Third Term

Railways Ministry at the Heart of Power Tussle in Modi's Third Term

New Delhi


Photo: IANS

The historic hat-trick of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) paved the way for the swearing-in of PM Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister for a third straight term on Sunday.

However, the truncated strength of the BJP in 2024 has given its allies an elbow room to exercise and assert their choices not just in policymaking but also in allocation of ministries.

The BJP, being the largest party in the alliance, will have to accommodate the demands of allies but is unlikely to be 'generous' enough to cede top ministries and also the ones linked with infrastructure.

N. Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), the second and third biggest alliance partners of NDA and also the kingmakers, on whose support the government's survival hinges, are learnt to have set their sights on Railways, one of the most plum portfolios of the Union Cabinet.

According to sources, both parties, JD-U with 12 seats and TDP with 16 seats, are hankering for three-four portfolios, based on their respective numbers.

Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena (7) and LJP-RV (5) have also put forth their demand.

The LJP-RV reportedly wants the Food and Public Distribution ministry, held by the late Ram Vilas Paswan in Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0, to be handed over to his son and party chief Chirag Paswan.

The top portfolios like Home, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance are non-negotiable as the BJP (with 240 seats) will retain it and will also seek to keep control of the key ministries that either became the hallmark of Modi government in the past two terms or the departments that saw the focused and personal attention of Prime Minister.

Railways is believed to be one ministry for which the two big allies of NDA are haggling about.

The JD-U is pitching for the Railway Ministry, twice helmed by Nitish Kumar in 1998-99 and again in 2001-2004 during Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government, to give a 'glimpse of the good works' done under its watch, to the GenNext.

TDP has its own reasons to stake claim over the plum portfolio. Sources suggest that the other ministry that N. Chandrababu Naidu's party is pressing for is Information Technology.

One underlying reason for such 'bargain' is its potential to unleash economic growth and also to build connect with the masses, of all classes.

As the Railways mostly remained with the NDA allies and primarily with the leaders from the East, including Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Yadav (UPA regime) and Nitish Kumar (Vajpayee era), the JD-U would like to see going into its kitty.

Some sources from the LJP-RV also concur with the belief that JD-U has the edge over TDP in seeking Railways portfolio.

However, the biggest question is -- will the BJP agree to this demand and part ways with the Railways, that has seen heightened activity and slew of reforms in the last few years? Modi government set the Railways as well as highways on a fast track growth by bringing in reforms and would not want to slow down this pace.

From intensified electrification of Railways to refurbishing of railway stations to manufacturing of Vande Bharat and Vande Metro trains, the nation's largest carrier is headed for immense infrastructure push.

The infrastructure development will also go a long way in catering to the four voter groups, as outlined by the Prime Minister -- poor, farmers, youth and women.

And, with Prime Minister's dream project Bullet train on the anvil, handing it over to a new ally would be fraught with risks, making it prone to missing deadlines.

The swearing-in of PM Narendra Modi-led Cabinet, slated for Sunday, will settle the speculation for once and all, as the ministries will be allotted soon after.

However, the bottomline is that under Modi 3.0, BJP does not have the absolute majority as it existed in Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0.

The largest party will have to follow the 'coalition dharma' by giving 'respectful' representation to allies, as demanded by JD-U leader and Bihar minister Shrawan Kumar recently. This implies the party cutting down on its number of ministers and accommodating more from its allies, not just to minimise frictions in governance but also to stall the Opposition's attempts from wooing the two kingmakers, whose support will remain crucial in surviving a full five-year term. - IANS

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