Two Indian citizens died in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has retained most of his cabinet ministers for a third term, signaling policy continuity, experts say, predicting a more conciliatory approach to minorities.

Modi named the members of his government on Monday, a day after taking the oath of office following a mammoth general election that lasted from mid-April to June.

External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar remains in charge of India’s foreign policy, Amit Shah remained Home Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman remained Finance Minister and Rajnath Singh remained Defense Minister.

The first minister to comment on his reappointment was Jaishankar, who told reporters on Tuesday that “Modi 3.0 foreign policy” would focus on resolving border issues with China and finding a solution to “long-standing border terrorism” with Pakistan.

Nuclear-armed India and China share a 3,800-kilometer border over which they went to war in 1962. They have been embroiled in an armed conflict on the border since 2020 – the worst in five decades.

India has fought three wars with Pakistan, also a nuclear-armed neighbor, including two over control of the disputed region of Kashmir in the Himalayas.

“The message from the way the cabinet is formed and the way Dr. Jaishankar continues to serve as foreign minister is that the current approach of marginalizing Pakistan in Indian foreign policy and opposing China will continue,” Prof. Harsh V. Pant, vice president of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, told Arab News.

“Moreover, the way India has been reactive on the international stage is likely to be repeated again, so India will continue to find its own place in the global order through active diplomacy, as it has tried to do over the last decade.”

Even though Modi became the second Indian prime minister to win a third term, he had to rely on regional allies to form a cabinet.

The BJP won 240 seats in the 543-seat parliament, losing its absolute majority for the first time since 2014. It managed to form the government with the support of two coalition members – the Telugu Desam Party, a player from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and the Janata Dal (United) party from the eastern state of Bihar.

Their National Democratic Alliance controls 293 seats, and needed 272 to form a government.

None of the key ministries joined the coalition.

“Almost no portfolio has changed except that civil aviation has gone to the TDP, but basically all the key positions are held by the BJP,” said R. Jagannathan, editorial director of the Hindu nationalist magazine Swarajya.

“I believe that coalition people cannot expect more than a proportional share of seats in the coalition. They do not have enough seats to demand much more… The coalition will have no influence on the ministries it controls, it will have influence behind the scenes. They will get the Modi government to do many things for their states, mainly Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.”

Representatives of various classes and castes were represented in Modi’s “3.0” government, but not the 200-million-strong Muslim minority.

Modi, a champion of the Hindu majority, which makes up 80 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population, has been widely criticized for undermining India’s secular democracy with a majoritarian agenda, which has facilitated brutal attacks by Hindu nationalists on minorities, especially Muslims.

For Venkat Narayana, a former professor of economics at Kakatiya University in Telangana state, the lack of Muslim representation in the Modi government was “a signal that he will continue with his non-secular approach and his anti-minority policies will remain as pronounced as in the previous two terms.”

But with the 2024 elections seen as a comeback for India’s opposition with 232 parliamentary seats, the prime minister will have to “show a more conciliatory and democratic approach this time,” Narayana said.

“It cannot afford to completely shut down the opposition now. He cannot run a government with a hardcore agenda, otherwise the government will collapse.”

Prof. Ajay Gudavarthy of the Center for Policy Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Arab News that the BJP’s ally partner, the TDP, has “majority Muslim support” so there must be an agreement on the issue.

“This time, the BJP may not opt ​​for some radical programs like mob lynching that was followed in the previous terms. However, they will be guided by a more cultural majority agenda,” he said.

“Let’s wait and watch.”