Two Indian nationals killed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict

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NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has retained most of his cabinet ministers for his third term in office, a move experts say signals political continuity and predicts a more conciliatory approach to minorities.

Modi appointed the members of his government on Monday, a day after he was sworn in following a mammoth general election that lasted from mid-April to June.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar remains responsible for India’s foreign policy, Amit Shah remains Home Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman Finance Minister and Rajnath Singh Defence Minister.

The first minister to speak after his reappointment was Jaishankar, who told reporters on Tuesday that the “Modi 3.0 foreign policy” would focus on resolving border issues with China and resolving the “problem of years of cross-border terrorism” with Pakistan.

The nuclear powers India and China share a 3,800-kilometer-long border, across which they fought a war in 1962. Since 2020, they have been in a military stalemate on the border – the worst in five decades.

India has fought three wars with its neighbour Pakistan, which also has a nuclear power, including two over control of the disputed Kashmir region in the Himalayas.

“The way the cabinet has been formed and the way Dr Jaishankar continues to act as foreign minister means that the previous approach of marginalising 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.

“In addition, India’s reactive nature on the world stage is likely to continue. India will therefore continue to find its own place in the world order through active diplomacy, as it has tried to do over the past decade.”

Although Modi was the second Indian prime minister to win a third term, he relied on allies in the region to form his cabinet.

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

Their National Democratic Alliance has 293 seats, of which 272 would be needed to form a government.

None of the key ministries went to the coalition partner.

“Practically nothing has changed in the department, except that civil aviation has gone to the TDP. But by and large all the important posts are with the BJP,” said R. Jagannathan, editor-in-chief of the Hindu nationalist magazine Swarajya.

“I think the coalition members cannot expect more than their share of seats in the coalition. They do not have so many seats that they can demand so much more… The coalition will not have influence over the ministries that it controls, it will have an influence behind the scenes. They will make the Modi government do many things for their states, especially Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.”

Modi’s “3.0” cabinet included representatives from all states and castes, 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 people, has been heavily criticized for undermining India’s secular democracy with a majoritarian agenda, enabling violent attacks by Hindu nationalist minorities, particularly Muslims.

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

However, since the 2024 elections are seen as a comeback for the Indian opposition with 232 parliamentary seats, the prime minister must be “more conciliatory and democratic” this time, Narayana said.

“He cannot afford to completely silence the opposition now. He cannot lead the government with the hard agenda, otherwise the government will collapse.”

Prof. Ajay Gudavarthy of the Centre for Policy Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Arab News that the BJP’s ally, the TDP, has “a significant amount of Muslim support” and therefore there needs to be an agreement on this.

“The BJP may not resort to the radical agendas of previous terms, such as lynching, this time. But it will pursue a more cultural, majoritarian agenda,” he said.

“Let’s wait and see.”

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