Modi balances caste, merit

New Delhi, 09/11/2014: President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the newly sworn in Ministers at the Swearing in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi on Sunday, November 09, 2014. Photo: R_V_Moorthy   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

Considerations of merit, caste equations in States crucial to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and representation of various regions seem to have weighed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi while expanding the Union Council of Ministers on Sunday, five months after it was formed.

No Minister was dropped or promoted from Minister of State to Cabinet rank. Former Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is the new Defence Minister while Suresh Prabhu, who joined the BJP only on Sunday, is the new Railway Minister. D.B. Sadananda Gowda has been shifted to Law. J.P. Nadda is the new Health Minister.

Mr. Jaitley has been given additional charge of Information and Broadcasting, while Prakash Javdekar has retained Environment.

President Pranab Mukherjee administered the oath of office to 21 new Ministers, including four Cabinet Ministers, three Ministers of State with independent charge and 14 Ministers of State.

Making the council more representative geographically and socially, the exercise is expected to stabilise the BJP’s internal politics. The exercise however, alienated former ally Shiv Sena further; the latter refused to accept the Minister of State position offered to it.

The new inductions make large-scale changes in portfolios imperative, but no announcement was made until late on Sunday.

While Mr. Parrikar is set to be the new Defence Minister, other Ministers said they had no information regarding their responsibilities.

Southern ally Telugu Desam Party representative Y.S. Chowdary was sworn in Minister of State and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu was present at the ceremony.

Sunday’s expansion increases the strength of the Union Cabinet to 66 and ends the experiment of maintaining its size small, with related ministries clustered under one Minister.

“The PM has gone for merit. Mahesh Sharma is a medical doctor and Jayant Sinha is an IIT-Harvard alumnus,” a Union Minister, requesting anonymity, said. Prime Minister walked the extra mile to induct Mr. Parrikar, who had to resign as Goa Chief Minister and Suresh Prabhu, who had to leave Shiv Sena and join as a BJP member.

“Ram Kripal Yadav from Bihar represents a finer version of backward politics while Vijay Sampla, a Dalit, started his career as a plumber. This is Modiji’s ability to find talent,” said another Union Minister.

The second Dalit representative is Agra MP Ramshankar Katheria.

The changes are meant to further the party’s politics in crucial States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two States that elected 93 of the 282 BJP members in Lok Sabha.

Caste still matters

Fresh inductions to the Union Council of Ministers on Sunday clearly indicated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s nervousness that the resentment among particular social groups may adversely affect the party.

Several social groups that supported the BJP in the Parliament election have been annoyed at being excluded from power sharing. Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh, Rajputs and Bhumihars in Bihar, Jats in Haryana and Rajasthan have been offered an olive branch by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by inducting their representatives.

Giriraj Singh from Bihar had kicked up a storm during the election campaign with a controversial speech in which he is alleged to have said that those opposed to Mr. Modi must shift base to Pakistan. The Bhumihar community that he belongs to, had revolted against the BJP, and voted against it in the recent Assembly by-polls in the State.

Three recent entrants into the party have joined the Ministry. Suresh Prabhu, who joined the BJP on Sunday morning was a Union Minister as a Shiv Sena representative earlier; Birender Singh crossed over from the Congress before the Lok Sabha election and Ram Kripal Yadav was a confidant of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav earlier.

The only woman among the new inductees is Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, MP from Fatehpur in U.P.

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