Narendra Modi Cabinet 2.0

Cabinet reshuffle attempts inclusion, political messaging

Union Ministers, from left to right in the top row- Narayan Rane, Sarbananda Sonowal, Virendra Kumar, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ramchandra Prasad Singh; from left to right in the middle row- Ashwini Vaishnaw, Pashu Pati Kumar Paras, Kiren Rijiju, Raj Kumar Singh, Hardeep Singh Puri; and from left to right in the bottom row- Mansukh Mandaviya, Bhupnder Yadav, Parshottam Rupala, G. Kishan Reddy, Anurag Thakur with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before taking oath, in New Delhi, on July 7.   | Photo Credit: PTI

In a major shake up of his Council of Ministers almost midway through his second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi oversaw the swearing-in of 43 Ministers (new and seven promotions to Cabinet rank) and dropped 12 Ministers (seven Cabinet and five Ministers of State) including Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s new Health Minister would be newly elevated Cabinet Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.

Government sources have termed it an effort by Mr. Modi to strike a balance between political messaging of including MPs from various regional centres as well as from marginalised communities and beefing up the skill set of the ministries with professionally and educationally qualified additions.

Several ministries have been clubbed together, sources say, to increase synergy, for example, Odisha MP and former bureaucrat Ashwini Vaishnaw will be the Railway Minister with additional charge of Information and Technology and Communications, Dharmendra Pradhan will handle Education with Skill Development while Home Minister Amit Shah will have additional charge of the new Ministry of Cooperation.

The exclusions

The rejig was significant not just for the inclusions but also heavyweights who were dropped from the Ministry, including Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” and Ministers of State Babul Supriyo, Debashree Choudhary, Ratan Lal Kataria, Pratap Sarangi and Sanjay Dhotre.

 

While unhappiness with the handling of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic is being cited as the reason why Dr. Harsh Vardhan had to go, Mr. Javadekar and Mr. Prasad’s exits appeared to be over the failure to handle controversial issues hitting the government with regard to their ministries.

Portfolios announced

The portfolios of the new Ministers were announced late at night with Jyotiraditya Scindia getting the Civil Aviation portfolio and former Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan given the Education Ministry. Mr. Pradhan’s Petroleum portfolio will be handled by Hardeep Singh Puri, who holds on to one of his old portfolios of Urban Development as well.

Former Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal will handle Ports and Shipping while the first Cabinet Minister from Arunachal Pradesh, Kiren Rijiju, will handle Law and Justice after the resignation of Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad. Janata Dal (United)’s R.C.P. Singh will be the new Steel Minister, and Pashupati Paras will occupy his brother, late Ram Vilas Paswan’s old portfolio of Food and Consumer Affairs. BJP leader Bhupendra Yadav will be the new Environment and Labour Minister replacing Mr. Gangwar who quit on Wednesday, and the Ministry of External Affairs will have three Ministers of State — V. Muraleedharan and new inductees Meenakshi Lekhi and Rajkumar Ranjan Singh.

Political signalling

With Wednesday’s inclusions, the government now has a record 12 Ministers belonging to the Scheduled Castes, 27 belonging to Other Backward Classes, eight Ministers belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and five Ministers belonging to minority communities, including one Muslim, one Christian, one Sikh and two Buddhists. Women ministers number at 11 in the Modi government with two Cabinet Ministers and others being Ministers of State.

“The spread of the Council of Ministers has been to reflect not just marginalised sections of society but also marginalised regions like the north-east with a Minister each from Tripura [Pratima Bhowmick] and Manipur [Rajkumar Ranjan Singh], a Cabinet Minister [Virendra Kumar] from Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh et al,” said a government source. Women emerged as a significant vote bank for the BJP in the general elections and in the Bihar Assembly polls as well, and therefore form a sizeable presence in the Modi government.

This sense of inclusion is tinged with the need to beef up the governance deficit that has emerged in the government, especially during the second wave of the pandemic. Former Chief Ministers Mr. Sonowal and Narayan Rane have been made Cabinet Ministers and those with experience in State governments like Purushottam Rupala and long term MPs like Virender Singh, a six-term MP, have been included. Former bureaucrat and Odisha MP Mr. Ashwini Vaishnaw was also included as a Cabinet Minister and gets the Railway portfolio. The current government has 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, seven civil servants, seven PhDs and three MBAs along with 68 Ministers with graduate degrees.

Poll-going States

Like all reshuffles, this one too made a significant nod to States going to polls in the next year, with Uttar Pradesh getting seven ministerial berths, taking its tally in the Council of Ministers to 14. Uttarakhand saw the inclusion of Ajay Bhatt, for Punjab, the elevation of Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri to Cabinet was a nod to Sikh sentiments and Manipur got Rajkumar Ranjan Singh in a Minister of State berth. Gujarat, which goes to polls a little later in 2022, got two Cabinet berths with Mr. Mansukh Mandaviya and Mr. Purushottam Rupala’s elevation, and a Minister of State berth for Darshana Jardosh, MP from Surat.

Ongoing projects

With the inclusion of four Ministers — Nishith Pramanik, John Barla, Subhash Sarkar and Shantanu Thakur, Mr. Modi established that West Bengal would continue to be important as a political project for the BJP.

The inclusion of Maratha strongman Mr. Rane proved the same for Maharashtra, with the portends of a peaceful relationship between the Centre and the Maha Vikas Aghadi-led Maharashtra government not very sunny.

The reshuffle was the result of a massive stock taking exercise undertaken by the Prime Minister for over a month and the outcome is a complete redrawing of the government and for the BJP’s political project as well.


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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 1:35:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/heavyweights-dropped-as-cabinet-reshuffle-attempts-inclusion-political-messaging/article35202389.ece

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