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In Cabinet rejig, PM Modi rewards performance

Nirmala Sitharaman signing the register after taking oath as a Cabinet Minister at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Sunday. Ms. Sitharaman has become India’s second woman defence minister after Indira Gandhi.

Nirmala Sitharaman signing the register after taking oath as a Cabinet Minister at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Sunday. Ms. Sitharaman has become India’s second woman defence minister after Indira Gandhi.   | Photo Credit: PTI

A massive rejig of the Union Council of Ministers on Sunday saw Nirmala Sitharman being appointed the Defence Minister of India, the first woman to hold the charge full time (late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had held additional charge of Defence twice during her premiership).

With this, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the most important of Cabinet sub-committees, has two women on board, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also part of it.

The new Defence Minister was conscious of the fact and said so in one of her first reactions to her appointment. “What is more important is that there are going to be two women in the CCS.”

‘Last mile delivery’

Apart from the necessity of a full-time Defence Minister at the helm of affairs, the appointment points to a larger push by the Modi government and the BJP towards projecting a politics of women’s empowerment.

The reshuffle also saw important ministries that have a more direct public interface being given to particular candidates, considered good at the “last mile delivery” of public services.

Thus, Nitin Gadkari has been given charge of Water Resources and the flagship Namami Gange programme. Piyush Goyal has been entrusted with the Railway Ministry, which has been in focus after a spate of accidents.

Career bureaucrats like former Home Secretary R.K. Singh, Hardeep Puri and Alphons Kannanthanam have been given portfolios like Power, Urban Housing and Tourism.

He has therefore also been given additional charge of the Skill Development Ministry, key to addressing job creation and sluggish employment numbers.

The portfolio allocation thus reflects Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s anxieties with regard to delivery of services just a year and a half before the next general elections in 2019. His choice falling on former bureaucrats to get their juniors in service to deliver is a definite message, politically and for the bureaucracy.

A significant promotion has been that of Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Rathore. He gets independent charge of Sports and Youth Affairs.

With the FIFA World Cup a month away he will have his job cut out for him, but the promotion reflects the thinking that his domain knowledge may help him here.

This was touted to be the last reshuffle before the next general elections and one that would address the question of who would be the next Defence Minister.

It has answered one part of this equation, but the absence of inductees from the Janata Dal (U), the Shiv Sena as also the AIADMK has ensured that there will be another reshuffle before 2019.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 3:46:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/in-cabinet-rejig-pm-modi-rewards-performance/article19616258.ece

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