« Back to articlePrint this article

The Politics behind Modi's Reshuffle

July 08, 2021 12:00 IST

The reshuffle had politics at its heart, so the biggest complement of new ministers, both Cabinet rank and below, came from UP, which will see assembly elections in a few months, reports Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah at the ministerial swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, July 7, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the most comprehensive reshuffle of his council of ministers in his seven-year tenure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday sacked many senior colleagues, elevated some, and infused the government with new, young faces. A new ministry of cooperation was also created. In all, 43 ministers were sworn in, taking the strength of the council of ministers to 77.

The reshuffle had politics at its heart, but the inclusion of several technocrats and former bureaucrats suggested that governance and efficiency were the immediate priorities after the devastation left behind by the pandemic.

The government seemed to have accepted responsibility for lapses, but signalled the intention to move ahead aggressively.

Battling the optics of COVID-19 mismanagement -- the crisis faced by migrants that drew the ire of the judiciary; the oxygen and hospital bed shortages; and the extended uncertainty of school board examinations -- the PM sought to change the faces associated with the ministries and appointed new ministers for labour, health, and education.

He also sacked those ministers who forced the government to take its eye off the COVID-19 ball creating new problems for it by avoidable controversies, such as the clash with IT giants WhatsApp and Twitter.

Ministers whose performance in defending the government in Covid management was found sub-par were sent home. So labour minister Santosh Gangwar, health minister Harshvardhan, and education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank were asked to resign along with their junior ministers.

Minister for IT, telecommunications and law, Ravi Shankar Prasad was given the boot. And information and environment minister Prakash Javadekar was stripped of his ministership.

A late night announcement said while Jyotiraditya Scindia will be in charge of the civil aviation ministry, Manusukh Mandavia gets the health ministry, which was held by Harshvardhan. Ashwin Vaishnaw has been given the information technology & communications portfolio, replacing Prasad.

Vaishaw has also got the important railways ministry as Piyush Goyal, who is the commerce minister, will get additional charge of textiles.

Dharmendra Pradhan has moved to education ministry from petroleum which will now be under Urban Development Minister Hardeep Puri.

While Home Minister Amit Shah will take on additional responsibilities of the newly constituted ministry of cooperation, Giriraj Singh is the new rural development minister and Bhupendra Yadav takes charge of labour, replacing Gangwar.

Politics dictated some choices. Pashupati Paras, the new leader of the Lok Janshakti Party who ousted his nephew Chirag, was appointed Cabinet minister in charge of food processing.

The biggest complement of new ministers, both Cabinet rank and below, came from UP, which is going to see assembly elections in a few months.

This was followed by concessions to alliance partners like the Apna Dal (led by Anupriya Patel who has become a minister), and the Janata Dal-United (which is now represented in the Union Cabinet by its general secretary, R C P Singh). West Bengal, especially smaller communities like the Rajbangshi and Matua, found representation.

And L Murugan, BJP party chief in Tamil Nadu who lost the assembly election but helped the party increase its representation in the state, has become a Union minister.

Scindia, who defected from the Congress, thus helping to install a BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, was rewarded with a Cabinet rank.

Narayan Rane, who shifted to the BJP from the Shiv Sena and is expected to help the BJP install itself in the Ratnagiri area, a big Sena support base, because of him, has also become a Cabinet minister.

Some ministers were elevated as a reward for the work done by them and also for defending the government despite odds. Hardeep Puri is now a Cabinet minister and the only Sikh in the government after the exit of the Shiromani Akali Dal from the National Democratic Alliance. He has come out in fierce defence of the government against criticism of the Central Vista project.

Anurag Thakur, the minister of state for finance, was elevated to Cabinet rank.

Kiran Rijiju, minister of state for youth affairs, was elevated to Cabinet rank, possibly as a counterpoise to a man he considers a rival in the north east, Himanta Biswa Sarma, now CM of Assam.

Sarbananda Sonowal, former Assam CM, was persuaded to join the Union Cabinet enabling a free hand for Biswa Sarma, his successor.

Those among the technocrats who have become ministers for the first time are Vaishnaw, a former IAS officer who was private secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Then an Odisha cadre officer, he was in the Biju Janata Dal, but got a seat in the Rajya Sabha from the BJP.

R C P Singh was chief secretary of Bihar before he joined politics and is now a Cabinet minister.

Rajiv Chandrashekhar is a venture capitalist, entrepreneur and part owner in several media business. He was also one of the people who oversaw the Puducherry elections for the BJP, the only south Indian state among those that went to the polls earlier this year where the BJP was able to form a government.

R K Singh was already a minister in the government but has been elevated to the Cabinet.

Meenakshi Lekhi, MP from Delhi who became a minister, and Chandrashekhar are both on the joint parliamentary committee for the Personal Data Protection Bill, which is in its final draft stage. They will now have to resign from the committee in keeping with the convention that ministers do not serve on parliamentary committees.

Abbaiah Narayanaswamy, the MP from Chitradurga in Karnataka, is an MoS, as are Kaushal Kishore, the MP from Mohanlalganj in UP; Ajay Bhatt, MP from Nainital in Uttarakhand, and BL Verma, Rajya Sabha member from UP.

Goa, which is headed for elections, is one state which has no presentation in the Union council of ministers.

Tripura, the tiny north eastern state which has a BJP government, found a representative in Pratima Bhoumik, Lok Sabha MP from Tripura West.

The council has three medical doctors who are now ministers -- Bharati Pawar, the BJP MP from Dindori; Subhash Sarkar, a first-time MP from Bankura in Bengal; and B K Karad, the Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra.

Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
Source: source image