New Delhi: It has been just about 10 days since Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has made the short journey from Shastri Bhawan to Nirman Bhawan in the national capital, up a rung of the ministerial ladder into the Union cabinet.
In his very first meeting with officials, the minister had promised to create himself a WhatsApp group for senior officers, and be a part of. While that hasn’t happened yet, the change is already perceptible, say ministry insiders.
From the laidback old-school style of predecessor Harsh Vardhan to the more corporate, “target” driven approach of the new health minister, the message has gone out that officials need to be on their toes, and on time to office.
“In the very first meeting, he told us that he is a stickler for discipline and will be in office every day by 9.30-10 am and he expects us to do the same,” a senior official in the ministry told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“He said he would himself create a WhatsApp group of senior officers where he would be available at all times. He also asked us to set our own targets and review them periodically. He said he too would do reviews sometimes but there should be focused and collective initiative towards a common vision,” the official said.
According to officials, meetings have already started sounding more focused on outcomes rather than the often meandering discourses of Vardhan, who had a habit of lapsing into elaborate descriptions of his own exploits as the pioneer of the Pulse Polio programme and his pet topic of tobacco control.
“These are early days and this is a ministry that has a lot going if one wants to. If not there is always the option of hiding behind ‘health is a state subject’,” said a health ministry functionary, who didn’t wish to be named.
“So far he has given the impression of being a doer, somebody who wants to take the bull by the horns. That may also have to do with the perception that he is here because his predecessor was found less than up to the expectations of the prime minister,” the functionary said.
ThePrint reached the minister’s APS Aarohi Patel, who is in charge of his media interactions, for a comment. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Who is Mandaviya?
Mandaviya, who belongs to the Patel community, was born in a small village named Hanol in the Palitana district of Gujarat in a middle-class farmer family.
In the last reshuffle earlier this month, he was elevated to the cabinet rank, thanks to his stellar performance as Minister of State in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. He is now in charge of that ministry too in his capacity as cabinet minister.
His rise has been meteoric and that is also why a video dating back to 2012 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi predicted a bright future for him has now started doing the rounds of the internet once more.
Back in 2012, PM Narendra Modi had predicted about the rise of Mansukhbhai Mandaviya in the sanman rally of Mansukhbhai in Lalita Chowkdi, Surat when he was made RS MP. What a vision and confidence! pic.twitter.com/2sN4OlKfhe
— Ravi Ghiyar (@ravighiyar) July 8, 2021
Mandaviya made his mark in the GoMs too
Mandaviya, who was a member of the Covid-19 GoM headed by former health minister Harsh Vardhan, stood out during those interactions for his common sense interventions, his knack for getting to the heart of a matter, and to quickly get to what it means for the man on the street, said sources who were present in those meetings.
“Dr Harsh Vardhan is a clinician who has done all his politics from the city of Delhi. But this minister has risen from the ranks and he knows how the common Indian lives and what are the issues that bother him. His questions about policies instantly go to the heart of governance — what it means for the last man in the line,” said a third health ministry official.
“There is also a confidence that probably comes from his recent elevation and the fact that the prime minister has shown faith in him,” said the official.
But, as those GoMs showed, Mandaviya is not one to be toyed with. When he was interrupted in one GoM meeting by a secretary, he very quietly asserted himself with a “main bol raha hoon na (I am speaking)”, said a person who was present in the meeting. That no-nonsense approach is what he seems to have brought into the ministry, all officials say, judging from the first few days.
There is obviously a lot to be said about the circumstances in which Mandaviya has been brought in, colouring his initial days in the ministry.
“The last couple of months have been unprecedented. The change of stewardship in the ministry comes with a definite mandate — to preempt the devastation of the second wave should a third wave occur, get systems in place, but most importantly, to be seen to be doing those things. That is probably where the sense of brisk purpose comes from,” said a fourth official.
“It can even be argued that anybody who was brought in in similar circumstances with clear instructions from the PMO, would act similarly,” reasoned the official.