New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday sought to reboot governance with a massive revamp of his team, inducting about three dozen fresh faces into his council of ministers and dropping a dozen ministers, including six of Cabinet rank.
About midway through his second term in office, the PM sprang a surprise, showing intent to resurrect his government’s image, hit by unsavoury controversies and stories of inefficiency during the pandemic, by sacking half-a-dozen heavyweight Cabinet ministers. Those sacked included Ravi Shankar Prasad (Law & IT), Prakash Javadekar (Information & Broadcasting, Environment), Harsh Vardhan (Health), Ramesh Pokhriyal (Education), Thaawarchand Gehlot (Social Justice and Empowerment) and Santosh Gangwar (Labour).
Modi brought in new faces, a mixture of experience, efficiency and talent, to infuse new energy into governance. His new Cabinet has former union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, known for his administrative acumen and innovative ideas, two former chief ministers —Sarbanand Sonowal of Assam and Narayan Rane of Maharashtra — entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrashekhar, and BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, among others.
Two former IAS officers — R.C.P. Singh, the Janata Dal (United) president who had served as principal secretary to CM Nitish Kumar, and Ashwini Vaishnav, former private secretary to PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee — were also inducted.
PM Modi also rewarded seven ministers with promotion to Cabinet rank — Hardeep Puri, Anurag Thakur, R.K. Singh, Kiren Rijiju, Mansukh Mandaviya, Parshottam Rupala and G. Kishan Reddy. In all, 43 ministers were sworn-in Wednesday evening —15 of Cabinet rank, the remaining 28 as ministers of state.
Assembly elections and the Union Cabinet
Modi’s attempt to give a fresh impetus to governance was tempered with political considerations. While ruling party spin doctors pointed to the increased representation of Dalits and OBCs in the revamped team, as also the reduction in its average age by three years, the emphasis on sending signals to poll-bound states, especially Uttar Pradesh, is unmistakable.
About one-fifth of the new faces in his team are drawn from Uttar Pradesh, which will go to polls in February next year. Anupriya Patel, Apna Dal leader from UP, who had been left out of the government after Modi came back with a renewed mandate in 2019, returned.
Hardeep Puri and Anurag Thakur, who were promoted, belong to the poll-bound states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
There was no addition from another election-bound state, Uttarakhand, which continued to have a representation in the Cabinet with Ajay Bhatt replacing Ramesh Pokhriyal.
With the BJP opting for another Thakur chief minister in Uttarakhand, Modi took care to pick up a Brahmin, the second-largest community in the state, to replace another, Pokhriyal, in the Cabinet.
Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh from poll-bound Manipur also found a place in the Modi government.
There were three additions to the union council of ministers from Gujarat, which will go to polls in November-December 2022, apart from promotion of two others from the state to Cabinet rank — Mansukh Mandaviya and Parshottum Rupala.
New faces reveal BJP’s future political plans
Electoral consideration apart, the BJP’s political interests and future plans seem to have greatly influenced the PM’s choice of new ministers and promotion of existing ones.
Shiv Sainik-turned-Congressman-turned-BJP leader Narayan Rane’s entry, for instance, reflects the saffron party’s plan to turn on the heat on its erstwhile ally, the Shiv Sena, in its Konkan stronghold.
Scindia’s entry in the Modi Cabinet was long awaited, given how he had brought the BJP to power in Madhya Pradesh after toppling the Congress government last year.
Induction of four new faces from Karnataka, including Chief Minister Yediyurappa’s confidante Shobha Karandlaje, comes at a time when the 78-year-old Lingayat leader has dug in his heels, refusing to give up the reins of power, despite the party high command taking an adverse view of it.
In its attempt to build on its gains in West Bengal, the BJP has brought in four party leaders from the state into the Modi government, in place of two who were dropped.
BJP’s allies get a piece of power pie
Three BJP allies joined the Modi government, including the JD(U) — which had refused to join in 2019 demanding three seats in the union council of ministers — with R.C.P. Singh taking oath as Cabinet minister.
The JD(U) appears to have settled for one berth after Modi agreed to induct LJP’s Pashupati Paras, who recently revolted against his nephew Chirag Paswan, as a Cabinet minister.
With Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal and Ramdas Athawale of the RPI, who was the only ally in the government until Wednesday, the strength of the BJP’s allies in the government have gone up to four.
Social engineering message
The thrust on political messaging ahead of crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other states early next year was also evident from the emphasis on the representation of youth, women, Dalits and other backward class in Modi’s revamped team.
The number of Other Backward Class (OBC) members in Team Modi went up to 27 from 13, while the representation of Dalits went up four-fold — from 3 to 12.
The number of women in the PM’s team also went up significantly, with the induction of seven new faces on Wednesday, which took the total tally to 11.
(Edited by Priyanjali Mitra)