New Delhi: “Woh kam bolte hai, aur kaam zyada karte hai (He talks less and works more)”. This is how members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat wing describe newly-appointed Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.
Mandaviya, who was earlier handling the shipping ministry as Minister of State (MoS) with independent charge, and was junior minister for chemical and fertilisers, was handed the health portfolio in this week’s massive Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was also made the Cabinet minister for chemicals and fertilisers.
Known for keeping a low profile and a quiet demeanour, the 49-year-old BJP leader from Gujarat is described as a man many can depend on. It’s a quality that is expected to serve him well as health minister, with the country navigating the Covid-19 pandemic and preparing for a third wave.
His reliability, say industry sources, particularly came to light during the devastating second wave of the pandemic in late April. It was due to Mandaviya’s swift actions and planning as MoS for chemicals and fertilisers, the ministry that oversees the department of pharmaceuticals, that the production of drugs in India stayed in step with the demand, they add.
The minister, it it learnt, regularly checked with the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority — the regulatory agency in charge of drug availability — for shortages of medicines across India.
He also held regular meetings with drugmakers and requested them to boost the production of key Covid drugs such as remdesivir and favipiravir, among others.
“He tried to understand the issues with the production. He clearly told us that he may not be able to follow the scientific details, so he asked us again and again. He heard us and the industry followed his instructions,” said an industry official from a top pharmaceutical firm.
‘Will be one of India’s best health ministers’
Mandaviya began his political career with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He was first elected to the Gujarat assembly in 2002, becoming the youngest-ever MLA in the assembly at the age of 30.
Mandaviya’s rise to the post of a Cabinet minister has been steady yet understated, according to those close to him. In his late 30s, he became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 2010. Four years later, he was made the general secretary of the BJP in Gujarat.
“He is young and dynamic and has performed well at each stage. He will be one of India’s best health ministers,” said Bharatbhai Boghara, vice-president of Gujarat BJP.
Boghara has known Mandaviya ever since his MLA days. “At that time, I was a party karyakarta. I learnt a lot just by observing him. Since the beginning itself, he has kept to himself and only been concerned with his work,” he told ThePrint.
In 2009, when Boghara was contesting a by-election, Mandaviya was the election-in-charge for the party and he would sit and strategise with the former every day for a month. “He told me: Koi bhi issue aayega toh dheeraj se kaam lijiyega, jald baazi nahi karna (Whatever issue comes up, deal with it with patience, don’t do anything in a hurry).”
Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Khoda Patel, who was Gujarat’s home minister during Mandaviya’s stint in the party’s state wing, also had similar thoughts on the new health minister.
“I have known Mansukh Mandaviya for the past 14-15 years. He keeps a very low profile and is very down-to-earth and hardworking. He was overseeing the functioning of the state BJP when I was the home minister of Gujarat. He is a good man who has done a lot of work,” Patel told ThePrint.
After all this time, his home state of Gujarat continues to be important to Mandaviya — a fact that is evident through his social media. He often posts about Gujarat and in Gujarati.
ભાવનગરના તરસમિયા તળાવમાં સહસ્ત્રદલ એટલે કે હજારોની સંખ્યામાં કમળ ખીલ્યા છે. એવું કહેવાય છે કે દ્રૌપદીજી માટે ભીમ જ્યારે સહસ્ત્રદલ કમળ લેવા જાય છે ત્યારે વીર હનુમાનનો ભેટો થાય છે અને ભીમનો ગર્વ તૂટે છે. લાગે છે કે ભીમ અને શ્રી હનુમાન ક્યાંક નજીકમાં જ હશે pic.twitter.com/ET0TBp8L98
— Mansukh Mandaviya (@mansukhmandviya) June 23, 2021
Besides his love for Gujarat, his admiration for PM Modi can also be discerned through his social media. From thanking the prime minister to calling him the “architect of New India”, Mandaviya has tweeted aplenty about Modi.
In 2017, Mandaviya was also a front-runner in the race to become Gujarat’s chief minister during the assembly elections, but the position ultimately went to Vijay Rupani.
Proud father, ‘padyatra’ and ‘bicycle man’
Mandaviya hails from Gujarat’s Palitana region and was born to a farming family in the village Hanol in 1972.
A graduate in veterinary sciences and a postgraduate in political science, he also served as chairman of the Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation Limited in 2010.
Father to two children, Mandaviya shared a photo of his daughter, Disha, in April this year after she joined a hospital in Ahmedabad as a medical intern.
My Daughter, My Pride!
Disha, I have waited so long to see you in this role. I am filled with pride that you are rendering your duty as an Intern in this critical time. The nation needs your service and I'm sure you will prove yourself.
More power to you my warrior! pic.twitter.com/Kjm4MtKyaT
— Mansukh Mandaviya (@mansukhmandviya) April 26, 2021
Popularly known as the ‘padyatra (foot march) man’, Mandaviya has taken part in several long marches on foot.
Two years after becoming the youngest MLA in the state, in 2004, Mandaviya organised a 123-km-long padyatra for the ‘Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao’ campaign, in which he covered 45 educationally backward villages in his constituency of Palitana.
In 2006 as well, he organised a 127-km padyatra to promote the ‘Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao, Vyasan Hatao’ campaign.
In 2019, he organised a 150-km march that covered 150 villages on the theme ‘Towards Gandhian Principles and Values’. He even distributed subsided medicines and over 10 crore sanitary napkins to the villagers.
Mandaviya also came to be known as ‘bicycle man’ after he cycled to his oath-taking ceremony as a Union minister in 2019. When asked about it, he said: “It’s not a fashion to ride a cycle. It is my passion.”
(Edited by Rachel John)