Pick of the Day: The Cabinet Reshuffle, the New Pack

In today’s Pick of the Day, for D’s Art Takes, I Divvya Nirula present my take on – “The Cabinet Reshuffle, the New Pack”

Epic Shift

The 7th of July 2021 saw an epic cabinet reshuffle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet. He has brought in a record number of 36 first-time ministers into his cabinet. This takes the total number of ministers to 77. The permissible number is 81.

Prime Minister Modi was sworn into his post on May 26, 2014. He walked in with 43 ministers in his cabinet only seven years later, that figure has doubled. It was evident from the start that big changes that were underway. It was clear in his interview speaking fondly how he was giving his handover to Mr. LK Advani, that he was a party worker – first and foremost. As a Prime Minister – he is sharp and confident, from the word go.

Mr Modi is clear in his purpose and running at top speed, he needs a team that was going to run with him. He was always in favour of using all the modern available tools to advance work.

It has now inducted or elevated 58 ministers into the cabinet. It inducted 36 new faces—a mixture of old guard parliamentarians, allies, first-time MPs, and prominent crossovers from other parties.

Step By Step

The Modi government has seen a lot, since the swearing-in. And the people of the country to have been on that journey with him. He may have expected intense politics, opposition warfare, and a whole host of governance and economic-related issues. There is no way that anybody could anticipate the pandemic.

Anyhow, after the second wave and the famous West Bengal politics – Mr. Modi, a few years ahead of the election, is preparing. The first step is to strengthen his team. As one tries to logically conjecture about his move – it perhaps reflects the anxieties of a party keen to win a third general election in 2024.

A cabinet shift is undoubtedly about efficiency as it is about optics. Mr. Modi is trying a feat not repeated after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962. This isn’t the first time he has done this. Mr. Modi shuffled the existing cabinet in 2017, making it more efficient.

Notably, 2012 UPA-II had a cabinet reshuffle, where they added 22 ministers. This move definitely helped the government stand out. In 2002, the third Vajpayee government had seen portfolios of Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha swapped.

The Disaster of the Second Wave

The government has been panned for severe mismanagement of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is looking at the huge challenges of reviving a slow economy. One that was already slowing down before it was battered by the pandemic. The second wave of Covid-19 killed thousands and ravaged small towns and cities without distinction.

The message was loud and clear – a reboot for the government was needed. Modi is midway through his second term. The reshuffle and the new faces are a chance for a fresh start for his government over the next three years.

For many years, ministry formation has not been about governance, but more significantly about political management. Far more important than governance was to ensure how different states get council representation. How different alliance partners of a coalition are looked after, how the presence of different castes and communities is ensured.

Something has shifted, definitively.

Of course, there is a need to Keep the election-bound states happy. For a brief idea – India will see 16 states going to assembly polls.

  • In 2022 Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat go to the polls.
  • The second round in 2023 will elect governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Telangana, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram.

All of this Between now and the May 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Also,  two of the biggest states go into polls, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. It is no surprise that they have seen the maximum inductees -7 ministers from Uttar Pradesh and 4 from Karnataka.

Focus on The New India Game

Not losing the focus of creating a technologically advanced India, the new list gives the government a list of technocrats and administrators to choose from for its list of portfolios. The candidates include two former chief ministers, two former IAS officers, two lawyers, four doctors, including a gynecologist, a doctor-entrepreneur, a surgeon, an MD in general medicine and a computer engineer turned entrepreneur. This is definitely a first, a calculated, intended decision. A need of the hour.

High Hopes !

Ashwini Vaishnaw, a former IAS officer, has an MBA from Wharton and an MTech from IIT Kanpur. He specializes in public-private partnerships. He has been made railway minister and given the task of continuing the government’s reform of the railways and steering it on the PPP model.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar is an MTech in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology, a three-term Rajya  Sabha MP from Karnataka. He founded a telecom company BPL mobile before selling his stake in 2005 to Essar. He is now minister of state in the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship and MoS in the ministry of electronics and IT.

Chandrasekhar will have to bring in his ideas to jumpstart the underperforming skill development ministry.

 Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal who represents the Kurmis in UP, was brought back into the cabinet. The number of women cabinet members has been increased from 7 to 11. Jyotiraditya Scindia crossed over from the Congress with two dozen MLAs to help the BJP form a government in Madhya Pradesh last year–has been rehabilitated at the Centre.

The One’s Who Dropped the Ball

Prior to the reassignment, at least 12 of the cabinet members, including IT and health ministers, resigned.

The list included old-timers like Union law and it minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, I&B Minister Tension has been brewing between the federal government and social media platforms over India’s controversial new IT laws.

Amongst the other heads that rolled were Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan and chemicals and fertilisers minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda. Looking at the way the pandemic crises were handled, this wasn’t really a surprise. Prakash Javadekar, Union HRD minister, and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank,. Minister of state for environment, along with Babul Supriyo.

The New Cabinet

  • Union Home Minister Amit Shah – Ministry of Cooperation.
  • Mansukh Mandaviya – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • Jyotiraditya Scindia – Civil Aviation ministry.
  • Kiren Rijiju – Law and Justice Ministry.
  • Ashwini Vaishnaw – Railways and IT ministry.
  • Dharmendra Pradhan – Education Ministry, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship
  • Sarbananda Sonowal – Ports, Shipping and Waterways ministry.
  • Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh – Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)
  • Ashwini Vaishnaw – Minister of Railways, Ministry of Communications & MO Electrnics and IT
  • G Kishan Reddy – Union Minister for Culture, tourism, Dev of North East Region
  • Pashupati Kumar Paras – Minister of Food Processing Industries
  •  Bhupender Yadav – Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; and Minister of Labour and Employment
  • Rajeev Chandrasekhar -Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, MOS Skill Development
  • Ajay Bhatt – MOS Ministry of Defence and Tourism
  • Subhas Sarkar- MOS for Education
  • Hardeep Singh Puri – MOS Petroleum and Natural Gas, Housing and Urban affairs
  • Anurag Thakur Minister – MOS Information and Broadcasting & Youth Affairs and Sports
  • Anupriya Patel – MOS Ministry of Commerce and Industry
  • Meenakshi Lekhi – MOS Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Culture
  • Annapurna Devi – MOS Ministry of Education
  • Pratima Bhaumik – MOS in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
  •  Shobha Karandlaje- MOS in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farers Welfare
  • Meenakshi Lekhi  – MOS in the Ministry of External Affairs; and MOS in the Ministry of Culture

The Country Waits..

A shiny new ministry, and lots of new plans underway, we are waiting for the new India to emerge. If the shift will work, its hard to gauge. Time will tell. As an Indian, I can say that things are never dull here! I along with all my fellow brothers look eagerly at what the future brings.

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