Giving A major fillip to the BJP’s third generation of leaders since the party was founded by A B Vajpayee and L K Advani in 1980, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday rolled out his third Cabinet reshuffle by naming Nirmala Sitharaman as Defence Minister, assigning the politically crucial Railways portfolio to Piyush Goyal and giving additional charge of Skill Development to Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. All the three were elevated to Cabinet rank.
Sitharaman’s appointment, which made her the second woman to hold the Defence portfolio after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was the obvious highlight but the reshuffle also underlined a deeper political pattern within the BJP.
The elevation of Sitharaman, Goyal and Pradhan brings them in the league of other leaders under 60 years of age, such as Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda and Smriti Irani, in the Union Cabinet and furthers the BJP’s plan of political promotion for its third generation of leaders.
HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar is over 60 but has always been politically considered as part of this generation. Another leader from the generation, Amit Shah, is already at the helm of party affairs.
The latest reshuffle confirms the pattern set more than a decade ago, during NDA-I, when the BJP’s first-generation leadership, under Vajpayee and Advani, promoted the next set, including Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Modi.
Significantly, while Sitharaman is ranked 26 in the Cabinet hierarchy, she is the first among the third generation to be a part of the prestigious Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which also includes Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, apart from the Prime Minister.
A senior party leader told The Indian Express that “imandari, samajhdari, pratibaddhatha aur mehnat” (honesty, wisdom, commitment and hard work) were the key factors that weighed in favour of Sitharaman.
Reacting to her appointment, Former Defence Minister and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters, “Very excellent, well thought-out decision. Nirmala is very analytical, deep thinking, hard working and very knowledgeable.”
Said Jaitley, “A very significant landmark in this reshuffle is that we now have Nirmala Sitharaman as new Defence Minister. I am sure, now that I have an extremely competent successor, she will carry the road forward… it is a case where a minister performs well and earn a higher responsibility for herself.”
As for Pradhan and Goyal, they were given crucial portfolios in 2014 — Power and Petroleum – and made Ministers of State with Independent charge. Since then, sources said, they were seen to have performed well in their ministries while taking up crucial political assignments during assembly elections.
Before 2014, Pradhan was the party’s general secretary and Goyal the national treasurer. Both played crucial roles during Modi’s Lok Sabha campaign — Pradhan stitched an NDA alliance to garner maximum seats in Bihar, while Piyush was instrumental in managing new modes of political outreach, including social media.
As Ministers, Pradhan delivered on the Prime Minister’s flagship Ujjwala scheme for providing LPG connections to the poor, while Goyal untangled the web of paralysis within the power and coal sectors.
The elevation of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was a much awaited recognition of the party’s lone Muslim face in the Council of Ministers since Najma Heptullah exited the government last year. Having served as BJP general secretary and vice-president before he was drafted into the government, the Cabinet rank is being seen as recognition for Naqvi’s steadfast commitment to the party.
Sitharaman got Defence in place of Commerce, Goyal had to let go off Power while retaining Coal and Naqvi was relieved of his junior responsibility in the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry.
Among the nine new Ministers of State, three — R K Singh, Hardeep Puri and K J Alphons — have been given independent charge of Power, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Tourism, respectively. The remaining six are Shiv Pratap Shukla (Finance), Ashwini Choubey (Health), Virendra Kumar (Social Justice and Minority Affairs), Anant Kumar Hegde (Skill Development), Gajendra Shekhawat (Agriculture) and Satyapal Singh (HRD & Water Resources).