The Cabinet reshuffle Tuesday wasn’t just a political imperative, it was one of governance as well. Sending this message to his party and the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only expanded his Cabinet but also effected a major redistribution of portfolios.
Smriti Irani lost the prestigious Human Resource Development Ministry to Prakash Javadekar, the lone minister promoted to Cabinet rank. Irani has been allotted Textiles, for which the Cabinet cleared a Rs 6,000-crore package just a fortnight ago.
Among the big changes, Jaitley’s Information & Broadcasting has been moved to M Venkaiah Naidu, Gowda’s Law & Justice portfolio to Ravi Shankar Prasad and Birender Singh’s Rural Development to Narendra Singh Tomar. Prasad, in turn, had to cede Communications to technocrat Manoj Sinha, who has been elevated to Minister of State (Independent charge) rank. Having attracted a lot of criticism for his handling of Parliamentary Affairs, Naidu had to make way for Ananth Kumar. His junior minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy also lost Parliamentary Affairs, and is left with just Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
WATCH VIDEO: Keystrokes – Smriti Irani Gets Textiles
The Prime Minister, who told selected journalists Monday that the exercise would just be an expansion, has actually made almost two dozen changes in the portfolios besides inducting 19 new ministers. More than half of these 19, or 10 to be precise, are from backward communities (five Dalits, three tribals and two OBCs). This is to present a formidable battle in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, where caste plays a critical role. While performance is said to be the primary criteria for changes, the message has gone out loud and clear — to those who spoke out of turn and put the government in a tight spot repeatedly and those who felt they were beyond scrutiny.
In an interaction with the newly-inducted ministers, Prime Minister Modi said they were free to celebrate their entry into the Council of Ministers for a few hours, but get down to work soon after. He said the projects initiated by the government should be visible at the grassroots and the last man in queue should get the benefit.
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Another surprise exit has been that of Minister of State Jayant Sinha from Finance to Civil Aviation. V K Singh, who earlier embarrassed the government with his controversial remarks, had to forego MoS (Independent Charge) of Statistics and Programme Implementation. In the November 2014 expansion, DoNER was snipped off his portfolio. He is now just MoS (External Affairs), sharing the MEA portfolio with Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh and journalist-turned-politician MJ Akbar, who is now a Minister of State.
The newly-appointed Minister of State Anil Dave, a Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh and RSS swayamsevak, has been allotted Environment, Forests and Climate Change with Independent charge. The 60-year-old has been actively involved in activities relating to Narmada river conservation. Vijay Goel, who was MoS in the Vajpayee government, has been given Independent charge of Sports and Youth Affairs. He is also MoS (Water Resources, River Development and Ganga rejuvenation).
The fresh faces with meaty portfolios include Arjun Ram Meghwal, Minister of State (Finance and Corporate Affairs) and M N Pandey, MoS (HRD). Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh Santosh Gangwar, has had to give up his Independent charge of Textiles to Irani, the new Cabinet minister. He is now MoS (Finance), the other MoS being Meghwal.
Among allies, Anupriya Patel belonging to Apna Dal which is BJP’s ally in Uttar Pradesh, has been allotted Health and Family Welfare and Ramdas Athawale of RPI has been given Social Justice and Empowerment. Besides Athawale, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot has two more Ministers of State, the other two being Vijay Sampla and Krishan Pal.
S S Ahluwalia, who won from Darjeeling and is one of the two Lok Sabha MPs from West Bengal, is MoS (Parliamentary Affairs, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare). Rajen Gohain is the only Minister of State (Railways) from Assam, where the BJP recently formed the government. Krishna Raj, a Dalit face from Uttar Pradesh, is MoS (Women and Child Development). P P Chaudhary, Supreme Court lawyer and Lok Sabha MP from Rajasthan, has been made MoS (Law and justice, Electronics & IT).
Kalraj Mishra and Najma Heptulla, who were expected to be dropped because they have crossed the age of 75, were retained in the Cabinet.