THE government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fewer ministers with Cabinet rank to handle economic and infrastructure portfolios after Tuesday’s reshuffle that brought 19 new faces to the Council of Ministers.
The redistribution of portfolios has further reduced this number with key ministries such as Communications (Ravi Shankar Prasad) and Mines (Narendra Singh Tomar) now being led by junior ministers (Ministers of State) with independent charge Manoj Sinha and Piyush Goyal respectively.
Even Commerce & Industry, Power, Petroleum & Natural Gas are with junior ministers.
In the UPA as well as in the Vajpayee governments, ministries such as Commerce & Industry, Petroleum & Natural Gas, Communications, Power, Labour & Employment and Mines were led by Cabinet rank ministers.
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Some other ministries that have a significant bearing on the economy such as Labour & Employment, Skill Development & Entrepreneurship and Environment, Forest & Climate Change too are led by Ministers of State with Independent Charge.
Only Finance and Corporate Affairs, Road Transport and Shipping, Railways, Urban Development and Textiles are now with Cabinet ministers.
An MoS (Independent Charge) attends Cabinet meetings only when a proposal of his or her ministry is on the agenda, a Minister of State does not get to participate in the meetings at all, said a former Cabinet Secretary who did not wish to be named.
“If you are a Cabinet Minister, you get a 360-degree view of decision-making,” he said.
In the previous UPA government, the only other person who was a special invitee to the Cabinet was Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission. In the present government, all Cabinet proposals are circulated to the Niti Aayog for comments, but the Vice Chairperson, Arvind Panagariya, does not yet get to participate in the meetings.
“In politics, unlike bureaucracy, there is no strict hierarchy, but within the Council of Ministers, seniority counts. So, veteran Kalraj Mishra is still a Cabinet minister with a not-so-significant portfolio of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, and Piyush Goyal is an MoS (Independent Charge) with a bunch of portfolios — Power, Mines, Coal, New & Renewable Energy,” a BJP leader said.
According to a top official, the Cabinet expansion is a fine act of political management and the leadership has been sensitive to seniority of members of Parliament while allocating them ranks in the Council of Ministers.
“The idea is also to create a bench strength of ministers, who can be elevated in due course, following an evaluation of their performance,” a source said. The leadership, the source said, also acknowledges the need to meet the “aspirations” of ministers as they spend time in the government.