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Explained Ideas: The real reasons behind PM Modi’s Cabinet reshuffle

The Union Cabinet reshuffle exercise aims to protect Brand Modi from Covid-19 criticism, reach out to OBCs ahead of the Uttar Pradesh poll, writes Neerja Chowdhury.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 15, 2021 9:12:52 am
The newly sworn in ministers stand with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the swearing in ceremony. Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (Rashtrapati Bhavan via AP)

The Prime Minister has tried to re-seize the political initiative with his Wednesday reshuffle of the council of ministers, states senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury in her opinion piece in The Indian Express.

“Since April, he has been on the back foot. When the second Covid-19 wave hit the country, many died reportedly from oxygen shortages and a general lack of government preparedness. Losing West Bengal also did not help… Few had believed that Narendra Modi could axe a dozen ministers, for it would amount to admitting that all had not been well,” she states.

But that is precisely what he did on Wednesday. He sacked 12 ministers, particularly those at the head of ministries, which had brought criticism to the government in the last year and more.

The PM has signalled that he wants a purposeful government. Protecting Brand Modi was an important part of the exercise. By holding only ministers responsible, the PM has made a distinction between those individuals and the Modi sarkar.

Modi has his eye on the forthcoming state elections in 2022 and 2023 — and the general elections in 2024, and beyond. The PM has tried to represent every state of India, in some cases sub-regions in states, as well as different castes, particularly OBCs, Dalits and tribals, in his ministry. For the first time, there are 11 women ministers in the government.

“While every state is important, it is Uttar Pradesh that is critical. With seven new inductees from the state, the number of ministers from UP has gone up to 15,” she writes.

President Ram Nath Kovind, First Lady Savita Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in a group photograph with the newly sworn-in Council of Ministers, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (PTI Photo)

Chowdhury says the BJP is especially reaching out to the OBCs again, whose support in UP is vital for it to ward off the challenge from the Samajwadi Party-RLD combine. “The ‘mandalisation’ of the BJP is taking place; the party can no longer be called a Brahmin-Bania outfit,” she states.

When Modi came to power in 2014, the Atal-Advani era in BJP came to a close. In 2019, the phase dominated by “Gen X leaders” also came to an end. Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar passed away. Venkaiah Naidu became the vice-president. Now there are only a handful of leaders left in government from the “old BJP” such as Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari.

“The PM is now putting in place his own team,” she states. The new council of ministers is rich in symbolism too.

“But with petrol prices crossing the Rs 100/litre mark, 230 million reportedly under the poverty line, millions of jobs reportedly lost in the organised sector alone since the pandemic began, and a third Covid wave a possibility, people will need more than symbolism to disregard their suffering,” concludes Chowdhury.

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