Within a span of 16 hours, the government Thursday night amended its order to include Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in key committees of the Union Cabinet — Parliamentary Affairs; Political Affairs; Investment and Growth; and, Employment & Skill Development — from which he had been left out earlier in the day.
Home Minister in the first Modi government, Singh was not part of these Cabinet committees announced by the government early morning — the official release was issued at 5.57 am Thursday. The new Home Minister, Amit Shah, was a member of all these committees, giving rise to talk that he was now the de facto No. 2 in the government despite Singh being at the second place in the pecking order after the Prime Minister.
The reconstitution order was “revised” late Thursday night — a new official release was put out at 10.19 pm — to include Singh as a member of these committees. In the revised order, Singh was placed above Shah in all these four committees.
The release provided no explanation for the revised reconstitution of the Cabinet committees. With a guessing game on in the party and the government over what could have prompted the amendment to the order, a senior functionary of the ruling establishment, while playing down the order revision, told The Indian Express: “Rajnath Singh took oath of office after Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amit Shah took oath after him (Singh).”
The morning release announcing the reconstituted Cabinet committees took everyone by surprise since Singh, a former BJP president with considerable Parliamentary experience, was excluded from panels on Parliamentary Affairs and Political Affairs. More so because the Prime Minister, in his first term, had turned to Singh to tackle issues related to farmers and the Jat protests.
With the absence of party seniors Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj from the government, exclusion of Singh from the two crucial political committees set tongues wagging within the government and the party. Incidentally, Manohar Parrikar and Sitharaman, who served as Defence Ministers in the first Modi government, were members of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA).
“The revision appears to be an afterthought given the impression it created the moment the committees were announced in the morning,” another functionary of the ruling establishment said.
The government’s morning order named Shah in all eight committees, and at No. 2 in six of these. Singh, on the other hand, found place in only two committees — Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) — as the No. 2 after the Prime Minister.
While Shah was included in two new Cabinet committees — Investment and Growth; and Employment & Skill Development — Singh was not. His exclusion from the panel on investment and growth surprised many given that the first Modi government had projected the defence sector as a key focus area for seeking investment, especially with the Make in India programme, and employment generation. Following the announcement of creation of two defence corridors in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Sitharaman, the then Defence Minister, had written in a Facebook post that both would generate 3.5 lakh jobs at various stages of the supply chain.
The “revised” order included Singh in all the four Cabinet committees from which he had been left out in the morning. By night, Singh was not only member of the CCPA, but also the head of the committee on Parliamentary Affairs.
Following the revision, Singh will be part of six of eight Cabinet committees while Shah will be part of all. Two of the eight — Appointments Committee of the Cabinet and Cabinet Committee on Accommodation — usually include the Home Minister.
Apart from Modi, Singh and Shah, the reconstituted CCPA includes Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Ram Vilas Paswan, Narendra Singh Tomar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Harsh Vardhan, Piyush Goyal, Arvind Sawant and Pralhad Joshi.