Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday became the first woman to hold full-time charge of the Defence portfolio, but two other promotions in the latest ministerial reshuffle undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are no less significant — Cabinet rank for Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan.
Goyal, who was in charge of Power, has got Railways and will continue to handle the Coal portfolio. Pradhan, who continues to handle Petroleum, has been given additional charge of Skill Development. Politically, BJP leaders suggest that the elevation was well deserved given the political contributions of Goyal and Pradhan, apart from their work as ministers of state with independent charge. But for both of them, the promotion comes with its share of challenges.
The Railways and Skill Development ministries have come under the spotlight with their performance being viewed within the establishment as below par, necessitating a change of guard. And, for Goyal and Pradhan, the focus will now be on delivery with only about one-and-a-half years to go for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
At the national level, Pradhan has served as the BJP’s general secretary and Goyal as its national treasurer until 2014. While it is widely held that it was their proximity to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that got them crucial political assignments, they seem to have made good use of the boost to rise within the establishment as third-generation leaders.
Pradhan started his career as sah-sangathan mantri of the ABVP’s Odisha unit in the early 80s before moving to the BJP’s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and being elevated to the national leadership ranks by Nitin Gadkari. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was in charge of Bihar where he stitched alliances with Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha to notch up an impressive performance for the NDA in the state.
Even after Modi drafted him in the government, BJP president Amit Shah deployed Pradhan during the assembly elections in Jharkhand, Bihar, and Uttarakhand.
Goyal is the son of Ved Prakash Goyal, who was a minister in the A B Vajpayee government, and comes from a family dedicated to the RSS. In fact, the former RSS chief Guru Golwalkar used to stay at their residence during his visits to Mumbai. Goyal grew up with the RSS’s world view and caught the eye of the BJP leadership for his forward-looking industry friendly approach as a trained accountant.
As treasurer, Goyal worked extensively to mobilise resources for the party’s 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, and his modern outlook was leveraged by Modi to manage the BJP’s new media campaign. He was assigned the crucial Power and Coal sectors that had been reeling under paralysis due to multiple factors, including large-scale corruption allegations. BJP insiders insist that Goyal has been able to clean up both the sectors substantially.
The Railways, however, is a different and politically risky ballgame, given that it has a direct public connect and that it is a government-owned enterprise at the core.