The Sunday Express profiles the nine ministers who took oath at Rashtrapati Bhavan at 10.30 am this morning. This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third reshuffle since taking office in May 2014.
A retired IAS officer of 1979 batch, Kannanthanam was tipped to be the administrator of Chandigarh last year. A former MLA backed by CPI(M) from Kanjirappally seat in Kerala, he joined the BJP in 2011. Kannanthanam shot into the limelight during his stint as commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority in the 1990s for his encroachment-clearing drive, and earned the sobriquet Delhi’s ‘demolition man’. In 1994, he featured in Time magazine’s list of 100 Young Global Leaders.
Kannanthanam’s induction into the Cabinet is part of BJP’s plans to make inroads into Kerala and reach out to the state’s Christian minority. The Narendra Modi cabinet does not have any representation from Kerala at present. Last year, the BJP-led NDA reconstituted its Kerala unit, inducting senior politician P C Thomas to the NDA central committee. Thomas, who was a minister in the A B Vajpayee government, heads Christian party Kerala Congress. The BJP is focusing on Kerala of late as part of its ‘Mission South’ programme. Given the significant Muslim and Christian population in the state, the BJP is trying to showcase the NDA in the state which comprises various caste and religious groups.
Hardeep Singh Puri
Considered close to L K Advani during NDA-I, Hardeep Puri joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, becoming one of the very few diplomats to join full-time politics after retirement. A 1974-batch IFS officer, the decorated diplomat’s last assignment was as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations. An alumnus of Hindu College, Delhi, Puri was a student leader and active during the JP movement and had taught at St Stephens College before joining the IFS.
The speculation was that his hopes of securing a prominent position in the ruling establishment after the 2014 victory were hampered because of his proximity to Advani.
Man who arrested Advani
Raj Kumar Singh
As Union Home Secretary during the UPA tenure, Singh had released names of RSS members who were allegedly part of the Hindu extremist group responsible for blasts on Samjhauta Express and in Malegaon, Maharashtra. In October 1990, the Bihar-cadre IAS officer of 1975 batch was given the task of arresting L K Advani, then on rath yatra.
The MP from Arrah is set to replace another Rajput leader from Bihar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, in the Union Cabinet. As Union Home Secretary, Singh had had a run-in with UPA minister Sushilkumar Shinde. After joining BJP before 2014 elections, he had alleged that Shinde interfered in postings in Delhi Police. In February last year, Singh criticised former Home Minister P Chidambaram over his remarks that the case of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was not handled correctly. He also alleged political interference in changing the affidavit in Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Singh has made bridges with the BJP leadership in less than two years, taking on the leadership on ticket distribution following the debacle in 2015 Bihar elections.
The Jat factor
A former Mumbai Police Commissioner, Singh, Lok Sabha MP from Baghpat in western UP, is set to be sworn-in days after another Jat leader from the region, Sanjiv Balyan, was made to quit as Union MoS for Water Resources.
A member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs and chairperson of the Joint Committee on Offices of Profit, the 1980-batch IPS officer is credited with breaking the backbone of organised crime syndicates in Mumbai in the 1990s. An MBA in Strategic Management from Australia, he has also written several books.
In 2016, Singh made the sensational allegation that he was allured by then UPA government to frame Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. In January 2014, Singh became the first serving Mumbai Police chief to resign from the force. He contested the Lok Sabha elections.
Shiv Pratap Shukla
Appointment of the Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, who had been a Minister for Prisons in the Kalyan Singh-led BJP government in the state, is part of a political balancing act in eastern UP in the wake of the traditional Thakur-Brahmin rivalry in the state. The rivalry between Shukla and Yogi Adityanath, before he became Uttar Pradesh CM, is well known. A Law graduate from Gorakhpur University, Shukla had begun his political career as a student leader in the 1970s. Before he became a Rajya Sabha MP last year, Shukla, was an MLA for four consecutive terms: 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1996.
Brahmins constitute around 10 per cent of UP’s population and voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in both the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the Assembly elections this year. This week, Mahendra Nath Pandey, MoS Minister for HRD, was made the UP BJP chief. Union minister Kalraj Mishra was the party’s state chief in the late nineties, while Lakshmi Kant Bajpayi headed the party in 2014. Veteran Kalraj Mishra, another Brahmin, who has resigned as he is past the unofficial cut-off of 75 years, also belongs to Deoria in eastern UP.
Anant Kumar Hegde
A five-time BJP Lok Sabha MP from Uttara Kannada seat in Karnataka, Hegde was most recently in news in January this year for allegedly assaulting doctors at a private hospital in Sirsi, Uttara Kannada, over apparent delay in treating his mother. Sirsi police registered a suo motu case against Hegde on the basis of evidence from CCTV footage. In March 2016, a case was filed against him in Sirsi for hate speech after he remarked at a press conference, “As long as there is Islam, there will be no peace in the world.”
Karnataka goes to the polls next year, and the young face of aggressive Hindutva is expected to play a significant role. An RSS member from his young days, Hegde was an ABVP activist and rose through the ranks in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. He faced his first case of rioting, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity in 1993, when he was allegedly part of a rioting mob in Bhatkal. In 1994, he caught the attention of RSS by dodging prohibitory orders in Hubli, north Karnataka, to raise the Tricolour at disputed Idgah Maidan on Independence Day. He was given the ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Uttara Kannada in 1996. Twenty-seven then, he emerged a giantkiller, defeating sitting Congress MP Margaret Alva. Hegde has never lost since.
Gajendra Singh Shekhawat
Gajendra Shekhawat is from Jodhpur, which is former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s home turf. His elevation is part of the BJP’s plans for the poll-bound Rajasthan, which has under-represented in the Union Cabinet. Shekhawat has come up through the ranks in the party since he began his political career in 1992 when he was elected Jodhpur’s Jai Narain Vyas University students’ union president as an ABVP candidate. He recently drew Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention during a BJP parliamentary party meeting where he gave a power-point presentation on implementation of government schemes.
Shekhawat is general secretary of RSS-promoted Seema Jan Kalyan Samiti, whose objective is to create a “civil line of secondary defence along the international border, covering four major districts of Rajasthan and about 17 tehsils”. Known for his accessibility and affable nature in his constituency, Shekhawat pursued master’s in philosophy and MPhil at JNVU. Gajju, as he is affectionately known, is a recognised face on social media, where he engages with people on the Q & A community — Quora. He regularly answers a range of questions, embedding in the answers the Modi government’s flagship initiatives and the Prime Minister’s image of a simple, hardworking man. Shekhawat is a basketball player and has played the sport at the national and inter-university level.
A Dalit leader from Tikamgarh, in Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region, the six-term Lok Sabha MP was part of the JP movement and was jailed during the Emergency. He is set to be made a Union minister from the state a month after a tribal BJP leader, Samptiya Uikey, became Rajya Sabha member. An MA in Economics and a PhD in Child Labour, Kumar claims to have engaged the youth in fighting caste and class barriers, and working for building orphanages, schools for physically challenged and old-age homes.
He was a member of ABVP for nearly five years before joining Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the Sangh’s youth wing, in 1982. He was the convener of Bajrang Dal in Sagar district in 1987 and was associated with management and functioning of a gaushala and Gau Seva Sangh Sanstha in Sagar.
Ashwini Kumar Choubey
A five-term MLA from Bihar before fighting the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, Choubey wrested the Buxar seat from the RJD despite resistance by party veteran Lalmuni Choubey. He had held key portfolios in the NDA government in Bihar, including Health, Urban Development and Public Health Engineering. Choubey had made controversial remarks against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, calling her the mythical demon “Putana”, and Rahul Gandhi as “foreign parrot”. A case was filed against him in Buxar by Congress workers in 2015.
Choubey began his political career as president of the students’ union of Patna University. He has been associated with Jan Sangh and BJP for almost five decades, and is the most prominent Brahmin face of the party in Bihar, where his arch-rival Sushil Kumar Modi is the deputy CM in Bihar. With a special interest in yoga, Choubey is credited with having raised the slogan “Ghar ghar mein ho shouchalaya ka nirman, tabhi hoga ladli bitiya ka kanyadaan”, and has helped construct 11,000 toilets for Mahadalit families.