Nine ministers joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Council of Ministers on Sunday in the third restructuring exercise since he took oath of office in 2014. Four junior ministers were promoted to the Cabinet including Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (now Minister of Minority Affairs), Nirmala Sitharaman (MoS Defence), Piyush Goyal (MoS Railways and holds additional charge of the Coal Ministry) and Dharmendra Pradhan (Petroleum and Natural Gas with additional charge of Skill Development).
The nine ministers who were inducted as Ministers of State were Ashwini Kumar Choubey (MoS Health), Virendra Kumar (MoS Women & Child Development and Minority Affairs), Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (MoS Agriculture), Anant Kumar Hegde (MoS Skill Development), Satyapal Singh (MoS HRD and Water Resources), Shiv Pratap Shukla (MoS Finance), Alphons Pratap (MoS Independence Charge of Tourism and MoS Electronics and IT), Raj Kumar Singh (MoS Independent Charge Power and MoS Independent Charge Renewable Energy) and Hardeep Singh Puri (MoS Independent Charge Housing and Urban Affairs).
Anant Kumar Hegde, a five-time BJP Lok Sabha MP from Karnataka, was inducted months ahead of the state Assembly elections. Hedge was a member of the RSS and ABVP before contesting Lok Sabha elections in 1996. Since then, he has never lost. Virendra Kumar, six-time Lok Sabha MP, is a Dalit leader from Madhya Pradesh. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, from Jodhpur, has been inducted as part of BJP’s plans for poll-bound Rajasthan.
Increasing its representation from Uttar Pradesh, Satyapal Singh, a Lok Sabha MP from Baghpat, and Shiv Pratap Shukla, a Rajya Sabha MP, were also inducted in the Cabinet. Raj Kumar Singh, who was appointed Home Secretary during the UPA government, joined the BJP before the 2014 elections. BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Choubey is a five-term MLA from Bihar. The 64-year-old represents the Buxar Lok Sabha seat after contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Alphons Kannanthanam is a former member of the CPI(M) and MLA from Kerala who joined the BJP in 2011. His induction in the Cabinet is in line with the saffron party’s plans to make inroads in the southern state. Hardeep Singh Puri, a former IFS officer who joined politics after retirement, joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 General Elections. He was a student leader and active during the JP movement. He was also a close aide of L K Advani during the Vajpayee government.
Puri and Alphons need to be elected to Parliament in the next six months. The BJP may choose to send the ex-IAS officers to the Rajya Sabha, where there are two vacancies after the departure of Venkaiah Naidu and Manohar Parrikar.
Ahead of the reshuffle, six ministers had “volunteered to resign”. Kalraj Mishra, 76, who crossed the unofficial age limit of 75 for ministers in Modi’s Cabinet, submitted his resignation on Friday. He was the Minister of State for Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME). Along with him, Bandaru Dattatreya (Labour), Rajiv Pratap Rudy (MoS Independent Charge of Skills Development) Faggan Singh Kulaste (MoS Health), Sanjiv Balyan (MoS Water Resources) and Mahendra Nath Pandey (MoS HRD), who was recently named BJP chief of UP, also resigned.
Ahead of the swearing-in, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had dispelled rumours that PM Modi may give berths to members of the JD(U) — the party joined the NDA fold last month. Speaking to reporters in Patna, Kumar claimed there was “no such talk of the JD(U) joining the Union Cabinet”.
Meanwhile, an unhappy Shiv Sena skipped the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday. Uddhav Thackeray had previously said that he not received any communication regarding the Cabinet expansion. “I have got news about the Cabinet expansion only from the media. I have not enquired about it (from the central BJP leadership). I have neither received any communication from anybody nor are we hungry for power,” he had told reporters in Mumbai.