When Dr Harsh Vardhan shared the stage with PM Narendra Modi at the valedictory session of the 6th World Ayurveda Congress at Pragati Maidan, he outlined his grand plans for an Ayurveda Mission. Seven hours later, he was stripped of the Health Ministry — that he is passionate about — and shunted to the low key Ministry of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences. H e was replaced by J P Nadda.
Nadda’s name, incidentally, is inextricably linked to Harsh Vardhan’s first controversy in the Health Ministry — removing AIIMS CVO Sanjeev Chaturvedi. Nadda had written a letter, seeking Chaturvedi’s removal though Harsh Vardhan had downplayed it.
The unexpected removal of one of the most visible ministers had the rumours mills working overtime, more so because the corridors of the Health Ministry had for a brief while been agog with speculation about how Harsh Vardhan’s almost activist-like zeal against tobacco was not going down well with the upper echelons of the government.
It was always a tough task to survive in the ministry by taking on the tobacco lobby. Similar rumours had surfaced when health secretary Keshav Desiraju was removed by the then UPA government in February this year.
In Harsh Vardhan’s case, the matter is complicated by the fact that vast swathes of land in Gujarat districts of Anand and Kheda are under tobacco cultivation. Although his quote-a-week crusade against tobacco had ebbed a bit over the past few weeks, it may not be sufficient to kill the speculation about tobacco link to his removal.
The other possibility is the Delhi polls. Last time, the BJP banked on Harsh Vardhan’s clean image and emerged as the single largest party. There is possibility of a repeat, with BJP eyeing majority. The switch to a low-profile ministry may give Harsh Vardhan more time to spare for the state and keep him ready for bigger responsibilities — if they come.