The latest Cabinet reshuffle of Narendra Modi government bears out a resolve to award performance and strengthen professionalism in governance apart from having the underpinning of a subtle political messaging ahead of next Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
So if we have four ministers with vast experience in bureaucracy, we have also have people , who were associated with Bhartiya Jana Sangh and BJP for last four-five decades. Those who remained committed to the party and the ideology have been awarded besides the key “perform of perish” message of the Prime Minister. In the run up to the reshuffle six ministers were made to resign.
Sources in the government say that the reshuffle shows that the Prime Minister has identified his fellow team members on the merit of their past performance and future potential and their professional as well as political acumen have been taken into account.
With just around two years of the current tenure of the government left, the focus will be on the last mile delivery and also to take to people convincingly the achievements of the government and hence the choice has fallen on either people with chosen administrative skills and political commitment and long term organizational association.
A look at the political profile of many of these show that many of these old guards had gone to jail during Emergency and participated in JP movement. So their background is in sync with BJP’s pitch for a Congress Mukt Bharat.
Earlier it was believed that it could be the last reshuffle of the Union Cabinet beofre 2019 Lok Sabha polls but with no induction from JDU, which came back to NDA four years after parting the 17-year long ties with it in 2013, there is now a possibility some ministers from JDU could be inducted later. Some inductions from AIADMK, which is currently besieged by faction fight, are also expected in another reshuffle.
This is not a massive rejig of the Union Cabinet as anticipated earlier. Since PM Modi’s cabinet can have a total of 81 ministers, there are still scope to include five more as with the latest reshuffle, there are now 76 ministers instead of 73 earlier. While nine new ministers have taken oath, six had already resigned.
The pattern is clear in the elevation of the four junior ministers –Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Dharmendra Pradhan, Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal.
Nirmala Sitharaman, who was elevated not only to Cabinet rank but got into the elite CCS club by becoming Defence Minister, considered one among the top four Raisina Hill assignments, could be BJP’s face in Tamil Nadu, where the party is seriously trying to make inroads.
The divide in AIADMK post Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s demise and the disarray in the Opposition has given the BJP an opportunity to expand its base there, where it has been able to make some buzz in last few years. She is the second woman leader to hold the charge of Defence Ministry after Indira Gandhi, who has hugely popular in the South India.
Sitharaman has been one of the most effective spokespersons of the government, who has countered the Opposition attack aggressively, citing facts and figures without rabble rousing. Not getting into needless controversies is a virtue that seems to have gone in her favour.
Ministry of Minority Affairs ever since its creation during the UPA has been headed by a Cabinet rank minister starting from A R Antulay, K Rahman Khan, Salman Khurshid in UPA to Najma Heptulla in Modi government. The promotion of Naqvi, who did well as MoS Parliamentary affairs and is the main Muslim face of the party, was long over-due. Even in the last Cabinet reshuffle, it was anticipated. With Heptullah was made a Governor after crossing the age bar for being in Council of Ministers, it has now finally happened for Naqvi.
The elevation of Pradhan has happened as BJP is keen to project him as its face for Assembly elections in Odisha in 2019. BJP is buoyant in Odisha after its big show in civic bodies elections, where it ate away the Congres vote share. Morever, the success of “Give it Up” campaign of Petroleum Ministry headed by Pradhan, which aimed at exhorting people to give up LPG subsidy and pass on the benefits to the poor, has also gone in his favour.
Piyush Goyal, rated as one of the best performing ministers, hails from Maharashtra. His elevation has more to do with performance than any state politics. He has been shifted to Railway Ministry at a time when the government was getting criticism for back to back train accidents and perceived lack of action by the ministry under Suresh Prabhu.
The replenished Union Council of Ministers bear an a mix of experience and youths and strives to represent various regions and social groupings.
So if Kalraj Mishra, a prominent Brahmin face from BJP in UP made an exit owing to age factor, a Brahmin face from the same Eastern UP region Shiv Pratap Shukla has been inducted as MoS. Besides, an MoS Mahendra Nath Pandey, who resigned was made UP BJP chief.
Shukla’s appointment also takes care of traditional Brhamin Thakur faultine in UP politics. Shukla has been a known detractor of Yogi Aditya Nath who is Chief Minister of UP and hails from the same Eastern UP region.
Ashwini Choubey in Bihar fits the bill at a time when BJP has alllied with Nitish Kumar, a backward caste leader and Brahmins were stated to be somewhat unhappy with the BJP. There was a buzz in Congress to project a Brahmin face in the state, though it is not a strong force in the state.
Choubey a six time MLA had wrested back the Buxar Lok Sabha seat for BJP in 2014 from the clutches of Lalu Prasad’s RJD and is known to be an aggresive leader. His rivalry with party leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who is now Deputy Chief Minister in Nitish government is well known.
Former Home Secretary RK Singh has been inducted as a minister days after Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a minister from the same Rajput community was made to resign. Singh had in past taken on UPA’s Home Ministers P Chidambaram and Sushilkumar Shinde. A forthright Singh fits the bill not only on the count of performance but also on caste considerations. He is known for his no nonsensical approach in dealing with things.
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.
Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh has been brought in place of Sanjiv Balyan from the jatlands of Western UP. 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.
Apart from R K Singh and Satypal Singh, former diplomat Hardeep Puri and former IAS officer Alphons Kannanthanam have also proven administrative skills. The two are not members of Parliament and the party will have to soon find ways to get them in through the Rajya Sabha route. Their induction is a clear indication of the government’s keenness add teeth to governance ahead of next Lok Sabha polls, where it will have lot to more to answer on performance.
Virendra Kumar, Anant Kumar Hegde and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who are from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, where Assembly polls are due this year. Hegde is a five term Lok Sabha MP and has a clean image.
Virendra Kumar, a dalit face of the party from Bundelkhand region in MP has been inducted in Council of Ministers and it will give a political message in the region, where the BSP has been trying to expand base.
Shekhwat is from Jodhpur in Rajasthan, the home turf of former Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot. There was a view that Rajasthan was under represented in the Union Cabinet.
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”. He is a well-recognised face on social media and it is believed he will help take the government’s performance message to people effectively.