Rajat Sharma

Political message behind mega cabinet reshuffle by Modi

AKB30 Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought about a mega cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday by inducting 36 new ministers, promoting seven ministers of state and removing 12 ministers, including Ravi Shankar Prasad, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Ramesh Pokhriyal, Sadananda Gowda and Prakash Javdekar.

By late Wednesday night, when the portfolios were officially announced, major changes were made in the ministries of Railway, Information & Broadcasting, Health, Law, IT and Communications, Textile, Rural Development and Civil Aviation. For the first time, a new Ministry of Cooperation was created to promote cooperative movement under the charge of Home Minister Amit Shah. Similarly, Chemical and Fertilizers portfolio has now been clubbed with Health.

This is a complete rejig in the structure of the Union Council of Ministers and has been effected for the first time on a massive scale since Modi formed his first government in 2014.

The first political message from this mega reshuffle is: social inclusiveness and regional imbalance. For the first time in independent India, a lady minister from the tiny state of Tripura was inducted. For the first time at the Centre, 27 ministers are from Other Backward Classes (OBC), out of whom five are cabinet ministers. Twenty SC/ST ministers have been inducted out of whom five are of cabinet rank. Out of 12 scheduled caste ministers, two are of cabinet rank, and out of eight tribal ministers, three are of cabinet rank.

Several castes that were never part of any Union cabinet in the past, have been given representation. While selecting ministers, Modi kept caste, merit, experience, regional balance and political equation in states in mind. To put in a nutshell, many castes, communities and states now find themselves represented in the union council of ministers. Moreover, the average age of ministers in Modi cabinet has now declined to 58 years. There are now 14 ministers below the age of 50 years. Similarly, there are now 11 female ministers out of whom two are of cabinet rank.

From point of view of merit and professional qualifications, there are now 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, seven ex-civil servants, seven holding PHDs, and three holding MBA degrees who are now ministers at the Centre. From point of view of political experience, there are three ex-chief ministers and 18 former state ministers who are now part of Modi’s cabinet. There are 33 ministers who have won Lok Sabha elections thrice.

Looking at the list of ministers who took oath on Wednesday, it appears to be a perfect combination of upper and backward castes, Dalits, tribals, regions and genders. To stress upon my point, I would like deal with some individual names, one by one. Dr Virendra Kumar is a Dalit (Khatik by caste) MP from Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh. He was minister of state in Modi cabinet from 2016 till 2019, but you will be surprised to know, he won the Lok Sabha elections seven times, but always chose to keep a low profile. On Wednesday, he was made Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Second, there is Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, a Dalit (Koeri by caste) MP from Jalaun, Uttar Pradesh. He won the Lok Sabha elections five times, but always maintained a low profile. On Wednesday, he was made MOS in the Ministry of MSME.

Third, Kaushal Kishore is an MP (Passi by caste) from Mohanlalganj, Uttar Pradesh. He won the LS elections twice and was a minister in UP in the past. A few months ago, he had written a letter to Modi pointing out mismanagement in hospitals at the district level. His detractors had questioned why he sent a complaint to the PM. By appointing him as MOS in Housing and Urban Affairs ministry, Modi has given the message that he values those who have the courage to point out if any wrongdoings are being committed.

Fourth is Ram Chandra Pratap Singh, RCP Singh in short, is a Kurmi by caste. He is the chief of Bihar unit of Janata Dal(United) and a close confidante of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. A retired 1984 batch IAS officer, he has both administrative and political acumen. On Wednesday, Modi made him the Union Steel Minister.

Fifth person, Pankaj Chaudhary, OBC Kurmi by caste, is a five-time winner from Maharajganj, Uttar Pradesh, but always maintains a low profile. On Wednesday, he was made the MOS in the Ministry of Finance.

Similarly, B L Verma belongs to Lodh caste (the caste to which Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti belong to), Anupriya Patel is an OBC Kurmi by caste, and S P Singh Baghel a Dalit Dhankar, a caste where people tend to herds of goats and sheep. B L Verma was made MOS in the Ministry of Development of North-east Region (DONER) and Cooperation ministry, Anupriya Patel was made MOS in Commerce and Industry, and S P Singh Baghel was made MOS in Law and Justice ministry.

Much research and background checks were done by Prime Minister Modi before selecting his new team. Now, about those who have been rewarded for their work. First, Jyotiraditya Scindia, a former core team member of Congress Rahul Gandhi, he left the party in March last year, toppled chief minister Kamal Nath’s government when his loyal MLAs joined BJP, and helped Shivraj Singh Chouhan to return to power. He was promised a cabinet portfolio at the Centre, but Covid pandemic intervened, and he had to wait for more than a year. On Wednesday, Scindia was made Civil Aviation Minister by Modi.

Narayan Rane, former Shiv Sainik and an ex-chief minister of Maharashtra, is a strongman from Konkan region. He left Congress and merged his local party with BJP, and since then had been waiting in the wings. An experienced and crafty politician, he has the knack of reading the straws in the wind, he was the Leader of Opposition for six years in his state. On Wednesday, he was made the Union Minister of MSME. Modi plans to use his political acumen to counter the political challenge posed by Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra.

Another former CM in Modi’s cabinet is Sarbanand Sonowal, who belongs to Kachari tribal community of Assam. When Himanta Biswa Sarma was made the Assam chief minister after the second landslide BJP victory, Sonowal decided to come to the Centre. He has now been made Union Minister for Ports, Shipping, Waterways and AYUSH.

With UP assembly elections due next year, seven ministers from that state have been inducted, while five ministers from Gujarat have been given place at the Centre. The Patidar community of Gujarat has been given representation by making Purushottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya as cabinet minister. Three others from Gujarat OBC, Darshana Jardosh (MoS railways and textiles), Devusinh Chauhan (MoS Communication), and Dr Mahendra Munjapara (MoS AYUSH and Women and Child Development) have been appointed.

Modi has also taken care of those who have been silently working for the party organisation for last seven years without seeking any portfolio. Among them is Bhupendra Yadav, an active party leader, who has been made cabinet minister. He will look after both Labour and Environment portfolios.

The Prime Minister has also given much weightage to merit by appointing an ex-IAS officer from Odisha, Ashwini Vaishnaw as the new Railway Minister. He will also look after Electronics and Information Technology, and Communications, with cabinet rank. Vaishnaw is an IIT engineer who had got his MBA from Pennsylvania University, and while working in IAS was district collector of Cuttack and Balasore.

The most surprising inclusion was of Shantanu Thakur, a 38-year-old Lok Sabha MP from West Bengal’s Bongaon. He belongs to the powerful Matua community which has a presence in 70 assembly constituencies. On Wednesday, he was made MoS of Ports, Shipping and Waterways.

Modi also rewarded seven ministers of state by promoting them to cabinet rank. They include: Kiren Rijiju, who has now been made Union Law and Justice Minister, R. K. Singh, who has been elevated as Union Power Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, who has been given cabinet rank to look after Petroleum and Natural Gas, Housing and Urban Affairs, Mansukh Mandaviya, Health, Family Welfare and Chemical and Fertilizers, Purushottam Rupala, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry, G. Kishen Reddy Culture, Tourism and DONER, and Anurag Thakur, who will be Union Minister for I&B, Sports and Youth Affairs.

Anurag Thakur, Kiren Rijiju, Mansukh Mandaviya and G. Kishen Reddy are ministers who are young but have gained administrative acumen while working as ministers of state. When Modi and his top confidantes were preparing the list of new ministers, they gave much weightage to those ministers, who have performed well in the last several years.

By elevating them to cabinet rank, Modi, on one hand, has given the young generation a bigger chance to prove itself, and on the other hand, he has decided to groom a strong second level of leadership that has administrative acumen. Most of the experienced politicians in his cabinet are now old, and Modi, along with others in the party command, have realized this requirement.

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