In a move most directly aimed at wooing SC and backward community voters, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, 19 new ministers were sworn in the expansion of the Union Council of Ministers, which now is 78 ministers strong. This was also followed by certain major changes, the most intriguing of which was the removal of Smriti Irani from the HRD Ministry to Textiles, with Prakash Javdekar, hitherto the Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, taking her place, and the transfer of Jayant Sinha from Finance to Civil Aviation.
Exiting the council were ministers Nihal Chand, Ram Shankar Katheria, Sanwar Lal Jat, Mansukhbhai D Vaswa and M K Kundariya.
The new cabinet now has a calculated melange of representatives from Brahmin, OBC, SC, ST and Muslim communities, in an attempt to fortify the ruling party’s reputation for the upcoming elections in UP and Uttarakhand. Further strengthening their position is inclusion of MPs from eight new states.
Smriti Irani received a direct blow as a result of these changes. Her stint as the Minister of Human Resource Development has been fraught with controversy. Beginning with questions on her own educational qualifications, her proposals for a rather disproportionate number of national-level institutions like the IITs with an apparent disregard for quality standards, her handling of the JNU row and her stance on the Rohith Vemula case drew her, and the government, considerable criticism.
Her post, after her removal to a rather less agitable Textiles Ministry, has been taken up by Prakash Javdekar. While Javdekar, a seasoned and vocal spokesperson for the BJP is expected to brew up less trouble for the government, the question about his suitability for a role that directly impacts a sizeable chunk of the country, prevails.
Irani’s loss however, has been Anupriya Patel’s gain. The 35-year old Apna Dal MP from Uttar Pradesh is BJP’s latest protegee. Her late father, Sonelal Patel was instrumental in rallying OBC support, primarily with his own caste, the Kurmis, which is a dominant kingmaking faction in UP and Bihar. The Lady Shri Ram-educated, MBA-holding dynamic leader could prove to be BJP’s trump card in UP if Congress uses Priyanka Gandhi as its face in the Assembly elections in 2017. Patel has thus ousted Smriti Irani who was expected to play an important role in these elections.
A rather inscrutable step has been the charging of Jayant Sinha with Civil Aviation when he was introducing significant changes as Minister of State for Finance. The MBA from Harvard has a reputation that far exceeds his illustrious parentage. The son of former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, this MP from Hazaribagh has previously worked as an investment fund manager and a management consultant in the likes of McKinsey and Co. While his credentials make him the perfect fit for the Finance portfolio- especially in the wake of Brexit and an environment of uncertainty in global economy- the move to Aviation is indeed a puzzling one.
Another potentially contentious move is the charge of the Ministry of Law handed over to Ravi Shankar Prasad, who has, with some measure of success in the Digital India campaign, held the chair in the Ministry of Information Technology and Communication. It is noteworthy that Ravi Shankar Prasad has been associated with a number of highly publicised cases during his stint as a lawyer, the most famous of those being the Ayodhya Temple Title Case, where Prasad advocated for the Hindu Maha Sabha, representing Ram Lalla, the deity.
MJ Akbar, journalist-turned-politician, who was a Congress MP before crossing over to BJP in 2014, was sworn in as Minister of State for External Affairs. The only Muslim minister in the new cabinet, Akbar, a prominent journalist, author and intellectual, could serve to reinforce BJP’s credibility with the Muslim community, something that the staunchly right-wing party, under allegations of intolerance for minorities, is in dire need of.
Inclusion of new MPs from Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttarakhand, while carefully maintaining the caste balance, appears to have been a key motivation in this reshuffle. While the Modi government professes to have followed the E3 rule for choosing candidates- energy, expertise, experience- it remains to be seen whether this overhaul actually translates into the ‘Maximum Governance’ mantra of the ruling party.
What are your thoughts about this reshuffling? Share with us in the Comments below!
Title image: indialive