Modi seeks expanding BJP’s social pyramid as well as Govt’s performance and governance
Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried out one of the biggest reshuffles of the Union Council of Ministers in recent times– by sacking 12 ministers from important ministries such as Health, Education, Law, and Information and Broadcasting (I&B).
He also made history by inducting 43 new ministers. At least 36 of them were new to the council of ministers. Seven were ministers of state (including some ministers of state with independent charge) who were promoted. Also, of the 43 ministers, seven were women and all were new to the government.
With an eye on future political challenges, Modi ensured that the BJP’s social pyramid was expanded too to send a strong message to the opposition. When it comes to playing the “social justice card”, nobody should outsmart the BJP.
There were 27 ministers from 19 other backward class (OBC) communities spread across 15 states. In all, there were also eight ministers from the scheduled tribes (ST) from across seven communities and eight states and 12 ministers from scheduled castes (SC) from across 12 communities and eight states. Modi’s emphasis on OBCs and SCs/STs was clear as a total of 47 members of the 77-strong council of ministers belonged to this group.
Modi’s aides explained that the BJP could not delay their due any longer because of the political dynamics in many states including Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Of course, the opposition did appear taken aback by the sheer scale of the message of social justice from Modi.
So we saw some opposition leaders chiding Modi, saying that these changes only proved the government had made many mistakes since 2019, which, they opined, had forced the hands of the PM to make the changes.
They demanded that the PM accept the blame on himself rather than on ministers, some of whom were axed.
True, the second wave of Covid-19 had put the Centre in the dock. For once, the Modi government did appear to be in deep waters when shortage of beds, oxygen supplies and a number of deaths across cities left everyone deeply shocked and distressed.
But we would be wrong in believing that the PM effected the changes only because Covid-19 had dented his image and that of his government.
Rather, it is no secret that Modi has been exasperated with the performance of his ministers for a long time. He has always told them that he wanted them to shift their approach towards an outcome-oriented goal rather than just getting trapped in the process. That’s why a lengthy consultation exercise preceded this reshuffle.
Modi knew what he wanted: a younger team of ministers who would serve the government and the BJP in the future, energise the system as a whole and help in balance being struck in terms of representation to various communities who today form the BJP’s voter base.
So you have BJP leaders belonging to the Scheduled Castes — Ramdassia, Khatik, Pasi, Kori, Madiga, Mahar, Arundathiyar, Meghwal, Rajbonshi, Matua-Namashudra, Dhangar, Dusadh as new ministers now. Similarly, among the tribals, there are nominees from Gond, Santal, Miji, Munda, Tea tribe, Kokana, and Sonowal — Kachari. As the OBC faces, the list includes Yadav, Kurmi, Jat, Gurjar, Khandayat, Bhandari, Bairagi, Tea Tribe, Thakor, Koli, Vokkaliga Tulu Gowda, Ezhava, Lodh, Agri, Vanjari, Meitei, Nat, Mallah — Nishad, Modh Teli, and Darzi community. But, at the same time, performance was also one of his benchmarks for induction of new faces and exclusion of others.
Modi also went ahead creating new ministries, bringing in relatively junior hands or green horns to handle sensitive and demanding ministries. Modi clubbed together some ministries to increase synergy and optimum use of resources. New Cabinet minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, who replaced Harsh Vardhan as the Health Minister, was also given charge of the portfolio of Chemical and Fertiliser. That means he will not only oversee the building up of health infrastructure but also give push to policies that will help the pharma industry to boost production and supply of important drugs.
Ashwini Vaishnaw, an ex-IAS official and a former aide to late PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee, was made the Railway Minister with additional charge of Information and Technology and Communications. Vaishnaw had earned praises as a young collector of Cuttack and Balasore for the manner in which he handled post-disaster management after the Super Cyclone struck Odisha in 1999. In his new role, he must ensure that the government gets more resources for the two sectors that are seen having a huge potential for growth.
Though it was a surprising move, Modi asked Home Minister Amit Shah to handle the new Ministry of Cooperation. Some will remember that Shah had cut his political teeth in the Ahmedabad Cooperative Bank in his younger years. Modi wants Shah to re-engineer a fresh cooperative movement at the national level.
As for Jyotiraditya Scindia’s induction as a Cabinet minister, it was long overdue since he came over from the Congress. He had ensured the fall of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, paving the way for the BJP to come back to power. He got the Civil Aviation portfolio, which was once held by his late father Madhavrao Scindia in the 1990s. Civil aviation sector today appears to be in a deep crisis–but in the future, sky will be its only limit when the economy grows again.
Dharmendra Pradhan, who has hitherto been handling commercial ministries, was given the charge of the Education Ministry as well as Skill Development, which prompted many eyebrows to go up.
With a new education policy to be rolled out, did Modi think that Pradhan is the best person to get things done? We do not know.
Pradhan’s Petroleum portfolio was handed over to Hardeep Singh Puri, who would continue to hold on to his old portfolio of Urban Development.
As a new entrant, former Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal was asked to handle Ports and Shipping. He had to shift to Delhi as he had given up his claim for the CM’s post in favour of Himanta Biswas Sarma after the state polls recently.
The inclusion of a strong Maratha face and ex- Maharashtra CM, Narayan Rane, as Cabinet Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises signalled very clearly that Modi does not seek a patch up with the Shiv Sena at this stage. In 2005, Rane had quit the Sena in protest against Bal Thackeray’s push for his son and current CM Uddhav Thackeray at the cost of senior leaders. He joined the BJP in 2019 after a stint in the Congress.
Among other changes, Purushottam Rupala will handle the new ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, which is priority for Modi’s “Blue Revolution.” Long term MP Virender Singh has been made Social Justice and Empowerment Minister. He hails from Uttar Pradesh.
Kiren Rijiju, the first Cabinet Minister from Arunachal Pradesh, has a tall order. Surprisingly, Modi has entrusted him with Law and Justice after the resignation of Ravi Shankar Prasad. The government faces several legal challenges as key policy pronouncements are under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. Rijju has a big challenge but also an opportunity to prove his skills.
Janata Dal (United)’s R.C.P. Singh will be the new Steel Minister, and Lok Janshakti Party’s Pashupati Paras will occupy his brother, late Ram Vilas Paswan’s old portfolio of Food and Consumer Affairs. The re-entry of JD(U) into the government marks a course correction for the image of the NDA, which has been bereft of allies after the departure of the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal.
A close aide of Amit Shah and BJP’s trouble shooter, Bhupendra Yadav, will be the new Environment and Labour Minister. A lawyer by training, Yadav replaces Javadekar in the environment ministry and Gangwar in the labour ministry. Both are crucial ministries, considering Modi’s goals in tackling climate change and ushering in more labour reforms.
The Ministry of External Affairs will have three Ministers of State — V. Muraleedharan and new inductees Meenakshi Lekhi of Delhi and Rajkumar Ranjan Singh of Manipur.
Among the ministers who were looking for changes, there were disappointments too. Piyush Goyal continues to hold the charge of Commerce and Industry and Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. But he gets the additional charge of Textiles, which was hitherto with Smriti Irani, who is left with the charge of her old portfolio of Women and Children Development.
Soon after the expansion, Modi’s aides emphasised that the PM had gone for a better educational background for picking his team in the midcourse of his second term. They pointed to the fact that there are 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, seven former civil servants, three MBAs, and seven with Ph.Ds among the 77 ministers. Since 1990, this has been the third largest council of ministers.
Secondly, the average age of the current council of ministers is 58 years. It has two ministers below the age of 40, 10 members who are aged between 41 and 50 years, 26 ministers between the ages of 51 and 60 years and 36 ministers between the ages of 61-70 years. The PM himself is 70. Only three ministers in the current council are over the age of 70. The oldest minister in the current council is the minister of state Som Prakash, who is 72 years old. Nisith Pramanik, the BJP MP from Cooch Behar, who is 35, is the youngest member.
In terms of states’ representation, poll-bound Uttar Pradesh has the highest representation with 14 members. It is followed by Maharashtra (9), Gujarat (7), Bihar (6), Karnataka (6), Madhya Pradesh (6), Rajasthan (4), West Bengal (4) and Jharkhand (3). Two members each are from Haryana and Odisha.
But what is important to note is that the PM is no more willing to suffer inefficient and under performers– when it comes formulating and executing policies concerning key areas like Covid management, IT technology or the reforms in the Railways.
By Shekhar Iyer