The mega reboot of Prime Narendra Modi’s cabinet seems to now follow a new maxim of ‘Maximum Government, Maximum Governance and Maximum Representation’ with all hands brought on deck to handle the twin challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, rewarding the performers and sending a message down the ranks to not land in controversies.
The jumbo council of ministers, including the Prime Minister, now stands at 78, just shy of the maximum strength that the council can have, with the political realities of accommodating aspirations of party heavy-weights and strengthening alliances in key states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh dawning on the government.
As many as 36 new and 7 old ministers took oath while a dozen ministers have resigned.
A senior government source described the entire exercise as “performance-based” with a message that ministers should focus on governance and not land in any controversies.
The biggest surprise was the government dropping three heavy-weight ministers, who handled as many as nine ministries between themselves. Ravi Shankar Prasad handled the Law Ministry, IT and Communications Ministry; Prakash Javadekar handled the Environment, Information & Broadcasting and Heavy Industries Ministries, while Harsh Vardhan handled the Health, Earth Sciences and the Science and Technology Ministries. All of them have been dropped.
So was Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ and Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister, D.V. Sadanand Gowda, the latter being completely overshadowed in performance by his deputy in the ministry, Mansukh Mandavia.
“Performance of ministers has been closely assessed. It is also important to stay out of controversies. Focus is on having a younger council of ministers and younger people getting a chance to handle senior cabinet ministries to bring into effect a generational change in the government,” said a senior government source on these developments, citing specifically the case of Kiren Rijiju being made the Law Minister and Anurag Thakur getting the charge of Information & Broadcasting, which were handled by Prasad and Javadekar, respectively.
It is also being cited that with party heavy-weights like Bhupender Yadav moving to the Cabinet, senior party leaders like Prasad and Javadekar would be needed in the party.
Javadekar turned 70 this year and no minister in the new Council of Ministers is aged 70 years or above, except the Prime Minister.
The record of Harsh Vardhan as Health Minister had also been under scanner over handling of the coronavirus wave and was replaced with Mansukh Mandaviya, who showed his mettle by ensuring medicine supply during the pandemic as the MoS Chemicals.
Other young performers elevated to full cabinet rank are R.K. Singh, G. Krishan Reddy and Hardeep Singh Puri.
Thakur had played a key role in sealing the Haryana alliance with Dushyant Chautala, while Reddy played a key role in local elections in Telangana where the BJP performed well.
Bhupender Yadav has also got the meaty portfolios of Environment, Labour and Employment after he played a key role as the party in-charge in Bihar, with the BJP-JDU alliance winning the state election.
Sarbananda Sonowal also got the prominent Ports and Shipping portfolio after gracefully making way for Himanta Biswa Sarma for the CM post in Assam.
Jyotiraditya Scindia was rewarded with Civil Aviation for helping form a BJP government in Madhya Pradesh.
“The important facet about all of these young leaders is also that they are measured and do not get into any needless controversies,” another source said.
The exercise also strengthens the BJP-JDU alliance in Bihar as Nitish Kumar’s JDU has finally joined the Cabinet with Kumar’s right-hand man, RCP Singh getting a Cabinet position in the Ministry of Steel.
Tejashwi Yadav last week raised questions over the continuance of the BJP-JDU government in Bihar, and this development settles that debate.
Bringing in Pashupati Nath Paras as Minister for Food Processing repairs the LJP’s equation with the NDA as well, while Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel’s return as a Minister of State in Commerce settles the BJP’s alliance pangs in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
Representation of SC, ST, Women
Induction of seven Ministers from UP — which is due for assembly polls next year — from various castes, including Dalit face Kaushal Kishore, addresses caste dynamics.
Government sources said the idea was also ‘Maximum Representation’ in the Council of Ministers and getting more young faces in as a generational change.
There are a record number of 12 SC, 8 ST and 27 OBC ministers now in the council of ministers along with five ministers from the minority.
As many as 11 women ministers have been appointed, while the average of the new council of ministers is down to 58 now as against 61 earlier.
Fourteen ministers are below 50 years of age, while seasoned administrators and legislators will continue to anchor and guide them, government sources said. There are also ministers from as many as 25 states and union territories.