New Delhi: In a major Cabinet reshuffle of the Modi government just a year ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Smriti Irani has been removed from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry as Rajyavardhan Rathore will now take independent charge of the portfolio. Also, the Finance Ministry, which was being handled by Arun Jaitley since 2014, will now be headed by Piyush Goyal for the time being.
Goyal will be handling the finance portfolio in addition to the Railway Ministry.
Jaitley has been unwell for the past several months and on Monday he underwent a successful kidney transplant at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Goyal will be in-charge of the Finance Ministry till the time Jaitley gets better. The senior BJP leader, suffering from a kidney ailment, has been undergoing dialysis for the last one month.
In the third change to the Modi Cabinet on Monday, KJ Alphons, who was a Minister of State in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology was given charge of the Tourism Ministry. SS Ahluwalia will now look after the Electronics Ministry after being relieved of the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation.
President Ram Nath Kovind has approved the four new appointments.
Smriti Irani is now left with the Textile Ministry only. She was earlier removed as the HRD Minister and was replaced by Prakash Javadekar making this the second time that she has been shunted out of a ministry after being embroiled in controversy. Irani was removed from the high-profile HRD ministry soon after the JNU and Hyderabad University controversies and was moved to the Textile Ministry in 2015.
She made a comeback to the big stage by taking charge of the I&B ministry after Venkaiah Naidu’s appointment as Vice-President in 2016.
But her tenure as the I&B minister has been anything but smooth. She has been involved in a number of rows. The most recent was the National Film Awards saga, where 68 winners had skipped the ceremony after it was announced at the last moment that President Ram Nath Kovind would felicitate only 11 winners out of the total 137.
They were miffed that the rest of the awards were presented by Irani, a big departure from tradition.
Irani had also ruffled feathers with her plans of cracking down on fake news. Faced with massive criticism and outcry over Irani's directive on fake news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the I&B Ministry to cancel its contentious guidelines that was seen as "muzzling" the free press.
In early April, the I&B ministry announced punitive measures like cancellation of accreditation to contain fake news, a decision which was dubbed by journalist and opposition parties as an attempt to curb press freedom ahead of the general elections due by 2019.
Irani was also embroiled in a row with the Prasar Bharti board after her ministry decided to withhold salaries of the staff, with questions being raised about the government trying to disrupt the public broadcaster’s autonomy.
The last such major reshuffle in the Union Cabinet happened in September when Nirmala Sitharaman was handed the Defence Ministry which Jaitley was handling along with the Finance Ministry. Piyush Goyal was handed over the Railways after Suresh Prabhu stepped down from the post.