New Delhi : Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday affected a major reshuffle and expansion of his council, promoting seven existing ministers of state to the rank of the Cabinet, adding 36 new faces and dropping 12 senior ministers.
Those inducted Wednesday included Maharashtra strongman Narayan Tutu Rane, the first among the 43 new ministers to be administered the oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony in the iconic Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Rane was followed by former Assam CM Sarbanada Sonowal, seven-time Tikamgarh (MP) MP Virendra Singh, and Rajya Sabha MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, who jumped ship from the Congress, last year, taking down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. The names of Rane, Sonowal and Scindia had been doing the rounds for long as the topmost ‘probables’ in the reshuffle. Ministers of state, including Kiran Rijiju, a prominent face from the Northeast, bureaucrats RK Singh and Hardeep Puri, Gujarat MPs Mansukh Mandaviya and Purushottam Rupala, Secunderabad representative G Kishan Reddy who is considered close to Home Minister Amit Shah, and Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur were rewarded for their performance and promoted to the Cabinet rank.
Apart from Rane, Scindia and Sonowal, the other new faces in the Cabinet included former bureaucrat and Rajya Sabha MP Ashwani Vaishnav and his colleague in the upper house, Bhupendra Yadav. Also seen as Home Minister Shah’s right-hand man, Yadav is a lawyer by profession and at the top in the BJP’s scheme of things.
The 15 new Cabinet ministers included two allies, Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, the national president of the JD-U, and Pashupati Kumar Paras, a leader of the breakaway group of LJP. Apna Dal MP Anupriya Patel, a prominent Kurmi face from UP, was included as a minister of state. Those inducted also include New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi and MP from Uttarakhand Ajay Bhatt, both ministers of state.
Meanwhile, those who resigned to make way for them are Cabinet ministers Thawar Chand Gehlot (now the Karnataka Governor), Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Harsh Vardhan, DV Sadananda Gowda and ministers of state Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Babul Supriyo, Dhotre Sanjay Shamrao, Rattan Lal Kataria, Pratap Chandra Sarangi and Debasree Chaudhuri. With an eye on upcoming assembly elections and 2024 general elections, the new ministers include seven from poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, four from Karnataka and four from West Bengal.
Meanwhile, with Gujarat Assembly elections less than a year away, the renewed Cabinet now has seven ministers from the state. They include Home Minister Amit Shah and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who represents Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha. The mid-term course correction saw several surprise entries spanning the caste, region, and gender. It is a young council with 14 ministers below the age of 50.
The average age of the council with six doctors, 13 lawyers, seven former bureaucrats, and five engineers is said to be 58 years. With as many as 27 OBC, 12 SCs, eight ST ministers, the Prime Minister Wednesday also tried to give a new dimension to the BJP known for its upper-caste credentials, while balancing experience with freshness and talent.
Those in the know of developments say, “Talent and administrative experience have been rewarded.” A Modi-Shah stamp visible, a whole lot of planning and arithmetic has gone into the exercise, taking into consideration a host of issues ranging from upcoming challenges amid the Covid pandemic, perceptions, and state elections, including Uttar Pradesh. Sources say the PM Wednesday asked the new ministers to work with better coordination with the BJP and “let their work speak for them”.