The most significant reshuffle of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet took place on the 7th of July, 2021 where 43 ministers took oath at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, of which 15 were sworn in as Cabinet Ministers, 28 were inducted as Ministers of State and 12 from the Council of Ministers resigned.
The expansion led to an increase in the number of Cabinet Ministers from 21 to 30 and Ministers of State from 23 to 45.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always had a preference for a massive move- from the sudden demonetization in 2016 to the annulment of Article 370 in 2019. Similarly, the resizing of his Council of Ministers almost halfway through his second term was a profound message in itself. After the results of the West Bengal assembly elections, the lapses in handling the second wave of the Pandemic, and the upcoming assembly elections, the cabinet ministers have been reshuffled in a big, bold manner that is anything but conventional.
A visionary decision taken to address the situation in the country, the government has responded to constructive criticism and undertaken this big step.
WHAT WERE THE KEY HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CABINET EXPANSION?
Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, whose response to the epidemic was under scrutiny, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who initiated the National Education Policy in 2020, Law and Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who has been at the head of the legal battle with various social media giants, and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar were among those who resigned hours ahead of the reshuffle.
Smriti Irani continues to head the Women and Child Development Ministry in the refreshed Union Cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Textiles Ministry, which she also headed, has however gone to former Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.
Mansukh Mandaviya, BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, was sworn in as the new Health Minister of India.
Dharmendra Pradhan, Rajya Sabha MP who previously handled the Petroleum Ministry, will now lead the Education Ministry of the country.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha, Ashwini Vaishnaw, becomes the new Railway Minister and will also head the Ministry of Information Technology.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, who joined BJP in March 2020 leading to the collapse of the Kamala Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, was appointed Minister of Civil Aviation.
Hardeep Singh Puri, who previously served the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Civil Aviation as Minister of State, will now head the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
Anurag Thakur, BJP MP from Himachal Pradesh, was sworn in as a new Cabinet Minister and entrusted with the Information And Broadcasting and Sports Ministry.
There have been no changes in four major ministries- Finance Ministry led by Nirmala Sitaraman, Home Ministry headed by Amit Shah, Defence Ministry led by Rajnath Singh, and Ministry of External Affairs under S. Jaishankar.
WHAT COULD BE THE POSSIBLE FACTORS LEADING TO THE RESHUFFLE?
The government faced setbacks not only during the second wave of the pandemic where many citizens lost their lives due to oxygen shortages and incapability of the health infrastructure of the country but also from the results of various recent Assembly Elections. The suddenness of the Cabinet Reshuffle is being viewed as an attempt to re-seize the political initiative. Resignations from top cabinet ministers is an extremely rare occurrence as it usually indicates admission of mismanagement. Despite that, the resignation and replacement of numerous prominent ministers is surely a bold decision on the part of the government.
By holding only particular ministers accountable individually for the flaws, failures, and lack of application in their respective ministries, a clear distinction has been made between those individuals and the Central Government as a whole. The resignation of the Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, in particular, can be seen as an assertion that the fight against Covid-19 and tackling of the second wave has not been well so far. However, the reasons for the other six major resignations are less clear. At the same time, the reshuffle seems to have a clear objective- sending out a direct signal that incompetence will not be tolerated, and that ministers shall be held responsible for flaws in their ministries.
The reshuffle seems to have a clear political motive too. With the PM eyeing the forthcoming state elections in 2022 and 2023, the general elections in 2024, and even beyond, it has been tried to represent every state of India. Inclusion has also been given to ministers from different castes, especially OBCs, Dalits, and tribals.
At the same time, the average age of the ministers has been brought down, the number of women ministers has been increased, and the educational qualifications of ministers have significantly improved, clearly signalling the progressive vision the government has. In fact, some of the cabinet ministers boast qualifications including Doctorates and Degrees from the world's top-ranked universities, including Harvard University and Stanford University. The huge increase in the number of cabinet ministers also indicates a further division of responsibilities and authorities, quite unlike the policy of concentrating power amongst the top few ministers that the government has been following for a long time.
THE MINISTRY OF COOPERATION
One of the highlights of the entire Cabinet Reshuffle was the creation of a new “Ministry of Cooperation” headed by Home Minister Amit Shah, who has had ample experience in this sector, having managed it exceptionally well at the State level in Gujarat. Although the move did come as a surprise to many, indications of the same were evident for quite some time. The issue of better governance for cooperatives was brought up by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech, in which she had said:
“The Modi government is committed to the development of multi-state cooperatives and will provide all support to them. To further streamline the ease of doing business for cooperatives, I propose to set up a separate administrative structure for them.”
However, the creation of this ministry has attracted suspicions of it being a political tool, and the Centre has a grave task of proving its efficacy to confront such allegations.
THE WAY AHEAD
The Cabinet Reshuffle comes at a very crucial time. With the country just getting out of a deadly second wave of Covid-19 which clearly exposed huge lapses and mismanagement on the part of the government in various ways, the new Cabinet has a mammoth task at hand. Not only do they have to rectify lapses exposed by the second wave, but they also have the task of preventing, or perhaps preparing the country for the looming third wave. At the same time, there is public distraught on many issues, including rising fuel prices, mounting unemployment, and increasing cost of consumer goods. The huge increase in the number of ministers in the cabinet, coupled with the presence of qualified professionals and representation for various regions and backgrounds do seem to be calculated moves to offset the criticism and lead India to a new path of growth and development. What the new ministers come up with shall be both critical, as well as interesting to see. Effects of the same shall be much awaited in new policies, the next budget, and especially, the handling of the Covid crisis.
(Keshav Daruka is a 2nd year student pursuing BCom(H) at St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata and a Junior Associate of the Xavier’s Finance Community.)
(Isha Saraf is a 2nd year student pursuing BCom(H) at St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata and a Junior Associate of the Xavier’s Finance Community.)