Cabinet reshuffle: Modi chooses performance over politics

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 03, 2017

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Naqvi retains minority affairs portfolio, Pradhan oil and gas

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third reshuffle of his Council of Ministers appeared an attempt to showcase ‘performance’ and ‘delivery’ over considerations of caste and politics as the country battles an economic downturn and agrarian crisis.

Nine new Ministers of State made it to the Union Cabinet on Sunday, while four existing ministers — Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Gopal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi — were promoted to Cabinet rank as part of the PM’s “Operation 2019” team for New India.

Woman power?

The induction of four top bureaucrats as junior ministers and a serious bid to break the proverbial glass ceiling by naming Nirmala Sitharaman as Defence Minister — she is also the second woman member of the prestigious Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) besides External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj — were the highlights of the latest restructuring.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who had been holding additional charge of Defence after Manohar Parrikar quit to become Goa Chief Minister, was quick to describe Sitharaman as a “worthy successor”. The continuation of Smriti Irani as Minister in-charge of Information and Broadcasting while she continues to handle the Textiles portfolio was seen as part of the bid to showcase woman power in the Modi ministry.

The big winner was Piyush Goyal, who was named the new Railway Minister with additional charge of Ministry of Coal.

Suresh Prabhu, who had offered to resign as Railway Minister after a series of train accidents recently, was moved to the Commerce Ministry.

Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan was also given additional charge of the Skill Development Ministry, which is a pet project of the Prime Minister.

Bureaucrats break in

Two former bureaucrats have been named Ministers of State and neither is a member of Parliament. India’s former Ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Puri, is now Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, while former Delhi Development Authority Chairman “demolition man” KJ Alphons has been appointed MoS (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Tourism and MoS in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

Two other bureaucrats — former Mumbai Police Commissioner Satya Pal Singh and former Home Secretary RK Singh — are both MPs.

The rejig was clearly meant to underline the PM’s stress on performance, showcased in advance by the BJP through social media messages.

The stress on performance was bolstered by the induction of bureaucrats with domain expertise, the entry of younger ministers, as well as the resignation of non-performers such as Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Faggan Singh Kulaste.

The others dropped included Kalraj Mishra (Cabinet minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises), Bandaru Dattatreya (MoS Labour and Employment), Sanjiv Balyan (Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation) and Mahendra Nath Pandey ( junior minister for Human Resource Development).

‘Trumped up excitement’

The Opposition, however, questioned the ruling dispensation’s claims, on performance being the criteria, pointing to the continuation of Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, vastly criticised for his inefficient handling of the agrarian distress. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram called the Cabinet rejig an exercise in “trumped up excitement”.

“Amidst all the trumped up excitement, will someone please note that 13 more children died yesterday in Gorakhpur? Welcome Mr Prabhu to Industry (manufacturing in doldrums) and Commerce (exports stagnant). Best wishes. Agriculture in distress, Health in crisis but ministers remain,” Chidambaram tweeted.

At the same time, ignoring allies such as the Janata Dal (United), the AIADMK and the Shiv Sena, a move bitterly criticised by Sena MP Sanjay Raut, showed the confidence the PM and his deputy, BJP President Amit Shah, have in the ruling party’s ability to win the next general elections on its own.

Poll States ignored

The latest reshuffle, unlike the one last year which was largely a political exercise aimed at expanding the BJP’s social support base in UP, where elections were to be held, by and large ignored the poll-bound States of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. No new representative from either State was named to Cabinet. The only exception to this rule was Karnataka, where elections are to be held in early 2018. Uttara Kannada MP Anantkumar Hegde was among the nine new inductees to the Cabinet.

Curious case of Bharti

Uma Bharti has been divested of her portfolio of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, which is now with Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. Bharti has got Drinking Water and Sanitation, apparently at the behest of the RSS. She reportedly lobbied with the Sangh to retain her job after being told to resign. Will she now pick up the performance baton?

Click here to read profiles of new ministers in PDF

Published on September 03, 2017
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