The 19 new members inducted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers took oath in the majestic Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi yesterday. The expansion reflects a strategic move by Modi, in view of the elections in Uttar Pradesh early next year and more futuristically the Lok Sabha election in 2019.
“Apna naam boliye (speak out your name),” interrupted the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee as Ramdas Athawale forgot to say his name while reading out his oath yesterday in the majestic Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. Athawale 56, leader of BJP’s Maharashtra ally Republic Party of India (RPI), was one of the 19 ministers that were inducted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers yesterday. With this the strength of council of ministers, including himself, now stands at 78 rising from 66 before. The number is just four short of the permitted strength and quite opposite to Modi’s promise of “minimum government and maximum governance”. However, as informed the Prime Minister, the expansion will reflect the “budget focus and priorities”.
The additions and subtractions
Ahead of the oath taking ceremony, five ministers were also dropped from the cabinet and Prakash Javadekar, minister of state for environment, was elevated to a cabinet rank. All five were the ministers of state – Sanwar Lal Jat (Water Resources), Nihalchand (Panchayati Raj), Ram Shankar Katheria (HRD), Mansukh Bhai Vasava (Tribal Affairs) and Mohanbhai Kundaria (Agriculture).
The inducted ministers, as revealed by the sources, were assessed on the basis of the value they would bring to the council of ministers. And while the list suggests a balance in caste and religion, the BJP also prepares itself for the assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh early next year. The newly appointed ministers come from different states – three each from UP and Gujarat, one from Uttarakhand and the rest from Rajasthan, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka and Assam. Notably, in the three states of UP, Gujarat and Uttarakhand elections are due in 2017. In what could be a possible move for the Lok Sabha election 2019, PM Modi has also inducted a fair number of ministers from backward class: five from Dalit community, three from Scheduled Tribes (STs) and two from OBC (other backward castes) communities.
The entry of Dalit leaders would also benefit the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) election due next year. This would dent the votebank of BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), a national political party predominant in UP, that is majorly drawn from the Dalit communities in the state. Modi claimed that the new ministers were selected on the basis of their professional expertise and “youth factor”. BJP chief, Amit Shah, who was also the mastermind behind the allocations also took into consideration the party’s core support base of the ‘forward caste’ that include Vijay Goel, Mahendra Nath Pandey, Anil Madhav Dave, Rajen Guhain and Parshottam Rupala. Pandey from UP would be BJP’s Brahmin face in the state during election to negate Congress’s attempt to reach out to the community.
The newly appointed ministers would be ‘deployed’ to the priority areas of the government as informed by Modi and would participate in the government’s vision of good governance and development and one of its claimed agendas – gaon, garib aur kisan (village, the poor and farmer).
Amongst the new entrants are also members from different professions and expertise. P P Chaudhary (BJP), for instance, is a senior Supreme Court advocate with over four decades of experience in constitutional litigation, Subhash Ram Rao Bhamre (BJP) is a doctor with a super specialisation in cancer surgery and MJ Akbar (BJP) is a journalist turned politician. It also has members like S S Ahluwalia is a BJP MP from Darjeeling, West Bengal who was a part of the opposition party earlier and served as a minister in late P V Narasimha Rao Cabinet (1991-96). While Akbar, who has been accorded the minister of state for external affairs, would be the Muslim face for the party, Ahluwalia is BJP’s bet for Punjab where the party is facing fierce competition from oppositions – AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) and Congress.
Apart from the additions and deletions the cabinet also saw a reshuffling among the ministers. Human resources and development (HRD) minister, Smriti Irani, who has been in constant controversy in the last two years since she assumed the post, has been shifted to the lesser glamorous textile ministry. Prakash Javadekar, on the other hand, who was the minister of state for environment (independent charge) has been promoted to the cabinet rank, replacing Irani. There is a speculation that the shift may also be a stepping stone for Irani in Uttar Pradesh where BJP has set its hopes in the elections to come.
Further, Venkaiah Naidu will now be the new information and broadcast (I&B) minister, held by finance minister Arun Jaitley as an additional role. This will be an addition to his role as minister of urban development while his earlier portfolio of parliamentary affairs would be held by Ananth Kumar. Sadananda Gowda of law ministry has been replaced by the Ravi Shankar Prasad who is also the information technology minister. Piyush Goel will hold independent charge of four key ministries – power, coal, new and renewable energy and mines.