Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest cabinet reshuffle gives a clear message — ‘performance’ aimed at last-mile delivery, with a new team for Operation 2019.
The third cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, came in the backdrop of economic slowdown due to demonetisation and the agrarian crisis. This is likely to be the major and final reshuffle of the Union Cabinet before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Prime Minister’s message is clear — either perform or perish!
Modi’s decision to elevate Nirmala Sitharaman as the Union Cabinet Minister tasked with the Defence Ministry will go down very well with women voters. Nirmala is the second woman to hold the defence portfolio after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during 1975, and later, for two years from 1980 to 1982, as an additional charge. However, Nirmala will be handling it as a full-time responsibility.
Her elevation comes at a time when India’s ties with neighbours are a little strained. Nirmala will be the third woman in the Union Cabinet, besides External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Zubin Irani.
Also, this has ended months of speculation as to who will be the defence minister of India, given that the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was overburdened with this additional portfolio.
If merit was the criteria why Sitaraman was made the defence minister? Tasked over a complex challenges Defence Ministry may not be a cakewalk.
During her 38 months tenure as commerce minister, India’s exports and imports witnessed a free fall. Indian exports decreased from $468 billion in 2014-15 to $437 billion in 2016-17.
Then what about her performance in WTO conference at Nairobi in 2015 when India agreed to the Trade Facilitation (TF) agreement unilaterally without getting anything in return.
Other key takeaways from the cabinet rejig is the inclusion of eminent bureaucrats, such as India’s former ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, Hardeep Puri, who has bagged the urban development portfolio, and the demolition man of Delhi and former IAS officer from Kerala, K J Alphons, who is India’s new tourism minister.
Former home secretary, R K Singh has struck big with the ministries of power and renewable energy.
With performance as the yardstick, Piyush Goyal was shifted from power to railways, to replace Suresh Prabhu, whose tenure saw a spate of railway accidents. Prabhu has been given the Commerce & Industry Ministry.
It was not merely the spate of accidents and deaths of hundreds of passengers that cost him his coveted ministerial portfolio. He started with promise of several bullet trains. But he even failed to deliver clean and fresh food that was fit for human consumption. With 22 million Indians being carried every day by Indian Railways – the lifeline of the country any wrong move by railway ministry has political overtones. Nobody understands this better than Prime Minister Modi.
Senior Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari, in charge of shipping, road transport and highways has been given the Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry. Uma Bharati has been shunted out to Drinking Water & Sanitation.
Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas has been given additional charge of the Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Ministry, after Rajiv Pratap Rudy failed to deliver on the skill development mission. The Modi Government has been criticised for its jobless growth during the last three years.
Elevation of the only Muslim face in the Council of Ministers — that of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi– holds great political significance at a time when the Modi government’s overall approach towards the minorities has come under sharp attack.
Last, but not the least, by not accommodating any of the allies — Shiva Sena, Janata Dal (United) and AIADMK—BJP has indicated that it no longer depends on regional forces to win elections. Unlike the last cabinet reorganisation, aimed at expanding the social base of the BJP, the latest reshuffle focussed on merit alone.