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Modi Government’s ministry expansion and re-shuffle: What to make of it

In the second expansion of the Union Cabinet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted a total of 19 fresh faces. As noted here, the inclusion of new leaders as ministers seems to be part of a well thought out arithmetic.

Twelve new ministers come from the Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes. As far as geographical diversity is concerned, the 19 ministers come from more than 10 states: Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Assam. UP also now boasts of having the highest number of ministers: 16. The average age of the new inductees is 57 years, which is fairly young going by general standards. Further all but 3 of them are graduates or post graduates.

The portfolio reshuffle also seems to follow one clear theme: Performers have been rewarded, with the PM continuing his faith in their work, letting them keep their portfolios. Be it Suresh Prabhu’s Railway Ministry or Nitin Gadkari’s Transport, or Piyush Goel’s Power Ministry or Manohar Parrikar’s Defence Ministry or Sushma Swaraj’s External Affairs: the broad consensus is that these ministries have done well. And hence these ministers have come out unscathed from the reshuffle.

Swaraj’s MEA has been bolstered by the formidable addition of MJ Akbar as another Minister of State, giving her more ammunition to work the global diplomacy machine. Akbar is an experienced Delhi hand and may focus on the middle east – subject of his books and journalism.

In fact many ministries like Finance, MEA, Health, Rural Development, Parliamentary Affairs now have 2 Minister of States. This could indicate that these are the ministries the Government wants to focus on and ensure that implementation of policies is done expeditiously. It can also be a message to the seniors that work needs to be done quickly. This would also provide a good training ground for the junior Ministers of State. With the experience in this term, if NDA gets re-elected in 2019, all these ministers would be considered experienced, and would be ready to handle tougher jobs. Hence one of the focus points could well be grooming talent for the future.

While some other ministries like Home Ministry and Finance Ministry haven’t really overshot expectations, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley being senior ministers have been given a long rope. Jaitley though has been relieved of the Information and Broadcasting ministry which has been picked up by Venkaiah Naidu.

Jayant Sinha moves out of Finance Ministry to Civil Aviation. This may seem to be a demotion of sorts, with Sinha possibly paying the price for his father’s indiscretion. But, it may as well be seen as a statement of intent to shape up the Civil Aviation ministry, which for most parts has done just about OK. A new Civil Aviation policy was also recently announced and maybe it was felt a person like Jayant Sinha could handle this better.

Sinha’s replacement in Finance Ministry is Arjun Meghwal, the weaver turned IAS officer. One wonders if he would fit into the shoes of Sinha, who seemed to be very well qualified to handle a portfolio like Finance.

The biggest winner out of the reshuffle is probably Prakash Javadekar. Not only did he get elevated to the rank of a Cabinet Minister, he seems to have been rewarded with the HRD ministry for cleaning up the Environment Ministry mess left by UPA. But will he be able to wade through the challenges the HRD ministry brings? Many Core Right-Wing demands such as scrapping of RTE are linked with this ministry and to manage this, one needs tactical foresight since many NGOs and the like will be in the fray. As MoEF minister he handled such challenges well so it remains to be seen whether he can replicate the success in the HRD ministry. The MoEF in turn now has been given to Anil Dave, who is known for his river conservation work.

Appointments like those of Dave and M J Akbar signal the intent to bring in specialisation into ministries. Both these ministers are well versed in these fields and have been given portfolios according to their domain knowledge and strengths.

Manoj Sinha also seems to have done well for himself. He retains his Minister of State post in Railways and further gets Ministry of Communications. Ideally he should have also got ancillary ministries like Electronics & Information Technology, much like Gadkari who got all the Transport sectors clubbed together for reasons of synergy.

On the face of it, the biggest loser seems to be Smriti Irani. She loses her high profile HRD Ministry job and has now only the low-glamour Textile Ministry on her plate. There have been a few who have been disappointed at the slow pace of the National Education Policy. Some others have been sceptical about the high pitched responses to the Rohith Vemula case or the JNU sloganeering matter. And hence some would see this move as a demotion. But, there could be more than meets the eye here:

Firstly, with the big UP elections coming, and Irani being one of the contenders to lead the party in UP, the party might have felt that it is now necessary to relieve her of the heavy HRD ministry so that she can devote more time to campaigning in UP.

Secondly, the Textile ministry, although a downgrade from HRD ministry, is not a complete non-starter. It has the potential to spin a web of jobs. The recently unveiled textile policy has set a very ambitious target of attracting investments of Rs 74,000 crore in textiles in three years. And if Irani can use this effectively in the state of UP, then this move can be a mini game-changer.

Thirdly, as far as HRD Ministry is concerned, the major mandate of the ministry was the New Education Policy. The entire groundwork has been done, and the draft is up. Now comes the time when it has to be accepted and passed. For this, would a Smriti Irani, who has been at the centre of multiple controversies, who often polarises opinion about her, be better? Or a more genial and friendly, less controversial Jawadekar be better suited?

The real loser could be Sadananda Gowda, who loses the Law ministry and moves to Statistics and Programme Implementation. In the earlier reshuffle, he had left the Railway Ministry and come to Law. From that portfolio to Statistics, it has been a real fall for this leader.

Another big omission is obviously the maverick Dr Subramanian Swamy. While many of Swamy’s online fans “Patriotic Tweeple” (PTs) might have hoped for a berth, all such hopes would have been dashed by PM Modi’s rebuke in his interview with Arnab.

One example of how the axe falls on motormouths is the removal of junior HRD minister Ram Shankar Katheria. He is no longer a minister and ostensibly for his loose tongue. It may be recalled that just last month Katheria had declared that saffronisation of education will surely be undertaken. This and the fact that low-key performers have been rewarded, may go out as a signal to all the rabble-rousers.

Some mediocre performing ministries which have avoided the axe seem to be Uma Bharati: Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and Maneka Gandhi: Women and Child Development. This might be considering that both leaders, (Maneka through her son Varun) exert some pressures in poll-bound UP.

Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan (Petroleum and Natural Gas) could consider themselves unlucky for missing out either a promotion to bigger portfolios or even a cabinet rank, which was widely expected. Goyal though has been further been given the Mines portfolio.

With this latest rejig, the size of Ministry (including PM Modi) is now 78: 27 Cabinet ministers, 50 Ministers of State and 1 Prime Minister. Numerically, this is a departure from the “Minimum Government” maxim, if one considers this to be the parameter. But rather than pure numbers, one hopes this principle will be implemented in its true spirit by way of reducing Government control and red-tapism, rather than just by having a small cabinet.

Co-Authored by @bwoyblunder and @c_aashish

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