Cabinet Reshuffle: Modi hits refresh button

NEW DELHI (TIP): Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 5 went for a sea change in his team as he shuffled portfolios of many of his prominent ministers.

The most unexpected was the shifting of Smriti Irani from human resource development (HRD) to the unglamorous textiles ministry. Prakash Javadekar whose elevation to the cabinet rank on Tuesday took many by surprise replaced Irani as the HRD minister.

Newly appointed minister Anil Madhav Dave was appointed environment minister in place of Javadekar.

Ravi Shankar Prasad is the new law minister, replacing DV Sadananda Gowda who was shifted to the statistics and programme implementation ministry. Minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha was promoted and given independent charge of communications, while Prasad retained the charge of electronics and information technology.

Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu was divested of the parliamentary affairs portfolio and given charge of the information and broadcasting ministry, which was earlier with finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Chemicals and fertilisers minister Ananth Kumar was another gainer as he got the additional charge of parliamentary affairs.

The changes were announced hours after Modi expanded his council of ministers, inducting 19 new faces as junior ministers and dropping five.

Shortly after the swearing-in at Rashtrapati Bhawan, Modi told his cabinet colleagues at a meeting that he had little time in hand and they should be prepared for “big changes” in their portfolios.

Though there was no change in the top four portfolios — home, external affairs, finance and defence —the Prime Minister delivered a clear message through major changes in portfolios of prominent ministers: that they should stay clear of controversies.

Irani had a controversy-riddled tenure that started with question marks about her academic credentials but soon turned into frequent face-offs with the academia.

Gowda was unable to strike a positive chord with the judiciary, which has been upset with the government’s perceived attempt to interfere in judicial appointments. He courted controversy recently after he sought the law commission’s report on the implementation of the uniform civil code.

Gowda has been shifted from law to the less important statistics and programme implementation. Junior foreign minister General VK Singh too was engulfed in controversies as his remarks drew frequent criticism of the government. The former army chief was stripped of independent charge in the statistics and implementation ministry. Portfolios of rural development minister Birender Singh and steel minister Narendra Singh Tomar were swapped.

New junior minister Vijay Goyal will head the sports and youth affairs ministry, which has been vacant since Sarbanand Sonowal shifted from the Centre to become Assam chief minister.

Minister of state in the finance ministry, Jayant Sinha, was shifted as junior minister in the civil aviation department. Santosh Gangwar and Arjun Ram Meghwal are new ministers of state in the finance department.

Journalist-politician MJ Akbar was appointed junior minister in the external affair ministry. Five-term MP SS Ahluwalia was made minister of state for agriculture and parliamentary affairs.

Among NDA allies, RPI’s Ramdas Athawale became junior minister in the social justice and empowerment ministry while Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel got health and family welfare. The reshuffle was viewed as an exercise aimed both at pleasing voters in states headed for elections next year as well as speeding up efforts to boost economic growth.

Among those dropped was Mansukh Bhai Vasava, a junior minister in the tribal affairs ministry that has in the past locked horns with Javadekar, mostly over tribal rights and diversion of forest land for industry. At least seven of the new ministers are from states going to elections next year and five from the Dalit community, part of the BJP’s plan to appeal to the scheduled castes in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The states vote next year and have a substantial population of scheduled castes. With the expansion, the size of Modi’s cabinet has swelled to 78 — one of the biggest in years and a far cry from Modi’s 2014 election promise of “minimum government and maximum governance”.