The mega reboot of his government by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday seems to now follow a new maxim of ‘Maximum Government, Maximum Governance and Maximum Representation’, with all hands brought on deck to handle the twin challenges posed by the Covid pandemic and the economy, rewarding the performers and sending a message down the ranks to not land in controversies.
The jumbo council of ministers now stands at 78, just shy of the maximum strength that the council can have, with the political realities of accommodating aspirations of party heavy-weights and strengthening the alliance in key states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh dawning on the government. As many as 36 new and 7 old ministers took oath while a dozen have resigned. A senior government source described the entire exercise as “performance-based” with a message that ministers should focus on governance and not land in any controversies.
The biggest surprise was the government dropping three heavy-weight ministers who handled as many as nine ministries between themselves. Ravi Shankar Prasad handled the Law Ministry, IT and Communications Ministry, Prakash Javadekar oversaw the Environment, Information & Broadcasting and Heavy Industries Ministries while Harsh Vardhan handled the Health, Earth Sciences and the Science and Technology Ministries. So was Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Chemicals and Fertiliser Minister Sadananda Gowda.
“Performance of ministers has been closely assessed. It is important to stay out of controversies. Focus is on having a younger council of ministers and younger people getting a chance to handle senior cabinet ministries,” a senior government source said on the cabinet expansion. It is also being cited that with party heavy-weights like Bhupender Yadav moving to the Cabinet, senior party leaders such as Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar would be needed in the party. The record of Harsh Vardhan as Health Minister had also been under scanner over the handling of Covid wave.
Those who have been identified as the young performers and elevated to full Cabinet rank are RK Singh, Anurag Thakur, G Krishan Reddy, Kiren Rijiju, Hardeep Singh Puri, Mansukh Mandavia and Parshottam Rupala. Thakur had played a key role in sealing the Haryana alliance with Dushyant Chautala, Reddy performed in local elections in Telangana where BJP did well, Rijiju demonstrated well as the Sports Minister while Mansukh Mandaviya had led the charge to ensure supplies of medicines and injections during the Covid second wave. All of them along with Bhupender Yadav and Sarbananda Sonowal could get prominent and meaty Cabinet portfolios. Jyotiraditya Scindia was rewarded for helping BJP bring down the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh.
The exercise also strengthens the BJP-JDU alliance in Bihar as Nitish Kumar’s JD-U has finally joined the Cabinet with Kumar’s right-hand man, RCP Singh getting a Cabinet position. Tejashwi Yadav last week raised questions over the continuance of the BJP-JDU government in Bihar, and this development settles that debate. Making Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel a Minister of State again settles the BJP’s alliance pangs in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. Accommodating more ministers from Uttar Pradesh, including Dalit face Kaushal Kishore, also addresses caste dynamics.
Government sources said the idea was also “Maximum Representation” in the Council of Ministers and getting more young faces in as a generational change. There are a record number of 12 SC, 8 ST and 27 OBC ministers now in the council of ministers along with five ministers from the minority. Eleven women ministers have been appointed while the average of the new council of ministers is down to 58 now as against 61. Fourteen ministers are below 50 years of age while seasoned administrators and legislators will continue to anchor and guide them, government sources said. There are also ministers from as many as 25 States and UTs.