After keeping his ministers on tenterhooks for a while, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his Council of Ministers, bringing 19 new faces.
Although the ministerial restructuring has been touted as an attempt to bring "doers and performers" who can "deliver on his vision of development and priorities," there is more to the entire exercise than meets the eye.
A mixed bag
PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have brought in an interesting mix of caste, state and profession as the cabinet now has a journalist (M.J. Akbar), a former bureaucrat (Arjun Ram Meghwal) a writer and conservationist (Anil Madhav Dave), a surgeon (Subhash Bhamre) and an advocate (P.P. Chaudhary). Among the newly inducted ministers, five are from Scheduled Castes (Ajay Tamta, Ramdas Athalwale, Arjun Ram Meghwal, Ramesh Jigajinagi and Krishna Raj) and two each from minority communities (M.J. Akbar and S.S. Ahluwalia) and Scheduled Tribes (Jasvantsinh Bhabhor and Faggan Singh Kulaste) besides two women (Anupriya Singh Patel and Krishna Raj).
Politics over performance
Modi's message to his cabinet colleagues from the beginning has been 'perform or perish'. However, the recent rejig seems to have focused more on political calculations as the PM and the party supremo ensured that three poll-bound states—UP and Gujarat (three each) and Uttarakhand (one)—have ministerial representations. The elevation of Anupriya Singh Patel from the BJP's Uttar Pradesh ally Apna Dal is expected to improve the party's chances of faring better in the state. There are also rumours that the party may merge with the BJP ahead of the assembly elections.
Shah's stamp all over
The big reshuffle was in the news for a while. However, it was reported that not even those in the highest echelons of power knew what was in store for the ministers. There were reports of ministers asking each other and to media persons if they were in the know of anything. While performance was one of the major criteria for allotting and shifting, the reshuffle is a telling testimony of the party chief's concern to better BJP's prospects in the upcoming elections.
Although the promotion of Prakash Javadekar from MoS (Independent charge) to HRD Ministry has been hailed as 'rewarding performance', a few others who have been faring well in their respective departments—Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman—received no such reward.
Demotion or master plan?
Smriti Irani has been shifted from HRD Ministry to Textiles Ministery in what has been deemed as a demotion to the minister whose two-year stint at the ministry has been mired in controversy from the moment she assumed charge. However, party sources sing a different tune. According to them, this move is a well-planned strategy to ease the burden on Irani who may have a larger role to play in Uttar Pradesh where elections are due next year. With the Congress panning a bigger role for Priyanka Gandhi in UP, it is only natural that the BJP wants to have a staunch Modi devotee pitted against her.