Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not pull any punches as he went for a complete overhaul of his Cabinet. Putting a new team in place that will drive the government into the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, PM Modi inducted 36 new faces and rewarded seven Ministers of State with a promotion.
All 43 of them, including Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sarbananda Sonowal, Narayan Rane, Bhupendra Yadav, Anupriya Patel, Meenakshi Lekhi, Shobha Karandlaje, Ajay Bhatt, Shantanu Thakur, Pashupati Paras and RCP Singh, took oath of office. It is evident that PM Modi has tried to maintain a delicate balance of region and caste while including women and professionals in the Cabinet.
The bigger political message of the reshuffle, however, is in the ministers that Modi has dropped rather than the ones that have been picked and promoted. Senior ministers like Dr Harsh Vardhan, Prakash Javadekar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Santosh Gangwar and Ramesh Pokhriyal have been dropped, sending the clear message that performance is all that matters.
The dropping of the ministers, who handled important portfolios like health, education, IT, law, environment, information and broadcasting and labour, is also an indication of the importance that the PM gives to them. All eyes are on the new ministers now, especially health and education.
While chief ministers like Arvind Kejriwal have made health and education the prime focus of their governance policies, there is no way that the centre could dither on the crucial subjects any longer.
The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the weaknesses in governance as the entire healthcare system collapsed. While the first wave of coronavirus was somehow managed, the system simply crashed as the second wave struck. The health ministry was seen as flailing in response as the PM personally took charge, holding meetings with state governments over vaccine and oxygen supply.
As the education went online during the lockdown, the ministry was left grappling for an adequate response. Pokhriyal was completely at sea as his ministry failed to make arrangements to hold Board examinations and other competitive exams second year in a row with the students left in a lurch. Similarly, the PM was believed to be less than satisfied with the functioning of various ministries under Prasad and Javadekar.
“Dropping senior ministers was not an easy decision but the PM was in no mood to brush things under the carpet for appearances sake. Sacking Harsh Vardhan is akin to admitting that his government failed in handing Covid-19. PM Modi is ok with it since he is now eyeing Uttar Pradesh elections next year and Lok Sabha in 2024.The deadwood had to be gotten rid of. Perform or perish is the message for the new Cabinet,” a senior party leader says.
Incidentally, Harsh Vardhan, Prasad and Javadekar were among the last prominent leaders from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era in the government. Rajnath Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi are the two left from that time.
Now that some of the party office bearers like Bhupendra Yadav, Annapurna Devi and Rajeev Chandrashekhar have been inducted in the Cabinet, the vacancies may be filled by the dropped ministers.