On Monday, before the much-touted Cabinet reshuffle and/or expansion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave group interviews to a number of newspapers. There he put forth his plans to include new faces in the council of ministers. On Tuesday, when the new ministers were sworn in, it became clear that the so-called expansion was a masterstroke aimed towards the upcoming Uttar Pradesh election.
Mind you, the council of ministers now has 14 ministers from UP out of the total strength of 77. And that includes the PM himself.
Now, let’s have a look at the new inclusions into the council of ministers. Now, the old council has gone through a facelift. With few ministers with switched portfolios, a few with no portfolios anymore. Let’s try and understand what the PM and Bhartiya Janata Party is looking to achieve with this juggle-fest.
First up, Arjun Ram Meghwal:
So, what does his introduction to the cabinet mean, really? For starters, he belongs to a weaver family. The plight of weavers of Banaras has been in limelight since the run-up to the 2014 Lok-Sabha elections. With the UP elections round the corner, the PM sends a strong and apt message across.
This weaver-family-born IAS officer turned parliamentarian has an attendance record of 98%, has asked 336 questions, and participated in a whopping 92 debates. He has also introduced 16 private member bills, which again says quite a lot about his understanding of the constituency he represents. Especially the matters close to people’s welfare and his astute understanding of the power vested in him. For a profession known to be a band of slackers, Meghwal is quite the worker ant.
It is clear that the PM means business. In the wake of the recent controversies surrounding his other ministers, including the senior cabinet, this introduction could be a welcome relief. Add to that, Meghwal has been given the charge of finance and corporate ministry in the role of a junior minister. An IAS officer coming in as a replacement for the IIT-Harvard educated Jayant Sinha should calm the nerves of India Inc.
The other important replacement is that of Ramdas Athawale:
A Dalit leader, who is famous as a Gandhian, has been elevated to the council at a very important and strategic time. The death of Rohith Vemula and the ill-treatment of Dalit students across various universities and educational institutions across the country put the government on the back foot, with anti-Dalit allegations. By appointing Athawale to the ministerial rank, the PM is looking to make up for the face lost during the past few months.
An important figure in Maharashtra politics, Athawale is also close to BJP’s Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena and can be an asset between the two.
The third appointment worthwhile is that of journalist M. J. Akbar:
He switched sides to join BJP as the minister of state in External Affairs. While Sushma Swaraj has been doing a fine job in her ministry, with regular help from the PM himself, she needed a suave and articulate minister to assist her in the day to day dealings. Akbar is perhaps the best fit in this, having known all the ministers all too well spread across his journalistic career.
A Muslim, at such an important portfolio, bypassing other senior leaders, fairs well for the party. This sends a strong message of meritocracy to the hoi-polloi.
Shunting Smriti Irani in textiles:
Sensible BJP supporters and political opponents alike have criticized Irani’s handling of the ministry. Though the Human Resources Department ministry has had a history of black sheep ministers, Smriti’s tenure during these two years has been forgetful, to say the least.
Though, replacing her with Prakash Javadekar is not the brightest of ideas the PM has had. But this move will definitely work towards firming up the image of the central cabinet. Many argue that she has been parked in the textile ministry only till the UP elections. However, it is worth the satisfaction of her being off the HRD portfolio.
The other appointees too, barring a few misfits such as Anupriya Patel, have mostly been based on exemplary performance in the parliament. It may sound murky, but Modi’s sure has targeted to optimally utilize his political options to reap the most to win upcoming elections.