Ministry reshuffle reflects caste and electoral calculations more than governance

The ‘cabinet reshuffle’ acknowledges the importance of elections, scapegoats and former bureaucrats as ministers and the failure to deal with health, education and pretty much everything else

Ministry reshuffle reflects caste and electoral calculations more than governance

Shalini Sahay

T he extraordinary interest evinced in the media in the much-awaited reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers was not surprising. Nor the notification that the PM would be personally monitoring ‘Science & Technology’ and Shah the newly created ‘Ministry of Cooperation’.

No reshuffle had taken place since 2019. There were only 53 ministers in the Council while the permissible number is 81. It was recognized that the government’s performance in managing the economy and the pandemic had been disastrous. The PM and the Government needed a facelift.

For the past one and a half months the media was fed with the buzz of a big ticket reshuffle. Names of scientists, doctors, management experts were bandied around as the media dutifully reported that the new ministry would be the most talented ever and the youngest.

The consensus among observers and analysts is that the reshuffle reflects a balancing of castes as BJP moves away from being a Brahmin-Bania party to a more inclusive party with representation of OBCs and Dalits. Indeed, the Government took pains to identify the ministers by their caste, possibly for the first time.

Ministry reshuffle reflects caste and electoral calculations more than governance

Predictably therefore the caste of the new ministers (7 from UP, 3 from Gujarat & 4 from Bengal) were put under a scanner. They turned out to be mostly from the OBC and the Scheduled Caste category. A Matua and a tribal from Bengal and a Passi from UP, it was concluded, were good choices for the 2022 Assembly election in UP and the 2024 Lok Sabha election in Bengal.

But the exercise was best summed up by a wry comment on social media. The problem actually lay with the engine but the bogeys were being changed, it said. The reference was clearly to the overly centralised Union government and the lacklustre performance of the PM himself.

People adept at reading between the lines wondered why Piyush Goyal, who was allegedly doing a great job with the Railways, was shifted to Textiles. The promotion of beef-eater Kiren Rijiju as the new Law Minister also aroused curiosity. While nobody shed tears for outgoing Education Minister Pokhriyal, handing over the ministry to Dharmendra Pradhan raised eyebrows.

That Dr. Harsh Vardhan would be dropped as the Health Minister was widely anticipated but that he would be replaced by a postgraduate in political science from Bhavnagar was not. Also not surprisingly, the reshuffle saw a large number of former bureaucrats given charge of sensitive ministries. Retired IAS, IPS and IFS officers and Generals from the Army have taken to politics in recent years and it was therefore entirely expected that Ashwini Vaishnaw, a former IAS officer, would be hailed as a poster boy in the new ministry.

The prevailing scepticism was reflected in a tweet by a retired Babu. “There is something seriously amiss here. What will the country achieve by handing over Railways, Housing, Energy, Steel, Foreign Affairs, Petroleum, IT and Communication to Babus?” he asked.

Perhaps nothing. Because the reshuffle had more to do with politics and elections than in ensuring better results or performance

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