Modi cabinet reshuffle: Some realignments, adjustments and a political message to adversaries, party members

The first cabinet reshuffle of Modi 2 has several messages hidden in the choice of inductees: of course, reward and punishment and flagging off assembly election preparations are the most overt ones

Photo Courtesy: PTI
Photo Courtesy: PTI

Purnima S Tripathi

Gone are the days when cabinet reshuffles used to be all about punishing incompetence and rewarding performances. In the Modi era, a cabinet reshuffle is a tool to deliver a full-fledged political message to adversaries, party members at large and cabinet colleagues. The first cabinet reshuffle of Modi 2 has several messages hidden in the choice of inductees: of course, reward and punishment and flagging off assembly election preparations are the most overt ones, the covert messages are the ones that draw attention

By removing Ravi Shankar Prasad, Harsh Vardhan and Prakash Javadekar, some of the most visible and senior ministers in the government, prime minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that unnecessary media exposure, leading to unsavoury controversies are definitely not welcome. Ravi Shankar Prasad, the law and IT minister, for example, had come into media limelight for the social media furore over the new IT laws.

He was caught up in the controversy with Twitter and Facebook. His own Twitter account was blocked for some vague reasons, leaving the government red-faced. For somebody like Modi who uses social media like a weapon, this face off was definitely unwelcome. The fact that Modi did not like the media hype which Ravi Shankar Prasad had created, became obvious when many of the new appointees told the media that they have been advised by the prime minister to refrain from talking too much in the media.

Similarly, Harsh Vardhan did not cover himself with glory when the mainstream and social media started spilling over with videos and news of botched up handling of the second Corona wave: patients dying in hospitals for lack of oxygen, medicines disappearing from the market, hospitals teeming with patients gasping for breath, all left the government scampering for excuses. The sordid picture further got magnified when the vaccine shortage hit and agitated crowds could be seen jostling for the jab. The situation could only be brought under control when prime minister and home minister, once free of the West Bengal elections, could personally monitor the crisis.

Several acts of omission and commission by Harsh Vardhan, like him launching Baba Ramdev’s Coronil kit when it still had to get the necessary approvals, did not find favour with Modi. Prakash Javadekar, as union I&B minister, also paid the price for not managing the perception war in the media during the second corona wave. But how exactly the prime minister wants to win this war of perception is not clear. Because the new appointee Anurag Thakur, has been seen as abrasive and provocative in the media. Though articulate on national television as junior finance minister, “his desh ke gaddaron ko…” clarion call during the Delhi election campaign, which used to be followed by the crowd chanting “ goli maro Saalo ko” is still etched in public memory.

The fact that being abrasive and provocative is rewarding is also established by the elevation of Giriraj Singh and G Kishan Reddy, who were seen shooting their mouth off on various issues in the last two years. The fact, however, remains, that sacking 12 ministers, including some who were at the forefront in dealing with covid induced crisis in their departments, like Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank (education), is a daring exercise. Nishank, who managed the crisis well, however, is believed to have been removed on health grounds as he himself requested to be relieved following his post-Covid complications.

The loudest message in this reshuffle is tightening of the belt in election-bound states. Uttar Pradesh, which is due for election early next year, has seen the maximum number of inductees, seven. With eight ministers already there from UP, the state now has 15 ministers, cutting across all caste groups. Of the seven new appointees, four represent the numerically strong Kurmi caste, two Dalits and one Brahmin. Kurmis, who are the second biggest OBC group after Yadavs, have long been wooed by the BJP in order to counter the Samajwadi Party.

Thus the ouster of Santosh Gangwar, a Kurmi leader, who has been apparently removed for openly challenging Yogi Aditynath on his corona mismanagement, has been sought to be compensated by four slots given to the community. With the re-induction of Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal, (she was not made minister in Modi 2 government) daughter of tallest Kurmi leader late Sone Lal Patel, the prime minister has sought to woo their support once again. Along with RCP Singh, the president of JD(U) from Bihar, and SP Baghel, who represents the Pal community in UP, the number of OBC ministers in the Modi cabinet now stands at 27, something which will help the party in the forthcoming UP elections. The number of SC ministers has also gone up to 12 now and this could help it counter the BSP effectively.

Similarly, Gujarat and Maharashtra, where assmebly elections follow soon after UP, have seen increased representation in the union cabinet. By giving a promotion to Mansukh Mandaviya and Purushottam Rupala, and inducting three new faces, Modi is trying to put his house in order there, especially in the context of placating the Patidar community, which had disengaged itself from the BJP in the last election, making it a tough fight then. Both Mandaviya and Rupala come from this community.

In Maharashtra, the induction of Narayan Rane and non-induction of Devendra Fadnavis, is a clear signal to Shiv Sena that the BJP is preparing to go alone in the next round of assembly election. With Devendra Fadnavis still well placed in the state, and the new inductees all his known supporters, the rumours of BJP trying to get close to Shiv Sena once again, have been put to rest now.

West Bengal, where the BJP is desperately trying to upstage Didi, continues to get attention, with four first time MPs getting into the cabinet. While Babul Supriyo, who fought and lost the last assembly election, and Debasree Chaudhury were dropped. Four new inductions are a signal that the BJP will keep West Bengal on its radar in the times to come. Besides shoring up its support in poll bound states, some re alignments and adjustments, which were long over due, have also been done.

Thus Jyotiraditya Scindia, who helped BJP topple the Kamal Nath government In Madhya Pradesh, has been rewarded and inducted as cabinet minister in charge of civil aviation. Similarly, Janata Dal(U), which had not joined the government in 2019, demanding four cabinet berths, has been persuaded to join now, with one cabinet and three ministers of state. JD(U) president RCP Singh, has been made a cabinet minister. LJP, which had walked out of NDA just before the 2019 election, is back in the fold with Pashupati Paras, late Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother who represents his Hajipur constituency now, becoming a minister.

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