Prime Minister Narendra Modi effected an expansion of his Council of Ministers and promoted Minister of State (Independent charge) for Environment and Forests Prakash Javdekar to Cabinet rank in a ceremony held at the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Predictably, he has awarded his foot soldiers like Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Irani, Arun Jaitley, Najma Heptullah, Prakash Javdekar and a few others with important portfolios. The most obvious message seems to be that Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated that there will be no administrative islands in his government. Unlike the previous UPA government, with dominating allies and party pressures, Prime Minister Modi has sent a message that participation in his government shall be at his pleasure.
Who are the new faces?
The new faces in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers come mainly from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Here are the names of those inducted today: SS Ahluwalia, Ramesh Chandappa Jigjinagi, Parshottam Rupala, MJ Akbar, Arjun Ram Meghwal, Anil Madhav Dave, Vijay Goel, Rajen Gohain, Mahendra Nath Pandey, CR Chaudhary, PP Chaudhary, Ramdas Athawale, Subhash Ramrao Bhamre, Jasvant Sinh Bhabhor, Mansukh Mandaviya, Faggan Singh Kulaste, Ajay Tamta, Anupriya Singh Patel, and Krishna Raj.
Anupriya Patel, the Apna Dal MP from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, is the daughter of party founder Sone Lal Patel, she has been veering the Uttar Pradesh party towards the BJP in the run up to the elections. There is widespread speculation that the party will merge with the BJP before the elections.
Smriti Irani shifted from HRD Ministry to Textiles Ministry. Prakash Javadekar, who was elevated to Cabinet, gets HRD portfolio. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sheds Information and Broadcasting portfolio. The transfer of the HRD portfolio from Smriti Irani, to Prakash Javadekar also happened after the embers of the JNU controversy and at the Hyderabad Central University had died down somewhat.
Focus is clearly on Uttar Pradesh
By inducting three fresh faces from Uttar Pradesh into the union council of of ministers, Prime Minister Modi has attempted to balance caste equations in the run-up to the UP assembly polls and also increase the dominance of poll-bound states in the central government. Lalmani Verma, in this piece, argues that the induction of Anupriya Patel could well be an an attempt to balance the OBC caste equation after the Samajwadi Party recently took back senior leader and ex-union minister Beni Prasad Verma (a Kurmi) and sent him to Rajya Sabha. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is hoping to attract Other Backward Castes (OBC) votes by inducting Apna Dal MP from Mirzapur Anupriya Patel into the Modi cabinet. However, Apna Dal has its problems: it is in the throes of internal turmoil due to a feud between Anupriya and her mother, Krishna Patel. While Krishna had ‘expelled’ Anupriya from the party in May 2015, both Krishna and Anupriya still claim to be national president of Apna Dal.
Real target not SP, but Mayawati
Moreover, of the 19 ministers inducted into Narendra Modi’s council of ministers, at least five are Dalits, two are from the OBC communities and three are from the Scheduled Tribes category. The BJP, which has appointed Keshav Prasad Maurya, a prominent non-Yadav OBC leader as its state chief in UP, has given a clear signal that its focus in the state assembly polls will be the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs.
Five ministers dropped
Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped five of his ministers on Tuesday. Nihal Chand, Ram Shankar Katheria, Sanwar Lal Jat, Manuskhbhai D Vasva and M K Kundariya were the ministers who will be exiting the council. While Nihal Chand and Sanwar Lal Jat are MPs from Rajasthan, Katheria hails from UP. Both Mohanbhai Kundariya and Mansukhbhai Vasva are leaders from Gujarat.
Every expansion of the Council of Ministers is a part of the political messaging of the government and this was no different. “The expansion comes after an exhaustive vetting and selection process to find the best talent. People were assessed on the value they would bring to the Ministry. This marks a firm departure from the usual routine of frequent changes based on caste, religion and other time-serving political considerations.” The new list however looked more of the old thing of a balance between caste and regional equations.