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Modi's Cabinet reshuffle: Course correction or image building?
By Satish Misra
Much awaited and long-delayed cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion on Sunday morning undoubtedly carries a distinctive stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was his third cabinet rejig since he assumed charge in May 2014 and possibly the last before the next Lok Sabha elections.

The exercise, carried out after due diligence and careful application of mind, clearly shows that the Prime Minister has very little confidence in the available talent within the party. He seems to be comfortable with retired bureaucrats and relatively junior party colleagues.

Defying media speculations, the reshuffle was party specific. It is expected that another expansion ushering in ministers from present allies like the Shiv Sena and JD (U) and possible allies like the AIADMK and NCP may take place soon.

Of the 13 ministers who took oath, the Prime Minister brought in nine new faces including two who are not even members of either of the two houses of parliament. Four others have been promoted and have been given charge of new ministries. Reshuffle, claimed to have been conducted after an assessment of the performance of the members of the council of ministers, has resulted in promotion, downsizing, demotion and exit of some while induction of nine new faces.

Those, who have been elevated, include Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Promotion of Sitharaman to the cabinet status with the portfolio of defence is the talk of the town. Is it really a move for women going to be evident in months to come when crucial decisions on vital issues will have to be taken?Sitharman, by virtue of being the Minister of Defence, is also part of the Cabinet Committee on Security along with Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and thus there are two women on this crucial committee.

Whether she has been rewarded for her good work at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry or not is debatable. Fact is that country's exports have declined and have not gone up during her stint as a Minister with independent charge.

A full time Defence Minister undoubtedly is a welcome step because ever since Manohar Parrikar left the ministry to go back to Goa, it did not have the attention that it deserves particularly at a time when tensions at country's borders have been on the rise.

Other significant promotion is of Goyal. He has been given charge of the Ministry of Railwayswith a cabinet status. He continues to hold charge of the Ministry of Coal. He is said to have been rewarded for his commendable work at the Ministry of Power and Energy.

Similarly, promotion of Pradhan to the cabinet rank and handing him over the charge of the Ministry of Skill Development is a crucial for two reasons. His elevation has been done with an eye on the coming assembly elections in his home state Odisha.The BJP is hoping to form the next government, Pradhan is being made the BJP's face in the state.

With the Modi government in its fourth year, the elevation of the Minister for Minority Affairs Naqvi to the cabinet status is also significant politically. The move is directed at Muslims who are said to be suffering from a feeling of insecurity and have been victims of acts of violence. It remains to be seen whether Naqvi's promotion can address concerns and apprehensions of minorities particularly the Muslims or not.

Inclusion of new faces seems to have been done for caste and regional considerations. Bringing in Shiv Pratap Shukla, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh and a political rival of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, is a message to Brahmins who have been feeling alienated because of a pro-Thakur bias of the state administration. Earlier for the similar reason, the Prime Minister and party chief Amit Shah had made Mahendra Nath Pandey resign from the council of ministers to appoint him as the UP BJP president.

Inclusion of Lok Sabha MP from Bihar Ashwani Kumar Choubey is directed at the fast moving political developments in the state where the BJP has joined the government in coalition with the JD (U). A political rival of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Choubey is sought to be pleased.

Anant Kumar Hegde, who has been a minister of state in the Ministry of Skill development, has been brought in with an eye on the coming assembly elections in Karnatka early next year. This reshuffle has also opened the doors of the government to rank outsiders to mainstream politicians indicating that the Prime Minister is following a presidential form of government. Four senior civil servants namely K J Alphons, R KSingh, Hardip Puri and Satya Pal Singh, who had joined the BJP not long back, have been made ministers.

Their performance and handling of issues in areas beyond the spheres of expertise will prove whether brining civil servants into active politics was a wise decision or not.

Former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who had offered to resign in the wake of two accidents resulting in deaths and injuries to passengers, has now been given charge of the Ministry of Commerce.

Downgrading of former Minister of Water Resources Uma Bharti and giving her charge of Drinking Water and Sanitation is a direct insult to her. There are symbolism also in the reshuffle like making an Olympian Silver Medalist Rajyavardhan Singh Rahore as the Minister of Sports or making a Dalit Virendra Kumar but whether such moves are going to pay adequate dividends politically is doubtful.

Real impact of the reshuffle would be known once the euphoria generated by the media has settled and real work along with their results begin to show results on ground.

Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.


News Updated at : Thursday, September 7, 2017
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