Bhubaneswar, July 21: Prime Minister Narendra Modi shuffled his pack of ministers ostensibly to galavanise the functioning of the government. New faces were inducted and some faces were shunted out. The old faces like Ravi Shankar Prakash and Prakash Javadekar, as it is believed, will be engaged in organisational activities as the party goes to some crucial assembly elections early next year.
Thus, the extensive changes, not seen in years, seemed a thoroughly pre-meditated affair.
The PM’s consultations with the ruling party’s organisational leadership, as well as consequential colleagues such as home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Rajanath Singh and then PNG minister Dharmendra Pradhan, on likely changes to be made to the Union council of ministers, had been on for many weeks. Looking at the wide-ranging changes made, the confabulations indicate that political considerations linked to elections were the paramount criteria.
Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur will go to polls in 2022. During the same time, Odisha will go to three-tier panchayat elections. As the BJP has found the going tough, especially in assembly polls after 2019, it wants to reinvent the strategies for regaining the pre-2019 rhythm.
Political experts do not read too much to the reshuffle. They also don’t see much by way of political messaging in this exercise. For the sake of the country, this minister entrusted with key portfolios, will perform well. But one should be cautioned that there is no direct correlation between high-grade education and success as a minister even in the case of those with experience of administration, as is the case with Ashwini Vaishnaw who got railway portfolio.
If Mr Vaishnaw’s case is a fluke or coincidence, the case of urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri is one of deserved promotion to cabinet status. Mr Puri is energetic, articulate, and politically combative, principally with those that the PM likes to combat with — namely, ear-marked Opposition leaders. He has taken on the Central Vista project, of which the PM is deeply enamoured, with a rare passion at the risk of flying in the face of the considered view of a wide array of professional experts. That has evidently stood him in good stead in addition to his other qualities. Many observe that there is not much intellectual and political talent in the pool of BJP MPs from which the PM has to draw his ministers. Therefore, no tears are expected to be shed for those who were shown the door, though the shunting out of a few high-profile individuals such as Ravishankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar, besides Harsh Vardhan, appears intriguing. Equally intriguing to some is the continuation of some in the cabinet committee on security (ministers of home, defence, finance and foreign affairs).
The shifting of Dharmendra Pradhan to the education ministry is no less fascinating. This man proved his mettle in petroleum and natural gas ministry. He took the benefits of the ministry to the doorsteps of the poor. Through Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, rural women got access to clean energy. This helped develop the health index of rural female folks.
Many see that Pradhan will similarly change the face of education scenario in the country, enabling people to have quality education.
It is perhaps fair to say that in so centralised a government as the one which Mr Modi presides over, all except the most routine decisions are taken at the apex level. From that angle, ministers are generally chosen — or dropped — for considerations relating to social constituencies and likely electoral value in future polls.
As we know, important state elections are due in early 2022 and 2023 and the Lok Sabha poll in 2024. There is not much time left to refurbish with the help of caste or regional groupings, especially since the pandemic has left behind a trail of devastation, the economy was bleeding even before Covid-19 struck in March 2022, and the Chinese Army invaded a part of India.