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Cabinet reshuffle is also PM Modi's delicate balancing act of roles, polls, castes and political power

3 September, 2017 7:38 AM
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Cabinet reshuffle is also PM Modi's delicate balancing act of roles, polls, castes and political power

As PM Modi brings in new ministers to his cabinet today, here's a look at the bunch of new ministers who are a curious combination of hardcore political equations and administrative equations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi rearranged his council of ministers on Sunday morning promoting four of his ministers of state to the Cabinet rank and inducting nine new ministers. President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath of office and secrecy to the 13 ministers at a glittering ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan's Durbar Hall. Six of these ministers had resigned ahead of the reshuffle.

Ministers of State Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi are now part of Narendra Modi's Cabinet. Even the critics of the government agree that the four have been rewarded for their performance in the ministries they hold at the moment. The six ministers who lost their positions were removed because of their poor performance, it is said.

Among the new ministers of state, there are two former IAS officers, a former IPS officer and a former IFS officer and career diplomat.

This reshuffle is thus being seen as Prime Minister Modi's big push for a delivery-oriented government as the ruling coalition led by BJP heads for the 2019 general elections.

The bunch of new ministers are a curious combination of hardcore political equations and administrative equations. Bihar, where the BJP has just formed a coalition with Janata Dal (U) led by Nitish Kumar, has got two new ministers as it lost one in Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Though the JD(U) did not get a place in the ministry but sources said the party may join the government at a later stage.

Former home secretary and former IAS officer RK Singh is a Rajput leader from Bihar inducted to offset the impact of the removal of Rajiv Pratap Rudy, another Rajput leader from the Bhojpuri belt. RK Singh has had a love-hate relationship with the leadership. He is the one who as a district magistrate had ordered the arrest of LK Advani during his Rath Yatra. He has often been outspoken when it comes to party decisions and as home secretary had accused the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of indulging in what later became famous as 'Hindu Terror'. His induction surprised many because he was not perceived to be in the good books of the party leadership.

Ashwini Kumar Chowbey's induction came as no surprise as the party did not have a Brahmin representative from Bihar. As the BJP pushed for a more dalit- and OBC-friendly image, its traditional upper caste vote bank was left high and dry. Now all the four upper or forward castes of Bihar have found representation in the cabinet, with Bhumihar chieftain Giriraj Singh already well-heeled.

Anant Kumar Hegde is another surprising choice even though at least one Karnataka MP was sure to get a place. Hegde is a Hindutva-oriented veteran from North Karnataka, a five-time MP to boot. He has been embroiled in various controversies and not just verbal. In an infamous incident, he was caught on camera beating up doctors in a hospital. His regular outbursts against Muslims in the communally sensitive Uttar Kannada area have not helped his image either.

Dr Virendra Kumar from MP, a dalit BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh, has risen up the ranks from an extremely deprived background. He has a lot of experience working in the parliament and sort of specialises in dalit and labour issues.

Satyapal Singh, a former IPS officer, is seen as a replacement for Sanjeev Baliyan, the Jat leader from western UP who was dropped from the council this time. While Baliyan is seen as a hardcore Hindutva leader, Singh has the image of a doer. He has dealt with Maoist insurgencies and handled the top police job in Nagpur, Pune and Mumbai. He is more than just a caste replacement like R.K. Singh is.

Shiv Pratap Shukla is a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh. He is from Gorakhpur and an arch-rival of Yogi Adityanath. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister comes from the Rajput community and Brahmins have of late been miffed with the BJP giving them a raw deal. Besides, UP veteran Kalraj Mishra was dropped this time along with Mahendra Pandey, another Brahmin. This is seen as a move to assuage the dominant Brahmins.

A similar sentiment is attributed to the induction of Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The Rajasthan Rajput leader is a social media star and enjoys remarkable connect with the youth. If the buzz in the Capital is to be believed Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has been worried about the reaction of the Rajputs after a gangster, Anandpal Singh, was killed in an encounter. Anandpal enjoyed a Robinhood image among Rajputs who claim the encounter was fake. Shekhawat's entry takes the Rajasthan Rajput representation in the ministry to two.

Now, the two non-politician politicians. Career diplomat, former IFS officer Hardeep Singh Puri is a recent entrant into the BJP. Though the Prime Minister himself is said to admire him, KJ Alphons is new to politics. Puri will not just be a Sikh face because he brings to the table a life full of diplomatic experience. Similarly Alphons is more than a Christian face since he has done a lot of work in the field of urban development.

BJP sees Kerala as the next opportunity after Karnataka in the South. The RSS has deep roots in the state yet the party hasn't been able to win over the people. Will KJ Alphons's introduction into the political system change that? Well, the people will decide that.


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