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Modi's clear message: Perform or....

Ab Ki Baar, 2024 Ke Liye Tayyaar

Shocks & surprises in Union Cabinet reshuffle

Forget cricket, politics is a game of glorious uncertainties, PM Modi’s actions show

By DILIP CHAWARE* 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clear signal that he is preparing for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections though the priority for the moment is the impending elections in several states in the near future, including in Uttar Pradesh. Modi has inducted 41 ministers, elevating some ministers of state while giving more weightage to UP and Maharashtra, the two largest states. Each move is viewed from the perspective of the next LS election.  

Modi has repeatedly asserted that the ministers under him must focus on their responsibilities and not crave for publicity or image building for themselves. It is believed that sending feedback to him was done silently by some key functionaries of the BJP. This is seen as the reason for change of guard in major portfolios like education, IT and social justice. It is significant to note that the cabinet ministers and their ministers of state in four ministries were shown the door.  

The exclusion of Dr Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar has come as a major jolt. Harsh Vardhan was kept away from Covid-related media briefings after the first few days. He somehow failed to project the government’s efforts to contain the pandemic. Prasad could not defend the government vigorously in the face of global criticism that media freedom was under threat in India. He could and should have been more proactive. Javadekar's expulsion was much more surprising since he has been defending the BJP and the government quite deftly. They are, however, expected to be given some party responsibilities.

The reshuffle also has told the party that those delivering concrete gains for the BJP can expect due rewards. Like his father Madhavrao, MP’s royal scion Jyotiraditya Scindia and Tripura’s Pratima Bhoumik are considered prime cases in point.  

Scindia joined the BJP after the Lok Sabha elections in March 2020. He was hopeful of becoming the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh by displacing the ruling Congress. Though his ambition remained unfulfilled, he ensured that nearly two dozen MLAs walked out of the Congress and reduced it to a pathetic minority in the Legislative Assembly. Scindia also must be feeling elated to retake the civil aviation portfolio held once by Madhavrao, who was viewed by some circles as a potential future PM candidate.  

In case of Pratima Bhoumik, her bond with the people of her state Tripura is emotional. She is called Didi of Tripura. One of the earliest to join the BJP in Tripura, Pratima has been working for the party since 1991. At that time, the BJP was an insignificant player in the Tripura power play. BJP leader Pramod Mahajan worked in the state for a long time without any prospect of reward and workers like Pratima provided local support. She is the new minister of state for social justice and empowerment. 

UP, as expected, has been given seven new ministers while Maharashtra gets four new faces. The two states have 80 and 48 seats, respectively, in the 543-strong Lok Sabha. At the same time, 25 states are now represented in Modi’s team in which Jats, Marathas, Adivasis and OBCs have a larger share.  

Modi’s council of ministers now has eleven women, the highest number so far. In the outgoing council, there were nine women. Expectedly, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman continues to retain her high-profile portfolio.  The reshuffle is considered an attempt to bring back the nation on rails despite the third Corona wave staring the world in the face.  

Modi has lived up to his reputation of administering shock treatment. This reshuffle is no exception, consisting of many surprises. One of them is his decision to create a new ministry of cooperation and entrusting its reigns to his trusted man Friday, Amit Shah. This has sent a cold shiver specially in Maharashtra, where the cooperation movement is controlled by Maratha leader Sharad Pawar. It can have some repercussions in Karnataka and Gujarat, too, though will not have much impact in north India.   

For the first time, JD(U) has joined the Union Cabinet while the Apna Dal has re-entered after a gap of two years. One of the big surprises is the induction of Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Pashupati Kumar Paras from Bihar. He is the brother of late Ram Vilas Paswan. His decision to part ways with his nephew Chirag Paswan has proved vital in the present party calculations in Bihar. Paras is the new minister of Food Processing, a portfolio held by Ram Vilas some years ago. Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal returns to the government as minister of state in the commerce and industry ministry. JD(U) national president RCP Singh has been given charge of the steel ministry. Modi has promoted seven Ministers of State to the status of Cabinet Ministers. They are Anurag Thakur, Kiren Rijiju, G Kishan Reddy, Hardeep Singh Puri, Purshottam Rupala, Mansukh Mandaviya and RK Singh.  

Former Maharashtra CM Narayan Rane will be the Minister Of Micro, Small And Medium Enterprises. Rane is a sworn enemy of the Shiv Sena which he left as Uddhav Thackeray’s coronation as the next Sena chief was not acceptable to him. An aggressive politician, Rane has been a bitter critic of the Sena. His induction is a warning signal for the hopefuls BJP-Sena rapproachment. Modi has made it abundantly obvious that if ever such a pact takes place in future, it will be on the BJP’s terms. Or else, the BJP will choose its own course. The speculation that former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis would be inducted at the Centre has been put to rest, at least for the time-being. 

However, politicians make proclamations only to jettison those when it suits them. Sharad Pawar declared in 1999 that he would never work with the Congress and teamed up with it just four months later to form a coalition government in the state. Socialist George Fernandes joined Vajpayee government while Nitish Kumar ditched Lalu Prasad Yadav twice. The Shiv Sena, for which the Congress was the sworn enemy, did not hesitate to take its support to claim Chief Ministership in Maharashtra. Politics is the art of the impossible, it is said. India has witnessed it repeatedly and will do so in the future, too. (*Dilip Chaware is a Mumbai-based veteran political journalist)

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