‘New Cabinet roughly has 1,000 days till the 2024 general elections to work and improve the perception about the Modi government’.

 

New Delhi: Administrative course correction in general and particular issues like loss of life and face in the pandemic, electoral loss in West Bengal, charges of favouring people of their own caste, the forthcoming electoral challenges that the BJP is likely to face in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and empowering the next generation of party leaders, were the primary reasons for the dropping of ministers and inducting new ones in the recently concluded reshuffle of his cabinet that was carried out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Senior party leaders have described the reshuffle as an exercise that was much needed and something that has come at a right time, giving the new cabinet roughly 1,000 days till the 2024 general elections to work and improve the perception of the Modi government.

In all, 12 ministers were dropped, while 43 ministers, including 36 new MPs, took oath on 7 July, bringing the total strength of the Modi cabinet to 78, including the Prime Minister. Of this, 30 have cabinet rank, two have independent charge, while 45 are in the rank of Minister of State.

The Sunday Guardian spoke to leaders and their associates who were inducted, who were dropped and other party leaders on Modi’s first cabinet expansion since he assumed power in May 2019. Top party leaders like Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad were told to resign on the morning of 7 July and none of them were given any indication before the call that they would be asked to resign.

The removal of Harsh Vardhan was inevitable as the Prime Minister had expressed his displeasure over the way he had conducted himself during the second Covid-19 wave which had led to a massive loss of life and face of the Modi government in the national and international media. The mismanagement, according to party insiders, led to the first large-scale criticism of the government at multiple forums, with even supporters voicing their strong criticism.

The Sunday Guardian had written about the PM’s displeasure with Harsh Vardhan (Harsh Vardhan, other ministers face PM’s ire over Covid calamity, 1 May). The loss of life in large numbers was also witnessed in Gujarat, which goes to polls next year in December. Party insiders say that the elevation of Mansukh Mandaviya as the health minister, who has worked with the PM for decades, will ensure that the shortcomings in the health ministry are removed swiftly as Mandaviya is expected to take quick and assertive decisions. The fact that he belongs to the Patel community, which has been restive with the BJP in Gujarat, is likely to bring additional political benefits for the party in the state.

The removal of Ravi Shankar Prasad, which has come as the biggest surprise for many, was attributed to multiple factors, including criticism from within the party for not being able to “control” the “aggressive” behaviour of Twitter.

Prasad was among the last men of the Vajapayee era along with Rajnath Singh in the Modi cabinet. He was seen as one of the most capable and resourceful men in the cabinet, due to which he was given the responsibility of crucial ministries like Law and Information Technology.

Under his tenure, he piloted the legislation and government’s defence in crucial issues like Article 370, CAA, Triple Talaq and the Rafale deal. It was under his tenure that the judgment in the Ayodhya case was delivered.

Prasad also, at regular intervals, questioned the quashing of the National Judicial Appointment Council (NJAC) by the Supreme Court in 2015 in favour of the collegium system.

Changing intra-party dynamics, too, played a part in him being asked to resign. The emergence of new power houses in the state, as per party leaders, also explains the reason behind senior Bihar leader Sushil Modi not being given a place in the cabinet, despite being given a commitment last year.

Prasad is likely to be given a senior position in the organization. It is pertinent to mention that he used to be the main negotiator with J. Jayalalitha during Vajapyee’s tenure and acted as Vajapyee’s messenger in chief.

The induction of seven MPs from Uttar Pradesh, that will go to polls early next year, is based on the intent to give representations to all the caste and community to secure their political allegiance when the state goes to poll. In total, there are 12 ministers from the SC community, eight from ST and 27 from the OBC, apart from five ministers from the minority community (total 52) in the Modi cabinet, leaving the remaining 26 or 33% for the Brahmin-Baniya-Kshatriya that the BJP voter base has traditionally been known for. “The present expansion will open a new chapter in the party as far as caste arithmetic is concerned. The representation of the ‘upper caste’ has been reduced in favour of the backward caste, which is something that has not happened in the BJP before,” a former party vice president said.

The induction of four leaders from West Bengal, that led to the dropping of two existing leaders (Babul Supriyo and Dabashree Chowdhari), has been done with the intention of giving representations to major caste, community and developing prominent faces in the state to prepare for the future. “The BJP failed to win the Assembly election, but the induction of four MPs from the state has been done to give a larger message that it is very serious about West Bengal,” a party leader said. Party MPs Shantanu Thakur and Nisith Pramanik, who have inducted in the cabinet, are young and come from numerically strong communities, while Subhash Sarkar, an old RSS man with an impeccable image, was among the CM probables in case the party won the recently concluded Assembly elections. Sarkar, along with Virendra Kumar Khatik who is a MP from Tikamgarh, are the two new ministers with a prominent RSS background.

“The general elections are roughly 1,000 days or 33 months away and we don’t have much time and a lot needs to be done on multiple fronts, especially the damage that the government has suffered due to the pandemic. That is one of the reasons behind PM Modi to give crucial ministries to relatively young and inexperienced people like Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Kiren Rijiju, Anurag Thakur, and Meenakshi Lekhi as they do not have a baggage, are eager to prove their worth and will look at existing problems with fresh pair of eyes. Also, a message has been given that no one is indispensable for the current dispensation and even heavyweight leaders can and will be dropped,” a senior party leader who has worked closely with the PM said.

“These are the leaders who will lead the party in the coming days. In effect, it shows that the party under Modi and Shah have broken away from the boundaries created in the past like giving prominence to faces only from select caste, community or those who only have RSS background,” the party leader added.