Cabinet reshuffle suggests focus on delivering goods for 2019 LS polls

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose with some of the new members of the Union Cabinet after the reshuffle at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Sunday. (Photo: PTI)
Beyond the big news of Nirmala Sitharaman being made the Minister of Defence, the subtext of the Narendra Modi government’s reshuffle can be seen with two former bureaucrats being made ministers with independent charge of key infrastructure portfolios. The focus is on delivering the goods for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and an admission of talent deficit within Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ranks.

Former bureaucrats to man key sectors

RK Singh: The former union home secretary, Raj Kumar Singh is now the minister with independent charge of power, new and renewable energy. He takes over from Piyush Goyal. Clearly, he has been handpicked to continue with the good work during Goyal’s tenure. He had been openly critical of the central leadership during the Bihar assembly polls.

Hardeep Singh Puri: The former diplomat is now the minister of state with independent charge of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. This is a key area for the Modi government given its promise of ‘housing for all’ and ‘smart cities’ projects. Puri would be expected to not only continue with the good work of his M Venkaiah Naidu in the ministry but ensure quicker implementation of projects in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.

KJ Alphons: He has been appointed the MoS with independent charge of the Ministry of Tourism. He is also a MoS in the Electronics and IT ministry. Ravi Shankar Prasad continues to be the Law Minister as well as that of Electronics and IT ministry.

Winners and Losers

Piyush Goyal has been promoted. He is now a cabinet minister. He is also the new Railway Minister. Railways is a government service that affects people’s lives daily, and is the lifeline of key north Indian states. Frequent accidents were giving the Modi government a bad name in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, crucial for BJP to return to power in 2019. After managing the difficult power sector, Goyal is expected to deal with the tenacious Railway Board. Goyal retains the Coal portfolio.

Suresh Prabhu is now the Minister for Commerce and Industry. He succeeds Sitharaman.

Uma Bharti continues to be a cabinet minister. She had been asked to quit but protested and survived. She has been moved out of Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation, ostensibly for not delivering the results and will now handle the Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio.

Dharmendra Pradhan gets cabinet rank, retains his oil and natural gas portfolio and receives an additional portfolio of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, with newly inducted MoS Anantkumar Hegde as his deputy in the latter ministry.

Nitin Gadkari retains his earlier portfolios and will now also be responsible for Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation.

Giriraj Singh, an MP from Navada, Bihar, finds his stature increased. He is now the MoS (independent charge) of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. It is an important ministry for job generation but has suffered because of demonetisation and the goods and services tax (GST) roll-out.

Vijay Goel has lost out to Rajyavardhan Rathore. Goel has lost his portfolio of MoS (independent charge) of Sports and Youth Affairs to Rathore, who gets promoted. Rathore, however, continues to be MoS in the Information and Broadcasting ministry. Goel has also been given MoS Parliamentary Affairs, with Arjun Ram Meghwal returning as MoS Parliamentary Affairs.

Santosh Kumar Gangwar has been promoted. He is now the MoS (independent charge) of Labour and Employment. Gangwar, along with Meghwal was one of the two ministers of state in the Finance portfolio.

Arjun Ram Meghwal is moved out as MoS Finance to MoS Parliamentary Affairs, which he had managed before the previous reshuffle in July 2016. He now also is MoS Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation.

P Radhakrishnan and newly inducted Shiv Pratap Shukla will be the two ministers of state in Arun Jaitley-led Finance Ministry.

Smriti Irani, Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Narendra Singh Tomar continue to hold more than one portfolio.

Of the nine newly inducted Ministers of State, Satya Pal Singh the Lok Sabha MP from Baghpat and former Mumbai police commissioner has been appointed MoS in the Human Resource Development and Water Resources ministries. However, this appointment stems more from the need to balance caste equations after western UP Jat leader Sanjeev Kumar Balyan was asked to quit and work for the party. Similarly, Ashwini Choubey's appointment is also aimed at striking a balance in Bihar politics.

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