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A complete overhaul: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new economic team

President Ram Nath Kovind greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the latter's swearing-in ceremony for the second consecutive term, at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi | Photo: RB/PTI
The new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi reflects a major overhaul. But more importantly, this overhaul will see a virtually new economic team at the level of ministers. 

As many as seven economic ministries will now see new leaders in charge of them - the ministries of finance, commerce and industry, agriculture, telecommunications, civil aviation and tourism. 

In contrast, those in charge of the infrastructure ministries of railways, surface transport, roads, shipping, power, coal and petroleum in the previous government continue to remain part of the new Cabinet. 

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It is widely believed that with a prime minister like Mr Modi who takes keen interest in foreign policy, the role of a foreign affairs minister is diluted to a great degree. But in spite of that, the induction of S Jaishankar, former foreign secretary, into the Cabinet is significant. Mr Jaishankar is expected to take charge of the external affairs ministry. 

The induction of a retired foreign service officer directly into the Cabinet is reminiscent of Manmohan Singh’s entry into the Narasimha Rao government as the finance minister in 1991. The two incidents are different- Dr Singh led the finance ministry and Mr Jaishankar will most likely lead the external affairs ministry. But the challenges of steering the country’s foreign policy amidst the current global uncertainty and instability will be formidable, though they may not be comparable to the economic crisis that Dr Singh had to overcome in 1991. 

At the Cabinet level alone, there are as many as nine changes from the team that was at the helm of the government during Mr Modi’s first five-year tenure. And these are no small changes.

Apart from Arun Jaitley, who headed the finance ministry and had opted out of the new government for health reasons, the new council of ministers has seen the departure of eight other ministers, namely Sushma Swaraj (external affairs), Suresh Prabhu(commerce and industry), Radha Mohan Singh(agriculture), Uma Bharati (drinking water and sanitation), Jagat Prakash Nadda(health and family welfare), Maneka Gandhi (women and child development), Anant Geete (heavy industries and public enterprises) and Jual Oram (tribal affairs). 

No less significant has been the four ministers of state with independent charge, who have been dropped. They are : Mahesh Sharma (culture), Manoj Sinha (telecommunications), Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (information and broadcasting) and K Alphons (tourism).

Barring a few, Mr Modi’s ministers of state rarely made headlines by their performance. Most of the names were barely recognisable. Yet, when 23 out of those 34 ministers of state are dropped, it shows some serious attempt at an overhaul. 

Notable among those who got the axe are Vijay Goel, who looked after the parliamentary affairs ministry, Jayant Sinha, who held the portfolio of the civil aviation ministry, and S. S. Ahluwalia, who was in charge of electronics and information technology.

What led to these departures? Perhaps their performance or the leadership’s lack of faith in them or perhaps a few of them may be groomed for other responsibilities. 

What might irk them, however, is that the overhaul also saw some promotions. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat got a double promotion of sorts - he was a minister of state in charge of agriculture and farmers’ welfare in the previous government. Now he is a Cabinet minister. Kiren Rijju, who was a minister of state for home affairs, has now been promoted as minister of state with independent charge. Mansukh L. Mandaviya, who looked after road transport, shipping, chemicals and fertilisers, has been rewarded with a similar elevation. 

What about the size of Mr Modi’s new ministry? At 58, including the prime minister, the size of the council of ministers is much larger than the 45 ministers, who had taken oath in May 2014. Clearly, Mr Modi’s ministry formation exercise is far from over. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) may have to be accommodated and a few other slots at the minister of state level will have to be filled. Another round of induction of ministers is, therefore, likely- sooner than later. Unless, Mr Modi decides to implement the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto promise of merging complementary departments to reduce the size of the ministry.

Twitter: @AshokAkaybee

(This piece was written before the allocation of ministries to the new council of ministers)


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