Cabinet Reshuffle : Big & Bold

The new Union council of ministers sworn in on Wednesday has more representation from socially and economically backward communities, women and people with administrative and legislative experience. The new team is being built with an eye on the forthcoming state elections and in line with the party’s outreach towards the socially and economically deprived sections, part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) social engineering strategy. The changes, and the resignation of 12 ministers from the council, takes the overall size of the new council of ministers 78 (including the PM), just a notch short of the statutory limit of 81. Of this, 11 are women, including two cabinet ministers (finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and women and child development minister Smriti Irani).There are 27 ministers from 19 other backward class (OBC) communities spread across 15 states; there are eight ministers from the scheduled tribes (ST) from across seven communities and eight states; and there are 12 ministers from scheduled castes (SC) from across 12 communities and eight states. Five of the ministers from OBC communities and five from SCs/STs are of cabinet rank. There are also five ministers from minority communities (one Muslim, one Sikh, one Christian, and two Buddhists), including three of cabinet rank.

The emphasis on OBCs and SCs/STs isn’t surprising. The BJP’s success in many states has come from consolidating the traditionally fragmented Hindu vote across OBCs and by appealing to SCs/STs. The average age of the council of ministers is now 58 years, against the average age of 61 years in the previous council. In all, 14 ministers are under the age of 50 years; of these, six are of cabinet rank. For instance,Pramanik is 35, Thakur is 38 and Mirzapur MP Anupriya Patel is 40.The new council also has ministers with expertise across professional sectors. In all, of the total council of 77, there are 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, seven former civil servants, three MBAs, and seven with Ph.Ds. The new council also addresses the electoral needs of states going to polls in 2022. Of the 36 new faces, seven are from Uttar Pradesh and three (one new and two elevated) are from Gujarat, two important states that will vote for new assemblies in 2022.

The Modi government’s image was hit by a crisis of capacity and credibility during the second Covid wave. And that is the reason Modi has signaled a reset effecting the most sweeping change in his Council of Ministers since he took charge for the first time in 2014 The changes mark, arguably, the largestscale purge in recent times with the Prime Minister divesting six of 23 sitting Cabinet ministers and one Minister of State (Independent Charge) of their ministerial responsibilities. As the NDA government has just completed two years, this seems to be the last cabinet reshuffle. Of course, political compulsions of the alliance government may compel Modi to undertake one more reshuffle before the 2024 elections.

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