Harsh Vardhan dropped as Modi shuffles Cabinet

New Delhi : Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday dropped Health Minister Harsh Vardhan from his Cabinet against the backdrop of huge controversy that hit the government over the handling of the second wave of COVID-19 recently.

At least 10 more ministers, including two seniors–Ramesh Pokhriyal and Santosh Gangwar–also resigned from the Union Cabinet.

The ministers, as per the sources, handed the resignation during the meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his official residence, just hours ahead of the much-anticipated Cabinet reshuffle and expansion.

The devastating second wave of COVID-19, shortage of medical oxygen and irregular supply of anti-COVID-19 vaccines have left the left government in an embarrassing situation. Dr Vardhan’s junior Ashwani Kumar Choubey was also asked to step down.

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, under whose leadership the National Education Policy 2020, was drafted, has resigned citing medical grounds as per the sources.

Mr Pokhriyal has tested positive for COVID-19 in April this year. He was admitted to AIIMS in June for post-COVID complications. Minister of State for Education Sanjay Dhotre has also stepped down.

Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar, who recently tabled the Labour Code bill in Parliament, has stepped down.

D V Sadananda Gowda, Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister, has also quit.

Other ministers who have resigned are Minister of State for Woman and Child Development Debasree Chaudhuri, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Babul Supriya, Minister of State for Animal Husbandry and Dairying and Fisheries and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Pratap Chandra Sarangi.

Minister of State for Jal Shakti Ratan Lal Kataria and Minister of State Ministry of Consumer Affairs Raosaheb Danve have also quit.

The Cabinet reshuffle and expansion will take place at 1800 hrs. As many as 43 leaders are expected to take the oath of the minister, official sources said.

The exercise was slated for 2020 but had to be deferred repeatedly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A slew of gubernatorial appointments, including that of Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawarchand Gehlot as the Governor of Karnataka were announced on Tuesday. Also, the government decided to create a separate ‘Ministry of Cooperation with the aim of ‘Sahkar se Samriddhi’ (prosperity through cooperatives).

Of the 81 slots of the council of ministers, 52 are filled by the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. As per the sources, the top brass of the BJP conducted extensive meetings with several ministers and prepared a report card after the devastating second wave of COVID-19.

Another reason for rejigging is elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur next year as the BJP wants to play well after miserable defeat in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in May this year, the sources said. Senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, including its chief Mohan Bhagwat, were in Delhi last week, possibly to discuss the Cabinet rejig with the BJP.

This will be the first cabinet reshuffle in the second term of Mr Modi as the Prime Minister.

The previous reshuffle was conducted in 2017 when Nirmala Sitharaman was made the Defence Minister.

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