As many as 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, four MBAs and two former IAS officers were sworn in as ministers in Modi’s Council of Ministers, which now bears a completely new look. The exercise balances, regional and caste aspirations, brings in younger faces and bears the stamp of the Prime Minister’s go-getting style of political management.
Narendra Modi’s much-awaited reshuffle of his Council of Ministers turned out to be a near complete overhaul of his ministry – and is indicative of the Prime Minister’s penchant for time-bound delivery of targets and his abiding faith in talented professionals and young people.
Of the 43 ministers who took oath, as many as 36 were fresh faces, making this, arguably, the most radical Cabinet reshuffle in recent years. The remaining seven were junior ministers who were promoted to full Cabinet rank.
Among the three dozen new inductees were 13 lawyers, six doctors, five engineers, four MBAs and two former officers of the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS), whose cadre make up the cream of India’s civil services.
The rejig is also a carefully crafted exercise to provide adequate representation to all regions of India and give all sections of society, including marginalised caste groups, an equitable stake in India’s governance structure.
In keeping with Modi’s management style, he has attempted to bring in synergies by clubbing related ministries and placing them under the charge of one person. Piyush Goyal has retained his Commerce & Industries ministry and been given additional charge of the textiles department. Textiles is one of India’s top exports and placing it under the watch of the commerce minister is expected to result in synergistic benefits accruing to the sector.
Then, Health and Chemicals & Fertilisers have been brought under one umbrella because pharmaceuticals comes under the latter department. Likewise, Railways and IT & Electronics have been placed under the watch of one minister. This will facilitate the technology upgrades being undertaken by the Railways.
The investor community will have reason to cheer the induction of Ashwini Vaishnaw as Minister of Railways and Communications, Electronics & Information Technology. Vaishnaw is a former IAS officer, who holds an M. Tech degree as well as an MBA from Wharton. A 1994 batch officer, he quit the civil services after 15 years and served in senior position in the Indian operations of GE and Siemens before turning entrepreneur. During his tenure in government, he was one the main architects of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model of implementing infrastructure projects.
He will have to resolve the ongoing spat with Twitter and other global social media giants over India’s new IT rules and also pilot the new data privacy law, which has been in the works for a long time.
His appointment is a testament to Modi’s strong preference for domain experts. He is expected to bring his hands-on experience in the infrastructure sector to his portfolios. Vaishnaw will be assisted in the Electronics & IT department by newly appointed Minister of State Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who is a well-known entrepreneur and one of the pioneers of India’s mobile telecom sector.
Another important appointment in a “business-oriented ministry” is Jyotiraditya Scindia’s choice as Civil Aviation Minister. The titular “Maharaja” of Gwalior had switched over from the Congress last year. This helped bring down his erstwhile party’s government in Madhya Pradesh and install a BJP government in the state.
As a junior minister in the UPA government, Scindia had built a reputation for being a doer with a strong acumen for governance. He will have to steer the sector, which is reeling from the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, back to good health.
More importantly, he will have to handle the delicate but important task of privatising India’s loss-making national carrier Air India, which has been pending for several years.
Then, Modi has placed the Education Ministry and Skill Development department under the same roof and placed them under the watch of Dharmendra Pradhan, who proved his governance capabilities as India’s Petroleum Minister over the first seven years of the BJP-led NDA government.
Bringing these two departments under one minister is expected to draw out the synergies between them and lead to more efficient implementation of the Skill India flagship programme.
Heavyweights like Ravi Shankar Prasad, who held the Law & Justice as well as the IT, Electronics & Communications portfolio, Ramesh Pokhriyal (Education), Prakash Javadekar (environment and Information & Broadcasting) and Harsh Vardhan (Health) vacated their portfolios.
Modi has left the Big Four ministries – Defence, Home, Finance and External Affairs – untouched. They will continue to remain under the charge of Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar, respectively.
Shah has, however, been given additional charge of the Ministry of Cooperation, whose exact mandate has not yet been spelt out.
With the induction of younger ministers, the average age of Modi’s new Council of Ministers has come down to 58 from 61 earlier.
With 36 fresh faces, Team Modi now has 27 other backward caste (OBC) members, 12 Dalit ministers and eight tribal representatives. The remaining 30 belong to the so-called upper castes.
Soon after the swearing-in of the new ministers, Modi tweeted: “I congratulate all the colleagues who have taken oath today and wish them the very best for their ministerial tenure. We will continue working to fulfil aspirations of the people and build a strong and prosperous India.”