Thirty-six new ministers joined the government and four high-profile ministers quit today in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mega cabinet reboot to offset criticism as the country emerges from a fierce second wave of Covid ahead of key elections.
PM Modi now has 77 ministers, nearly half of them new. Anurag Thakur and Hardeep Puri are among 15 new cabinet ministers.
Sarbananda Sonowal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Narayan Rane, Bhupender Yadav and Ashwini Vaishnaw were also sworn in as cabinet ministers.
But the exits of IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar stood out on a day resignations made bigger news than new ministers.
Harsh Vardhan’s sacking follows months of firefighting as the second surge of Covid engulfed the nation, exposing its inadequate health infrastructure. Cities ran out of oxygen and hospital beds and burning pyres at crematoriums and bodies floating in rivers became defining images of an unprecedented national crisis.
Mr Javadekar was among the chief spokespersons of the government, a role he has performed for years.
Ravi Shankar Prasad’s resignation was a shock as he was seen to be in the core team of the government’s troubleshooters.
A veteran BJP leader, Mr Prasad, like Mr Javadekar, is among the few who were ministers even in the previous BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Mr Prasad’s last few months in the IT ministry were taken up by a legal fight with social media giants including Twitter and Facebook, especially a relentless back-and-forth with Twitter over new IT rules.
All three were seen at the oath ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan this evening.
The government said “20 per cent” ministers – a fifth of the council of ministers — had been dropped and the message was performance-linked.
The vacancies in major ministries signal a shake-up that could see ministers shedding extra portfolios and some being downgraded. The Big Four, however, are unlikely to be affected – the Ministers of Home, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance.
Bhupendra Yadav and Meenakshi Lekhi also joined the government. Seven new ministers are from Uttar Pradesh, which will elect a new government next year.
Besides UP, India’s most politically vital state, elections will be held in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. The BJP rules all the states except Punjab, where the Congress is in power. For the BJP, winning UP is a crucial test ahead of the 2024 national election.