Cabinet reshuffles and expansions can generally be categorised as tactical or strategic. But the one Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried out this Sunday is a mix of both, the headline grabbing changes happening in the ministries of defence, power and railways.
The elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman as the country’s first full-fledged woman minister for defence is at once bold and realistic. The new incumbent has excellent working relations with finance minister Arun Jaitley who twice held concurrent charge of the ministry barring Manohar Parrikar’s tenure.
Of the eight women in the council of ministers, six now are of cabinet rank. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Sitharaman will sit on the key cabinet committee for security (CCS) which also has as its members the PM, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Jaitley.
In that sense, Sitharaman’s promotion is a big deal. Her work in the commerce ministry will be carried forward by Suresh Prabhu, who has been shifted out of railways to make way for Piyush Goyal. The chain is completed with Bihar MP and former home secretary RK Singh succeeding Goyal as minister of state (independent charge) in the power ministry.
The choice of Singh for the power ministry is a surprise. He’d have to match Goyal’s efficiency in the PMO-monitored infrastructure ministry that fetched his predecessor a promotion and a bigger charge—railways.
Others similarly rewarded with cabinet rank are: Dharmendra Pradhan, who retains petroleum and natural gas with additional charge of skill development and minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
In injecting fresh blood, Modi seems to have relied on domain specialisation. But the work assigned to former diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri and former IAS Alphons Kannanthanam, both lateral entries as MoS (Independent charge) isn’t in consonance with their known expertise. Puri has got housing and urban affairs and Kannanthanam tourism. Be that as it may, Kannanthanam’s induction gives Marxist-ruled Kerala a representation in Modi’s team.
The other surprise was the non-representation of the JD (U) that was widely expected to join the government. In fact, no ally including the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal got anything. The reshuffle was restricted to the BJP. Certain inductions from Bihar and UP merely kept the caste balance which has been disturbed by the exit of incumbent laggards.
After the third reshuffle in as many years, the NDA ministry is 76-member strong as against the constitutional ceiling of 82 — which is 15% of the strength of the Lok Sabha. Half a dozen slots are still available to Modi to accommodate allies or streamline governance.
The need for that could arise sooner than later. Several BJP ministers continue to hold concurrent charge of unrelated ministries.
Hindustan Times, September 4, 2017