Many things were at stake. The pandemic, especially after second wave, has dented the government’s image. The economy is tottering. The performance at state elections has so far been disappointing and crucial states, like UP, will be soon going to the polls. What the government needed was new energy and new vision to tide over the crisis. The cabinet reshuffle is a step towards that direction.
The first thing that strikes everyone is the induction of youngsters like Jyotiraditya Scindia , Manshuk Mandviya, Anurag Thakur and Anupriya Patel. The average age of the cabinet has been, at one shot, been reduced to 58. The second point of attention was the synergy between the ministries – Health Ministry, Pharma and Chemicals have now come under one minister so that there are no problems in tackling vaccines and oxygen supplies under health ministry. Education and Skills Development have been brought together. Over and above, a new ministry of Cooperation has been formed with Amit Shah as its head to ensure greater integration in the functioning of the government.
For the Centre, it is now a do or die situation. It is having a bad foreign media coverage (of which the Modi government is very sensitive) especially after the mishandling of the vaccine crisis and in the disposal of the dead. The Health sector needed a change with someone whom the prime minister could depend on – and hence the induction of Manshuk from Gujarat who contributed to the tackling of the oxygen supply in times of crisis. The disinvestment issue, headed by the Air India stalemate, needed a push and hence comes young Jyotiraditya, whose father too once held the Aviation Ministry. Many were wondering what was the synergy between Railways and IT (both now handed over to Ashwini Vaishnav); but we know much of the optical fibre cables are today being laid along the railway tracks.
The restructuring of ministries has been delayed (there has been speculation of changes for quite some time now); but the way it has been done reveals that it has gone through a lot of deliberation. Apart from the youthfulness injected in the workings of the government and the synergy of ministries to enable smooth functioning, the thought process to satisfy political compulsions cannot be ignored. The country is passing through difficult times; but the opposition is unsparing and has been comparing the present limbo as the ‘functional paralyses’ of the earlier UPA government. So the induction of new energy for the government was a necessity. But the real political aim is to win the UP assembly election next year and the final Lok Sabha elections of 2024. Seven members from Uttar Pradesh have been inducted in the new government. To establish a dynamic image-makeover, one notes the removal of 12 ministers including ‘heavy weights’ like Harsha Vardhan, Ravishankar Prashad, Prakash Javedekar, Santosh Gangwar and Sadananda Gowda. Many are comparing this move with that of “Kamraj Plan’ – the way Nehru inducted new blood in the ministry, including Indira Gandhi.
The present government understands that the future opposition will not be from one party – say the Congress – but from several regional parties. The government has inducted in the new ministry, representatives from at least 25 states which is an indication of a strategy of keeping tabs on the regions. Secondly, over 50 per cent of ministers are from OBC, SC, ST categories. They are the regional vote banks. Though Modi government lost badly in the recent West Bengal elections, as many as four ministers of state have been inducted in the new government from West Bengal - and all of them are from the backward castes and tribes. Clearly, the new ministry is meant to set the stage for 2024 Lok Sabha elections.