It was labelled an expansion of the Union Council of Ministers. Instead by Tuesday evening Prime Minister Narendra Modi had redrawn the ministerial map of his government, in a masterful change of guard in major ministries.
The 19 new faces inducted by the Prime Minister in his Council were eclipsed by the changes their seniors went through in their work load and descriptions. As the smoke clears away from the detritus of this exercise, what does it signify really?
The most obvious message seems to be that Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated that there will be no administrative islands in his government. Unlike the previous UPA government, with dominating allies and party pressures, Prime Minister Modi has sent a message that participation in his government shall be at his pleasure.
Controversy and its courting were not to be tolerated, but action would be at a time of the Prime Minister’s choosing. Among the five Ministers who resigned on Tuesday morning were Nihalchand Meghwal (former Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers) and Rama Shankar Katheria (MoS Human Resource Development), one accused of a heinous crime, the other spoke on a necessary saffronisation of education, exceeding his brief. Both were made to leave, once the controversy had run its course.
The transfer of the HRD portfolio from Smriti Irani, to Prakash Javadekar also happened after the embers of the JNU controversy and at the Hyderabad Central University had died down somewhat.
The evening before Tuesday’s reshuffle, a small note was circulated on behalf of the government, along with a list of probable inductees.
It said: “The expansion comes after an exhaustive vetting and selection process to find the best talent. People were assessed on the value they would bring to the Ministry. This marks a firm departure from the usual routine of frequent changes based on caste, religion and other time-serving political considerations.” The new list however looked more of the old thing of a balance between caste and regional equations.
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