New Delhi: The contours and composition of the third cabinet reshuffle and expansion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi unmistakably reflects the immediate priorities of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as it approaches the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And they are reviving economic growth, creating jobs, kickstarting private sector investment, rebooting the farm economy, closing infrastructure projects and ensuring the country’s borders are safe—especially from aggressive neighbours like China. At the same time the elevation of four ministers, including Nirmala Sitharaman as the new defence minister, shows the Prime Minister is sending a clear signal that performance will be rewarded. Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been elevated to cabinet rank along with charge of the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. Pradhan’s additional remit will have to play an important role to address the challenge of creating jobs to absorb the 12 million joining the workforce every year.
Similarly, Piyush Goyal has been entrusted with the task of pushing (Contd.. on page 2)
the faster rollout of the reforms initiated by the outgoing minister, Suresh Prabhu.
The much-awaited cabinet reshuffle on Sunday came against the backdrop of the NDA drawing political flak over the demonetization of high-value currency notes and India’s economic growth slowing to 5.7% in the June quarter, the slowest pace in three years. Keeping in mind the focus on delivery, the new faces include four former bureaucrats—home secretary Raj Kumar Singh, Mumbai police commissioner Satya Pal Singh, senior Indian diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri and Delhi Development Authority commissioner K.J. Alphons.
Raj Kumar Singh has given independent charge of the ministries of power and new and renewable energy; Satya Pal Singh is the new minister of state in the ministries of human resource development and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation; Hardeep Singh Puri has been given independent charge of the ministry of housing and urban affairs; and K.J. Alphons got independent charge of the tourism ministry and is the minister of state in the electronics and information technology ministry.
Perceived to be a doer, Nitin Gadkari has also been made the minister of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation. Apart from being the transportation and shipping minister, the new charge will help Gadkari generate greater synergy in implementing the government’s ambitious inland waterways project.
The overarching theme of job creation becomes evident given the new ministers are in charge of the three key ministries of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), skills development and entrepreneurship and labour and employment. While Giriraj Singh got independent charge of MSME, Santosh Kumar Gangwar got independent charge of the critical ministry of labour and employment.
Suresh Prabhu has been accommodated as commerce and industry minister and Narendra Singh Tomar got back the charge of the mines ministry in addition to his current portfolio of rural development and panchayati raj.
The cabinet berth choices also reflect the Bharatiya Janata Party’s focus on poll- bound states. While Satya Pal Singh and Shiv Pratap Shukla (MoS in the finance ministry) come from Uttar Pradesh, Raj Kumar Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey (MoS in the health and family welfare ministry) belong to Bihar—states that together elect 120 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Virendra Kumar (MoS in ministries of women and child development; and minority affairs) is from Madhya Pradesh, Anant Kumar Hegde (MoS in MSME) from Karnataka and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (MoS in the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry) is from Rajasthan.
“The main takeaways are that the Prime Minister is trying to bring in fresh blood from outside, the less performing ministers have been given the signal that they have to go. The PM is clearly targeting the parliamentary elections in 2019 and through this exercise he is trying to ensure that the deliverables and targets are achieved. He has inducted people who he thinks can perform. He has also given the states representation. So there are many messages in this reshuffle exercise,” said A.K. Verma, director of the Kanpur-based Centre for the Study of Society and Politics.