Business Today

Sending a Clear Message

PM Modi's new Cabinet is about performance and merit, besides caste and political compulsions.
By Anilesh S. Mahajan | Print Edition: July 31, 2016
Modi's new Cabinet has 78 Ministers

Seen from the prism of winners and losers, Piyush Goyal has emerged as one of the biggest winners in the Cabinet reshuffle, despite not getting a Cabinet rank. The Minister of State (with independent charge) for power, coal and renewable energy, has now been given additional charge of mines. He was entursted with new responsibilities for making substantial progress in reducing power deficit and improving coal supplies. The new ministry under him will also require an overhaul.

Many decisions in the reshuffle made it clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi intends to break the status quo and his preference remains energy and infrastructure. Modi brought in 18 new ministers, and sacked five, while deftly balancing caste and regional equations with merit.

Former HRD minister Smriti Irani tried to toe the RSS line, but lost out following the mishandling of the Rohith Vemula case, as a pro-dalit image is a must-have in the present RSS setup. MoS finance Jayant Sinha, whose father Yashwant Sinha has been a critic of Arun Jaitley, was shifted to civil aviation. He is expected to bring in a 'businesslike' approach to issuing new licenses and get rid of red tape. The PM also showed deft handling of issues relating to the RSS. He replaced Irani and Sinha with people considered close to the Sangh - Prakash Javadekar and Arjun Ram Meghwal, respectively. While a few underachievers like Radha Mohan Singh were provided with a helping hand - Singh got a junior minister in Modi confidant from Gujarat, Parshottam Rupala - others like Sadananda Gowda were transfered to less important ministries. Gowda, for instance, was shifted out of the law ministry to statistics and programme implementation, and may well be sent back to Karantaka politics in 2017. While Sanjeev Balyan was brought in from agriculture ministry to assist Uma Bharti and Subhash Bhamre replaced Rao Inderjit Singh to assist Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, environmentalist Anil Madhav Dave was given independent charge of environment, forest and climate change. The PM's focus areas remained external affairs, defence, environment, rural development and communications.

Former journalist M.J. Akbar was roped in to help Sushma Swaraj take India's cause to West and Central Asia to counter China. It would be interesting to see how Akbar shares the space with former army chief V.K. Singh. Manoj Sinha's introduction to the telecom ministry as MoS (independent charge), will also allow the PMO to set up a direct line with telcos and carry on with Ravi Shankar Prasad's initiave to push private firms to invest in infrastructure, along with smooth execution of the Digital India initiatives.

With the induction of Ananth Kumar and S.S. Ahluwalia in the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, the PM expects smooth functioning of both Houses and a passage for the GST Bill in the monsoon session. A former Congressman, Ahluwalia is considered an encyclopaedia of parliamentary procedures and rules, and unlike his predecessor Venkaiah Naidu, who was considered to be confrontational, is expected to get the Opposition on board.

At the end of the day, the message was loud and clear - Perform or Perish!

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