Modi reshuffles cabinet, 9 new faces take oath

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International desk, September 3: Seeking to balance between needs of real politics and good governance, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday effected a reshuffle of his council of ministers and portfolios of some of them appointing the country’s second woman Defence Minister after Indira Gandhi, inducting nine new faces and rewarding four young junior ministers for their good work with cabinet berths.

Nirmala Sitharaman, who was among the four elevated from minister of state with independent charge to the cabinet rank today, was appointed Defence Minister.

She will take over the portfolio from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who returns from Japan in a couple of days after attending a meeting in that country. Jaitley was holding the defence as an additional portfolio since Manohar Parrikar became Chief Minister of Goa state several months ago.

A former chief spokesman of ruling BJP, 58-year-old Sitharaman, who was minister of state for commerce and industry with independent charge, will now be part of the crucial Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which also includes the prime minister, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

Sitharaman is India’s first woman defence minister after Indira Gandhi who had held the portfolio as prime minister.

This was the third cabinet reshuffle Modi undertook since become PM on May 26, 2014. All the new ministers were from BJP whose allies were not part of the exercise. Six ministers of the council of ministers resigned days ahead of today’s reshuffle.

In other key portfolio changes, Modi appointed Piyush Goyal, who was minister of state for power and renewable energy, was today given charge of key railways ministry and he takes over from Suresh Prabhu who came in for sharp criticism for a series of train accidents recently. Goyal also retained the charge of important Coal Ministry. Prabhu, however, retains his place in the cabinet but got charge of commerce and industry ministry.

Modi also promoted Dharmendra Pradhan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi both of whom retain their portfolios of petroleum and minority affairs respectively. Pradhan has been allocated the additional charge of skill development and entepreneurship from where Rajiv Pratap Rudy was eased out a few days ago.

Sitharaman, Goyal, Pradhan and Naqvi have been rewarded with cabinet berths in a move seen to be rewarding them for implementing Modi’s flagship schemes in oil and gas, commerce, power and minority affairs sectors as ministers of state with independent charge.

The four are also seen as the emerging leadership of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and their induction as junior ministers with independent charge reflected the faith reposed in them by Modi.

As minister of state for power, Goyal was stated to have delivered on the government’s plan to electrify villages and for carrying out corruption-free auctions in coal sector that had in the past courted controversies due to large-scale graft, and also put into effect a turnaround in power production.

Pradhan, oil and energy minister, is another minister who is known for having performed impressively in translating into reality one of Modi’s main schemes of persuading people to give up subsidised cooking gas voluntarily. He is also perceived to have succeeded in keeping the oil ministry clean of lobbies.

In another important change of portfolio today, the key ministry of water resources has been assigned to Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Jairam Gadkari who has cabinet rank. The Water Resources portfolio was earlier with Uma Bharti who is now left with Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio in the rank of cabinet minister.

Among the existing junior ministers, Col (Retd) Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, India’s Olympic medallist in shooting, has been elevated to the rank of minister of state with independent charge of ministry of sports and youth affairs replacing Vijay Goel.

Besides, Rathore also remains junior minister in Information and Broadcasting ministry in which Smriti Iran is full cabinet minister. Irani, Textile Minister, holds the additional charge of information and broadcasting.

The latest round of cabinet rejig has been carried out after six ministers were asked to resign to make way for the new entrants as Modi prepares for fresh general elections in 2019 when he seeks a consecutive term as PM.

Nine new faces were taken in the council of ministers—four of them retired bureaucrats and five seasoned politicians of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Of the five politicians, three are lawmakers – Virendra Kumar, Anant Hegde and Gajendra Singy Shekhawat from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan states respectively where fresh elections to legislative assembly polls are due next year.

The selection of nine new names for ministership has been done by Modi keeping in view the ‘4 Ps’ — passion, proficiency, professional and political acumen, to deliver on his vision of a new India, official sources said.

Among the four former bureaucrats sworn in today is India’s former Home Secretary Raj Kumar Singh who, as District Collector of Samastipur in eastern state of Bihar, had arrested BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani to stop the latter from carrying on his Ram Rath yatra at the height of the party’s campaign to build a temple at the disputed site of Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1990.

Before he plunged into politics, 65-year-old Singh was Home Secretary of India for two years (2011-13) during the rule of Congress party-led UPA. Raj Kumar Singh has been rewarded with independent charge as junior minister of power and renewable energy.

Another ex- bureaucrat who took oath today as minister of state was Hardeep Singh Puri, a Sikh and a former officer of Indian Foreign Service, who joined BJP ahead of the previous parliamentary polls in 2014. 65-year-old Puri’s last assignment was as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013.

Known for his experience and expertise in foreign policy and national security, Puri is the president and chairman of leading think-tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) and was the vice president of the International Peace Institute, New York.

Puri was made minister of state with independent charge of housing and urban affairs.

Kanananthanma was made mos with independent charge of tourism ministry and also given additional charge in the same capacity in ministry of electronics and information technology.

Two retired Indian Police Service officers Alphons Kannanthanam, 64 and Satyapal Singh, 62, were also sworn in as junior ministers at the Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning. Singh was a former police chief of India’s financial and entertainment hub Mumbai who is credited with taking on the city’s infamous underworld gangs in 1990s. Singh was put in ministries of Human Resources and Water Resourceds.

The induction of Kannanthanam (64), who had shot into limelight as commissioner of Delhi Development Authority when he removed encroachments in the national capital’s markets in 1990s and earned the sobriquet of “demolition man” into the council of ministers is part of BJP’s plan to make inroads into the political landscape of southern state of Kerala and reach out to the state’s minority Christian community. Kerala has a fairly good presence of Muslims and Christians.

Modi took to the Twitter and congratulated all those who joined his council of ministers today, saying their experience and wisdom would add immense value to it.

“I congratulate all those who have taken oath today. Their experience & wisdom will add immense value to the Council of Ministers,” the prime minister tweeted shortly after the swearing-in ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhawan.