NEW DELHI: Struggling to salvage his image after a disastrous and widely criticised handling of the second wave of Covid-19 that hit India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his cabinet and fired seven senior ministers, including Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.
Minister of Law and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad, known for sharp exchanges with Twitter bosses recently, was also sacked and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who stood in as the official spokesman, was dropped.
As 43 ministers took oath, seven were sacked. The reshuffle is believed to be linked to crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, along with three other states, that go to polls next year. Mr Modi now has 77 ministers, nearly half of them new. Anurag Thakur and Hardeep Puri are among 15 new cabinet ministers.
Sarbananda Sonowal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who switched over from the Congress, Narayan Rane, Bhupender Yadav and Ashwini Vaishnaw were also sworn in as cabinet ministers.
A veteran BJP leader, Mr Prasad, like Mr Javadekar, is among the few who were ministers even in the previous BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Mr Prasad’s last few months in the IT ministry were taken up by a legal fight with social media giants including Twitter and Facebook, especially a relentless back-and-forth with Twitter over new IT rules.
All three were seen at the oath ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday evening.
The government said “20 per cent” ministers — a fifth of the council of ministers — had been dropped and the message was performance-linked.
The vacancies in major ministries signal a shake-up that could see ministers shedding extra portfolios and some being downgraded. The Big Four, however, are unlikely to be affected — the Ministers of Home, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance, NDTV said.
Bhupendra Yadav and Meenakshi Lekhi also joined the government. Seven new ministers are from Uttar Pradesh, which will elect a new government next year.
Besides UP and Punjab, India’s two of most politically vital states, elections will be held Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. The BJP rules all the states except Punjab, where the Congress is in power. For the BJP, winning UP is a crucial test ahead of the 2024 national election.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2021