If earlier it seemed that the BJP suffered from a leadership deficit, the newly expanded Cabinet dispels the notion by inducting faces known for performance.
The NDA government's second cabinet reshuffle comes with three clear takeaways. First, Members of Parliament who have performed well have been recognized and elevated to ministerial rank. Second, portfolios have been reallocated such that it is evident that the government places a high premium on the performance of its ministers. Finally, the BJP, unlike the Congress, a party with a constipated leadership pipeline, is keen to groom leaders for the future.
Recognition Of Talent Within The Party
Some of the key new entrants to the government are MPs who are known for their experience and expertise. SS Ahluwalia, the polyglot MP from Darjeeling is known to be an expert on legislative matters and parliamentary rules and procedures. In the present Lok Sabha he was the chairman of the Privileges Committee and has now been appointed as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs along with for Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare. His cross-party affiliation and long experience as a legislator will bring in much more heft to the government's floor handling in Parliament at a time when crucial bills are stuck for lack of consensus.
Some of the key new entrants to the government are MPs who are known for their experience and expertise.
Supreme Court advocate P P Chaudhary from Rajasthan has been inducted as Minister of State for Law & Justice as well as for Electronics & Information Technology. He was actively consulted by the party on the Jat reservation issue in Haryana and helped draft the legislation for the same. Apart from heading the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Office of Profit he is also one of the party's high-performing parliamentarians, having participated in 358 debates and asked 394 questions in the Lok Sabha when the national average is only 35 and 135 respectively.
The BJP's Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha, Arjun Ram Meghwal, has been appointed Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs. He was the district collector for Churu in Rajasthan in his previous avatar as a bureaucrat and his performance in Parliament has also been particularly noteworthy, with 92 debates, 336 questions and 16 Private Member Bills. He could be valuable in bringing ground-level experience to the Finance Ministry.
While some of the newly appointed ministers have been selected based on performance, others like Krishna Raj, the new Minister of State for Women and Child Development and a first-time legislator from Uttar Pradesh, do not bring much to the table in terms of experience or expertise and clearly point to political calculations at play before the Uttar Pradesh elections due next year.
Message To Ministers: Performance Matters
When it comes to the reallocation of portfolios amongst existing ministers, performance and workload seem to have been the main criteria. Smriti Irani's move from the Human Resource Development Ministry to the low-profile Textile Ministry could be seen as a disapproval of her style of functioning and her lack of ideas on strengthening the education system in India. However, the reduced burden at the Textile Ministry could also signal that she is set to play an active role in Uttar Pradesh where she has directly taken on Rahul Gandhi in Amethi.
The PM's flagship Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana under the Rural Development Ministry has failed to take off... heads had to roll and the minister's was the first one.
Chaudhary Birender Singh, the erstwhile Congress leader from Haryana who was Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water and Sanitation, is one of the most significant losers in the reshuffle. He is now the Minister of Steel. In terms of the budgetary allocation to ministries under him, his stature has significantly diminished. The Ministry of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water & Sanitation has a combined budget of ₹10,2543.19 crore while the Ministry of Steel has a budget of just ₹85 crore. The Prime Minister's flagship Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana under the Rural Development Ministry has failed to take off. The Ministry's own data reveals that in the second phase of the scheme, 473 out of 543 Lok Sabha MPs and 235 out of 252 Rajya Sabha MPs have not adopted their model villages. Further, the government has come under severe criticism for its inability to support people in drought-affected regions with the promised 150 days of employment under MGNREGA. Clearly, heads had to roll and the minister's was the first one.
In the infrastructure ministries, Civil Aviation is the only one that has witnessed a change; Mahesh Sharma has been removed as MoS civil aviation and has been replaced by Jayant Sinha. The release of the Civil Aviation Policy and the government's thrust on improving regional air connectivity required a dynamic and experienced hand to support Ashok Gajapathi Raju, the Cabinet-ranked Minister for Civil Aviation.
Amongst the other non-performing ministers who have been moved out of their ministries are D.V Sadananda Gowda (from the Ministry of Law and Justice to Statistics and Programme Implementation) and Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary (from MoS Home Affairs to MoS Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises). The latter has often come across as no match to his former counterpart, MoS Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, when it came to answering questions related to the Home Ministry in Parliament.
It will be interesting to watch how the newly appointed dream team turns the government's grand vision and tall promises into a reality.
In another interesting appointment, MJ Akbar, also a noted journalist, has been appointed as Minister of State for External Affairs. It is significant to note that MJ Akbar is also on the board of India Foundation, an influential think tank founded by BJP leader Ram Madhav who has been playing key role in organizing diaspora events during Prime Minister's visits abroad. Whether this appointment would entail a more active role for the foundation (which already counts several ministers on its board) in India's foreign policy is something to watch out for.
Grooming Future Leaders
While the Cabinet expansion and reshuffle is clearly an exercise in recognition of talent within the BJP and performance within the Cabinet, it is also an exercise to groom future leaders for the party. Young leaders like Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Babul Supriyo, Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Anupriya Patel and Kiren Rijiju among others find prominent place in the Council of Ministers.
However, it may be pointed out that controversial ministers like Giriraj Singh and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti continue to enjoy the patronage of the BJP leadership despite regularly making statements that divert attention from the government's development agenda.
Nonetheless, with the expanded Cabinet expected to lead the BJP into the next general elections in 2019, it will be interesting to watch how the newly appointed dream team turns the government's grand vision and tall promises into a reality.
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