NEW DELHI: Focussing on his agenda of good governance, performance and last mile delivery, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday effected third expansion and reshuffle of his Cabinet, elevating four ministers and inducting nine new faces which included four former bureaucrats.
The allocation of portfolio witnessed Nirmala Sitharaman being elevated to the Cabinet rank and stepping in the South Block as the first full-time woman Defence Minister. After Urban Development Minister Mr. M. Venkaiah NaiduÂs election as the Vice-President, the need was felt to give Southern States a prominent place in the Cabinet. Ms. Sitharaman who is from Tamil Nadu and her husband hails from Andhra Pradesh was eminently suited to fill the slot, indicating that maintaining regional balance was also a key factor.
Along with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, and External Affairs Minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj, Ms. Sitharaman will be a member of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which is headed by the Prime Minister. Mr. Jaitley was holding additional charge of Defence Ministry since Manohar Parrikar returned to Goa as chief minister earlier in March after the assembly polls in the coastal state.
Apart from Ms. Sitharaman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Dharmendra Pradhan, and Piyush Goyal, who were all holding independent charge as state ministers, were elevated to the Cabinet rank on the basis of their peformance, taking the total number to 27 Cabinet ministers of which six are women, the highest in any Union Cabinet. There are 11 Ministers of State with independent charge and 37 Ministers of State.
The new ministers who were sworn in by President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony in the Rashtrapati Bhavan include Virendra Kumar, Anant Kumar Hegde and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, former IAS officers Alphons Kannanthanam and R K Singh, former Indian Foreign Service officer and diplomat Hardeep Puri and former Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh. Both Mr. Puri and Mr. Alphons are not members of any House and they are likely to enter the Rajya Sabha within next six months. While Mr. R K Singh, a former Home Secretary represents Arrah in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Satyapal Singh had defeated Mr. Ajit Singh to enter the Lok Sabha from Baghpat constituency.
Ashwini Kumar Choubey, a Lok Sabha member from Bihar, and Shiv Pratap Shukla from Uttar Pradesh are the two other new faces. Indications are that Mr. Modi may go for another expansion of his Cabinet as the BJPÂs allies have not found place in todayÂs reshuffle.
Six Cabinet ministers had quit a couple of days before the reshuffle, making way for the new faces. The former ministers are likely to be given key responsibilities in the party work.
Induction of Mr. Alphons from Kerala and Mr. Puri, a Sikh, in the Cabinet and elevation of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi as Minority Affairs Minister is a subtle message to the religious minorities from the BJP as the party is keen to make its presence felt in the Southern States, particularly Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Official sources said that induction of technocrats and former bureaucrats in the Union Cabinet was nothing new as the Congress had Dr. Manmohan Singh, a former Reserve Bank of India governor, as the Prime Minister and K. R. Narayanan, a former IFS officer as Science and Technology minister who rose to become Vice-President and later the President. Sources said that former bureaucrats bring their rich administrative experience and can be of significant help in implementation of the governmentÂs schemes in an effective and time-bound manner.
While Dharmendra Pradesh who deftly and efficiently handled Oil and Petroleum Ministry now also gets the charge of Skill Development, Suresh Prabhu was shifted from Railways to Commerce and his place was taken by Piyush Goyal who was also elevated to the Cabinet rank. Mr. Goyal is credited with sterling performance in the Power ministry who implemented with zeal the Prime MinisterÂs pet programme of rural electrification.
Mr. Modi also kept in mind three States where assembly polls are to be held next year Â Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The exercise saw induction of Gajendra Singh Shekhawat , Virendra Kumar and Anant Hegde in the Cabinet from these States.