AS the second wave of the Covid-19 abates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday handpicked new and young leaders to nurture and energise the sectors ravaged by the pandemic — from health and education to labour, civil aviation, IT and petroleum.
In the biggest-ever expansion of the Council of Ministers, he has assigned key responsibilities such as IT and Communication to the Wharton-educated Ashwini Vaishnaw, Health to Mansukh Mandaviya, Civil Aviation to Jyotiraditya Scindia, Education and Skill Development to Dharmendra Pradhan, Environment, Labour and Employment to Bhupendra Yadav, Information and Broadcasting to Anurag Thakur and Law to Kiren Rijiju.All are under 55 years.
Hardeep Puri has also been elevated to Cabinet rank and entrusted with Petroleum, Housing and Urban Affairs. With Home Minister Amit Shah taking over the newly-formed Ministry of Cooperation, his role has become more significant since cooperative sectors cut across states and need effective coordination.
Keen to leverage technology for transformation in governance and delivery mechanism, Modi has entrusted the ministries of communications, electronics and information technology as well as Railways to the bureaucrat-turned-politician Vaishnaw, the 51 year-old former IAS officer, holding degrees from IIT Kanpur and Wharton Business School. All these sectors touch human lives on a daily basis.
The Prime Minister, said sources in the government, wants the new minister to balance nationalist interests (Atmanirbhar Bharat) with the imperative to attract foreign investments in the IT and electronic sectors.
After his government faced severe criticism over Covid management, leading to a drop in his popularity and denting the credibility of the government, Modi is now turning to Mandaviya, who was the minister of ports, shipping and waterways, to fight the battle against the pandemic.
Puri, who enjoys the Prime Minister’s confidence, will continue to handle the prestigious Central Vista project, and also be in charge of the key economic portfolio of petroleum and natural gas. Higher domestic retail fuel prices due to rising global oil prices have presented new challenges to the political economy, given the spectre of inflation.
Bhupender Yadav, who has long been a trouble shooter and a strategist for the BJP in key states, also has his task cut out. Besides pursuing labour reforms, he has to work towards creating more jobs with Covid taking away many livelihoods.
The unenviable job of correcting India’s perception abroad and setting a new narrative now rests with Anurag Thakur. Having earned the confidence of Modi and Shah, Thakur, 46, is expected to project an image of an effective government at the domestic and international level.
Rijijju, 49 ,also has a challenging task as law minister as the government does not seem to be having a cordial relation with the judiciary, especially over appointment of new judges. Recently, the government has come under criticism on a number of issues including on the usage of UAPA and sedition laws, from various high courts and the Supreme Court.
At a time when the rural economy is in shambles due to prolonged lockdowns and the Covid virus spreading, the performance of Giriraj Singh, the rural development and Panchayati Raj minister would be closely observed. The Prime Minister’s decision to choose Singh is seen as an approval to his meticulous work in his earlier ministries.
On Tuesday, while resetting and expanding his Cabinet, Prime Minister Modi did take away some responsibilities from senior ministers. Dharmendra Pradhan, who lost the Petroleum to Puri, has been given charge of education, skill development and entrepreneurship portfolios. Goyal has been stripped of railways, but continues to hold commerce and industry, consumer affairs , food and public distribution. He has also been given the textile ministry.
Smriti Irani remains Minister of Women and Child Development. The reshuffle, however, has taken away the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises ministry from senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, who is now left with only Road Transport and Highways.