This Article is From Aug 21, 2016

For Smriti Irani And Other Top Guns, Clear Message From PM Modi

If searching for messages from the cabinet reshuffle and expansion exercise yesterday, this is the stand-out: PM Modi has indicated that no one is indispensable. A total of 15 ministers have been impacted. Top guns have amended roles; among them: Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ananth Kumar and Sadananda Gowda.

The change in Smriti Irani's portfolio, which, let's face it, is a demotion, indicates a push for team play and that proximities don't matter. Gen VK Singh (retd.) and Mahesh Sharma who have habitually proffered controversial remarks have lost ground.  

The key portfolio of Telecom has been taken from Ravi Shankar Prasad and handed over to a political light-weight, technocrat Manoj Sinha. He is not a cabinet minister but has independent charge, which means the crucial department of Telecom has now been added to the list of ministries which will work under the PM's stewardship. That bloc includes sectors like petroleum, power, coal, mines, commerce and environment. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's council of ministers got 19 new faces on Tuesday morning

PM Modi added 19 ministers to his council yesterday, taking the total to 78 - the jumbo size jettisons the BJP's mantra of 2014, a lean mean council with several departments dovetailed into super ministries. Top leaders in the government, however, plead that the famous "minimum government maximum governance" promise of the 2014 polls has not been ejected. "The inductions will make the council more poised for action and delivery," a senior minister said on the condition of anonymity.

But beyond the rhetoric, the cabinet expansion and reshuffle is a political exercise aimed at strengthening the Modi-Shah duo's election machinery with the presence of more backward caste and Dalits among the 19 new ministers to highlight the BJP's pan-India focus on the marginalised and rural voter.

This comes as the  BJP feels that the elections in Bihar, Bengal and Assam have proved that the Congress is greatly weakened and its main opponents are regional players who need to be outplayed with a greater support base among backward and Dalit votes, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh.

Smriti Irani has been moved to Textiles Ministry in PM Narendra Modi's big cabinet reshuffle (File photo)

Ramdas Athawale, a party with a strong Dalit base in Maharashtra was inducted as a Minister of State today. "For the first time, a party like RPI has found a place in the council of ministers. That's a matter of pride for the Dalits," he said. Just the sort of backing the BJP wants.

But political signaling to caste groups is not the sole aim of the expansion. The greatly increased set of junior ministers are expected to be pracharaks or messengers of the government, helping to publicize key policies and reforms, an idea perhaps drawn from Mr Modi's famous past as an RSS pracharak. The council now has nearly 40 junior members or Ministers of State - the idea is that cabinet ministers work on policies and their deputies help roll out and build awareness of the schemes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP President Amit Shah at the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Tuesday (PTI photo)

Above all, perhaps, the take-away from the dramatic cabinet overhaul is that party chief Amit Shah is boss. After losing Delhi and Bihar, Mr Shah had lost some of his political capital. The big win in Assam two months ago corrected that. Before the new ministers were announced, the hopefuls and probables met him and not the PM. At their oath-taking ceremony yesterday, he was seated right next to the PM. With India near permanently in election season, Mr Shah calls many shots. And nobody, certainly not his party, is being coy about that.

(Rahul Shrivastava is Senior Editor, Political Affairs NDTV 24x7)

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