They may have survived the shakedown, but two ministers in Team Modi – General (retd) Vijay Kumar Singh and Santosh Kumar Gangwar – may have made a record with their demotion.
Both lost their independent charge as ministers of state (MoS) in this week’s cabinet reshuffle and were demoted to just MoS, a rarity in Indian politics.
A MoS plays second fiddle to the cabinet minister responsible for the ministry. In contrast, a minister of state (independent charge) handles the allocated ministry on their own with no cabinet minister overseeing their work.
For Gangwar, a seven-time MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly constituency, the reshuffle brought him back to square one. Seventeen years ago, when he first became a MoS in the Vajpayee government, Gangwar was placed in the finance ministry. This week, he returned to the same ministry and post after independently running the textile ministry for two years, and will report to Arun Jaitley.
In case of Gen. Singh, the slide has been more consistent.
Modi had inducted him into his team with great expectations, placing him at the top of the list of ministers of state with independent charge. His first assignment was the ministry of north-eastern development, a region that is so high on Modi’s priority list that he sends eight ministers to travel through the region every fortnight.
But the retired general could not get along with the department’s secretary. Modi – who stresses on government functionaries working as a team – first moved the secretary out. Gen. Singh followed, being moved to the ministry of statistics and programme implementation with independent charge.
The Prime Minister’s message was clear: If people in the government ended up fighting with each other, both sides would lose.
This time, sources suggested, Modi had taken a dim view of the minister’s penchant to walk into controversies. In March, the minister – who was deputed to reach out to Africans worried about their safety – dismissed an attack on them in capital as a “minor scuffle, blown up” by the media.
The minister’s target was the media but it also implied that the envoys of African nations who had threatened to stay away from the Indian government’s celebrations on Africa Day exaggerated their concerns.
In the reshuffle this week, Modi stripped him of the independent charge and left him with the hat of MoS external affairs. But a loss of rank may not be all that the former army chief has to suffer.
Modi also inducted former editor MJ Akbar as a MoS to assist foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, an appointment that could relegate Singh to the ministry’s number three position.