A forewarning from the Prime Minister post the swearing-in on Tuesday forenoon triggered trepidation among his cabinet colleagues, who faced hours of uneasy suspense that ended only late in the night when the new list of portfolios were released.
The first hint at the prospect of “big changes” that Narendra Modi had made clear at an afternoon meeting of the cabinet came around 8.30pm when the news was out that Smriti Irani was being shunted out of the high-profile human resource development ministry.
That was enough indication to the ramifications of a dramatic statement the Prime Minister had made earlier in the day: “Aap logo ko TV aur akhbar se pata chal jayega, lekin main bata do ki bade badlav honge (you will come to know about it through TV and newspaper, but let me tell you that there will be big changes).”
Already on the tenterhooks after after the meeting where Modi had cautioned his cabinet colleagues that they he had little time in hand to deliver, most ministers sported anxious faces. Many chose to be silent.
The more restless among them began making enquiries. A minister who was unsure of retaining his portfolio asked a cabinet colleague if he had any inkling of the changes.
Some began checking with the media, which was itself largely clueless about Modi’s plan. “List aa gayi kya? Bada suspense bana hua hai (Has the list come? There is simmering suspense),” a senior minister asked when he was asked about developments.
Two other ministers remained closeted with their advisers, discussing possibilities. Some stayed away from the social media, anticipating bad news.
While some journalists did get the news portfolios of ministers released through sources, the Press Information Bureau remained silent late into the night.
Finally, the list was officially released after 11pm. And Modi went for a sea change in his team as he shuffled portfolios of many of his prominent ministers.
The most unexpected was the shifting of Smriti Irani from human resource development (HRD) to the unglamorous textiles ministry. Prakash Javadekar whose elevation to the cabinet rank on Tuesday took many by surprise replaced Irani as the HRD minister.