Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejigged his council of ministers on Tuesday, drafting in 19 new colleagues in an exercise aimed both at pleasing voters in states headed for elections next year as well as speeding up efforts to boost economic growth.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who impressed Modi with his global climate change negotiations and pro-industry policies that often angered green activists, was promoted to cabinet rank.
Among those dropped was Mansukh Bhai Vasava, a junior minister in the tribal affairs ministry that has in the past locked horns with Javadekar, mostly over tribal rights and diversion of forest land for industry.
But Modi surprised many by retaining two ageing ministers -- Najma Heptulla and Kalraj Mishra – and denying cabinet berths to two important colleagues, power minister Piyush Goyal and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
“The selection framework clearly laid out by the PM was to bring in doers and performers who would deliver on his vision of Development and Good Governance, and further his central priority of Gaon, Garib and Kisan,” a government source said.
“People were assessed on the value they would bring to the council of ministers.”
At least seven of the new ministers are from states going to elections next year and five from the Dalit community, part of the BJP’s broader plan to appeal to the scheduled castes in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The states vote next year and have a substantial population of scheduled castes that has traditionally stayed away from the BJP.
With the expansion, the size of Modi’s cabinet has swelled to 78 - one of the biggest in years and a far cry from Modi’s 2014 election promise of “minimum government and maximum governance”.
The reshuffle was the second by Modi’s two-year-old government. The prime minister had said on Monday the rejig will help push the priorities identified in the 2016-17 national budget.
The government placed emphasis on the social and rural sectors in this year’s budget, promising to double farm incomes in just over five years, a tough target that would mean the sector growing faster than the rest of the economy at the current clip.
Modi swept to power on a promise of jobs and growth. However, critics have questioned his government’s performance and political analysts say the ruling party suffers from a shortage of experienced members.
Government sources said an exhaustive vetting and selection process was used to find the best talent. A diverse range of factors were considered. New ministers were identified from various backgrounds.
Of the 19 new faces, two are Scheduled Tribe and 5 from the Scheduled Castes. The new ministers come from more than 10 states - UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Assam.
(With input from agencies)