The appointment of JP Nadda as Union minister for Health and Family Welfare was arguably the biggest surprise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet expansion and reshuffle on Sunday. He replaced Harsh Vardhan, who was given the relatively lighter portfolio of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences. Nadda’s appointment came as a surprise because he was at the centre of the controversial removal of AIIMS CVO Sanjeev Chaturvedi.
Another surprise element in Sunday’s reshuffle was the appointment of Sadananda Gowda as the minister for Law & Justice. Ravi Shankar Prasad, who held the portfolio, was leading the government’s efforts to restore the institutional balance of powers with the executive trying to re-assert its authority. He was credited with the passage of a legislation that gave the executive a say in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. The move had drawn sharp reactions from the judiciary.
Incidentally, Gowda was said to have failed to impress the PM with his performance, which is believed to be instrumental in his ouster from Rail Bhavan.
Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs Arun Jaitley, who had been given the daunting responsibility of looking after the defence portfolio as well, was finally given some relief with Manohar Parrikar getting the Defence portfolio.
What seemed to reinforce the PM’s faith in Jaitley was the fact that he was given the charge of the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry as well, which may not be too taxing for the Finance Minister.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar was one of the major losers as he was divested of independent charge of I&B and the junior minister-ship of Parliamentary Affairs. Former Army Chief VK Singh was divested of the DONER portfolio, given a relatively lighter one of Statistics and Programme Implementation as independent charge.
HRD Minister Smriti Irani, who was functioning without any deputy, was finally given two junior ministers to assist her — Ram Shankar Katheria and Upendra Kushwaha. Home Minister Rajnath Singh also got an additional deputy, Gujarat’s HP Chaudhary.
Mahesh Sharma, the first-time MP from Gautam Budh Nagar, got a big leg up with Modi giving him independent charge of Culture and Tourism Ministries as well as MoS for Civil Aviation.
Another loser in the Cabinet reshuffle was Narendra Singh Tomar, who was divested of the Labour portfolio that went to Telangana MP Bandaru Dattatreya as independent charge.
Although senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi got a place in the government, the MoS berth may have come as a disappointment to the Muslim leader who held independent charge of I&B in the Vajpayee government. Similarly, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who had held independent charge of Civil Aviation in the Vajpayee government, was not elevated any further.
Asansol MP Babul Supriyo was given a prominent portfolio as MoS, Urban development and Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation. His induction into the government came as a blow to SS Ahluwalia, who was hoping to get a ministerial berth given his long parliamentary experience.
Among the major omissions were some prominent young faces of the BJP like Varun Gandhi, Anurag Thakur and Dushyant Singh. Uttarakhand did not get any representation in the Union Council of Ministers either.