Prime Minister Narendra Modi effected a far-reaching reconstruction of his government by picking a new generation of men and women for a carefully curated ‘salad-bowl’ Cabinet – one with more castes, social groups and states being represented.
With it, Modi has attempted to dispel the notion that BJP is primarily a party of the upper castes or that ministers have to be well-heeled.
Most of those picked are low profile, commoners who perhaps don’t look their part and unknown to those not familiar with the BJP rank and file. But all of them are grassroots leaders and had been foot soldiers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the bulwark of the Hindu right.
The shuffle wasn’t just about equitable workload. Given its complexion and given that several states will head for elections, one after the other, in the next couple of years, it is simply about good politics for the BJP.
With two more Dalits – Punjab MP Vijay Sampla and Agra MP Ram Shankar – the Modi Cabinet has five Dalit faces now. The inclusion of Sampla, who represents Hoshiarpur, will help the BJP if it chooses to go it alone in Punjab, which goes to polls in 2017. About 28% population of the state is Dalit, against a national average of 18%.
With three new entrants from Bihar – Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Ram Kripal Yadav and Giriraj Singh – the BJP has just upped its ante, ahead of the state’s polls next year.
In Giriraj Singh, a polarizing and a fiery leader from Bihar, the Modi Cabinet has got a Bhumihar face. Bhumihar is one of the four influential upper castes in Bihar, apart from rajputs, brahmins and kayasthas. While the upper castes have stood behind the BJP since early on, the party hopes Ram Kripal Yadav will help draw in alienated Yadavs, who together with dalits and Muslims make up 50% of Bihar’s electorate.
Fatehpur MP Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, who belongs to Other Backward Classes, and Noida MP Mahesh Sharma could help strengthen the BJP’s grip in UP.
First time MP and popular singer Babul Supriyo’s entry is aimed at sending a strong signal to West Bengal, a state where the BJP has made big gains. Bandaru Dattatreya, a senior BJP face in undivided Andhra Pradesh, is the lone representative from the Telangana in Modi’s team.
Rajyavardhan Rathore and Sanwar Lal Jat make up for a good Rajput and Jat balance in Rajasthan. Haryana Jat leader Birender Singh adds to the Modi Cabinet’s Jat representation. In 2004, Singh lost to Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the battle for Haryana chief-ministership and missed a berth in the Manmohan Singh government in 2010. His gamble to quit Congress after four decades has paid off.