Two voices of govt Prasad, Javadekar left out in reshuffle
Prasad and Javadekar were at the forefront of comprehensive new social media guidelines rolled out in February that demanded extra due diligence from significant social media intermediaries, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar, both senior ministers who emerged as voices of the government over the past seven years – the two addressed more press briefings than most other ministers put together – have been dropped from the council of ministers.
Both ministers were at the forefront of the ongoing information (or narrative) wars – Prasad, with technology platforms that enjoyed as much clout and influence as media companies, and Javadekar with digital media companies – but the reasons for their exits wasn’t immediately clear. Nor was it immediately known whether the two would be inducted in senior roles in the party organisation to help the Bharatiya Janata Party prepare for five key elections next year (including Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat).
It was initially believed that Prasad and Javadekar, both of whom oversee two important portfolios each, would be divested of one – Prasad was law and information technology (IT) minister, and Javadekar, environment and information and broadcasting (I&B) minister – but when Rashtrapati Bhavan sent out a list of ministers whose resignations had been accepted by the President, their names were on it.
Neither Prasad nor Javadekar were immediately available for comments on the development.
There is some speculation that both, or at least one of them could find space in the BJP’s parliamentary board, which currently has five vacancies, but there was no confirmation of this from the party.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said it is solely the PM’s prerogative to choose the council of ministers. “The karyakartas of the party are committed towards working for the welfare of the people, either through the organisation or wherever the party assigns them. Every appointment has to be seen in that context,” Kohli said.
Still, with the two ministers who emerged its voices exiting, the government will now have new ones – which is perhaps in keeping with the completely new look it now has after the reshuffle, even with clarity on portfolios likely to emerge only late Wednesday or on Thursday.
Sanjay Kumar, co-director of Lokniti, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, said, “I don’t think there is an issue of prominent voices being dropped. If you drop heavyweights from the Cabinet and replace them with newer ones, it will increase the PM’s grip on the Cabinet. Dropping Prasad seems to be a product of the bad press that the government was getting. You can add Harsh Vardhan to this list.”
“The dropping of three key ministers shows an attempt to regain the image the PM had globally. Nationally, Modi is also trying to send out the message that if you are the minister you have to work for the people of the country. Dropping Vardhan is a clear message that he couldn’t handle the pandemic. Prasad’s fight with Twitter also was backfiring nationally. People started thinking that real issues are getting sidelined. In order to rebuild the image of the government, these names have been dropped,” he said.
Prasad and Javadekar were at the forefront of comprehensive new social media guidelines rolled out in February that demanded extra due diligence from significant social media intermediaries, such as Facebook and Twitter. The rules also brought digital news media outlets, including websites of traditional news media platforms, and over-the-top content providers such as Netflix and Amazon, under the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The move saw push back from many stakeholders, with eight different legal challenges being lodged in various high courts. Though some intermediaries complied with the guidelines, the government has been locked in an escalating conflict with Twitter.
Prasad’s ministry threatened Twitter with the loss of safe harbour, which is provided to intermediaries under the IT Act. Twitter refused to cede space on the implementation of its policies, as it said it was defending free speech. Earlier this week, the ministry told the Delhi high court that Twitter has lost its legal shield from prosecution because it had not complied with the guidelines.
Javadekar also courted controversy after many news organisations wrote to him seeking exemption from the guidelines, especially section 69(A) that allowed the government to order content to be taken down.
Javadekar was also in charge of shaping public opinion in favour of the government as it struggled to cope with the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that saw health infrastructure crumble and infection rates surge.
His ministry also recently introduced an amendment to the cinematograph act, which allows the government to ask the censor board to reconsider a film on the grounds of public order, sovereignty, integrity of India and relationship with foreign states. The amendment triggered criticism as many filmmakers argued that it would result in a loss of freedom of creative expression.