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Cabinet reshuffle: PM Modi sheds minimalism, focuses on governance

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-09-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: With about 18 months left before the 2019 general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third cabinet reshuffle on Sunday saw nine additions to the council of ministers even as six ministers resigned to make way for the changes.

But how does this sit with Modi’s stated promise of a “minimum government” delivering “maximum governance” that was made when he was elected to office in 2014?

The Modi government, which started its tenure in 2014 with 46 ministers including the Prime Minister, had 73 ministers and three vacancies to be filled before the Sunday reshuffle. After the latest changes, Modi’s council of ministers has now expanded by two-thirds of its original size.

The six resignations prior to the reshuffle enabled Modi to rejig the cabinet by inducting nine new ministers without expanding the cabinet in a big way. The cabinet has 76 members after the reshuffle.

According to analysts, the complexity of India’s democracy makes it difficult for leaders to abide by their promises of a lean government.

“There are regional aspirations, there is identity politics and there is the need for having talented people who can carry out the prime minister’s vision and deliver on key schemes” ahead of the 2019 elections, said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

The very diversity of Indian democracy supports the idea of a “maximalist government,” he said adding, “The government would also like to show that it is leading a broad-based coalition which has several regional parties as its members.”

One of the tasks of prime minister Modi was to fill positions that have fallen vacant and to reallocate portfolios.

The defence ministry, which has now come under Nirmala Sitharaman, needed a full-time minister after Manohar Parrikar quit in March to take charge as Goa chief minister. Finance minister Arun Jaitley has since been holding additional charge of the defence ministry.

The housing and urban affairs ministry, which oversees Modi’s flagship ‘Smart cities’ programme and the information and broadcasting ministry, were without a full-time minister after Venkaiah Naidu resigned ahead of election as vice president last month. Housing and urban affairs ministry, briefly held by Narendra Singh Tomar, now goes to Hardeep Singh Puri, while Smriti Zubin Irani will continue to hold information and broadcasting ministry.

The environment ministry too has been without a minister after Anil Dave died on 18 May. Mahesh Sharma is the new environment minister.

Modi, known for his emphasis on performance and delivery of government goals and initiatives, has taken into account alleged non-performance of some ministers while deciding the final portfolio list, said a person privy to the development. Some members dropped from the council of ministers may be asked to take up organizational tasks.

Analysts said Modi stays within the stipulated size of the cabinet as per law if not keep to his promise of a lean government.

“According to the law, the size of the cabinet cannot be more than 15% of the membership of the Lok Sabha,” said Subhash Kashyap, a former secretary general of the Lok Sabha. This means the size of the cabinet cannot exceed 81 members including the prime minister.

Sunday’s reshuffle is “a skillful combination of political accountability and image building,” said Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore. “At the end of the day, it is political expediency that dictates reshuffle.”

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