The NDA government’s high-profile minister Smriti Irani was tonight shifted from the key HRD ministry and given a less significant textiles portfolio. She has been replaced with the newly elevated Cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar after an expansion of the Union council of ministers and reshuffle in which finance minister Arun Jaitley, too, had to give up the additional portfolio of information and broadcasting ministry.
The shifting of Irani, whose two-year tenure at the HRD ministry was marked with controversies over dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad and the JNU row, triggered speculation over whether it was a tactical move to give a less important portfolio to her or to keep her free to be the face of BJP campaign in UP Assembly polls due in 2017.
Prime minister Narendra Modi inducted 19 new faces, including BJP leaders S S Ahluwalia, M J Akbar and Vijay Goel in his council, while elevating environment minister Prakash Javadekar in the second expansion of his government ahead of political battle in Uttar Pradesh and other states. Akbar will be the second minister of state for external affairs along with V K Singh.
Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu has been given the I&B ministry while parliamentary affairs portfolio has been given to chemicals and fertilisers minister Ananth Kumar
The reshuffle also saw D V Sadananda Gowda being relieved of the law and justice portfolio which has gone to information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Gowda has now been given statistics and programme implementation.
Jayant Sinha has been shifted from finance to civil aviation in the minister of state rank, a post held by Mahesh Sharma, who will now look after only culture and tourism.
Five ministers of state were dropped in the second rejig undertaken by Modi in a little more than two years since he took over in May 2014. In the latest reshuffle, a number of dalit and OBC leaders have been given ministerial positions apparently with an eye on assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand next year and Gujarat later.
After the dropping of five ministers, today’s expansion has taken the total strength of the council of ministers to 78, just keeping it under the constitutionally allowed maximum limit of 83.
Among the Cabinet ministers, Chaudhary Birender Singh has been shifted to steel from the ministry of rural development, panchayati raj and drinking water and sanitation which now goes to Narendra Singh Tomar. Tomar was earlier minister of mines and steel.
There has been no other change in portfolios of other Cabinet ministers and ministers of state, some of whom have got departments held by the ministers who have been dropped.
Piyush Goyal, who is the minister of state for power, coal and renewable energy with independent charge, gets the additional mines portfolio.
Manoj Sinha, who is the minister for state in the railways gets communications as independent charge while Santosh Kumar Gangwar, who was minister for state with independent charge in textiles, goes to finance in place of Jayant Sinha. Arjun Ram Meghwal will be the second minister of state in the finance ministry.
Javadekar, who held independent charge of environment, was the lone minister to be promoted to the Cabinet rank while all new inductees took oath as ministers of state. Earlier, there was speculation that Goyal and commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be elevated to the Cabinet.
Among the new ministers with minister of state rank Vijay Goel gets youth affairs and sports as independent charge, a post held by Sarbananda Sonowal before he became the chief minister of Assam while Anil Madhav Dave comes in place of Javadekar in the environment ministry with independent charge.
Bharatiya Janata Party ally Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel gets health and family welfare along with Faggan Singh Kulaste while S.R. Bhamre will be defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s deputy. Ahluwalia gets agriculture and farmer welfare and parliamentary affairs.
Ajay Tamta (Uttarakhand), Arjun Ram Meghwal (Rajasthan), Krishna Raj (Uttar Pradesh), Ramdas Athawale (Maharashtra), Ramesh C. Jigajinagi (Karnataka) were among the dalit members of Parliament administered the oath of office and secrecy by President Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhawan attended by vice-president Hamid Ansari, Modi, his cabinet colleagues, Amit Shah and leaders from allied parties, among others. No Congress leader was present.
Others who were inducted included P.P. Chaudhary, C.R. Chaudhary (Rajasthan), A.M. Dave, Faggan Singh Kulaste (Madhya Pradesh), Mahendra Nath Pandey (Uttar Pradesh), Purshotam Rupala, J. Bhabhor and Mansukhbhai Mandaviya (Gujarat), Rajen Gohain (Assam) and S.R. Bhamre (Maharashtra).
A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said the President has accepted the resignation of Sanawar Lal Jat (water resources), Mohanbhai Kalyanjibhai Kundariya (agriculture), Nihal Chand (panchayati raj), Mansukhbhai Dhanjibhai Vasava (tribal affairs) and Ram Shankar Katheria (human resource development).
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