India's Cabinet Reshuffle

On November 9, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) announced a cabinet reshuffle, offering important insight into the thinking of both Prime Minister Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The number of ministers in the cabinet has gone up to 66 from 44, which is still lower than the previous government’s cabinet size. 

The cabinet reshuffle reflects a conscious attempt by the BJP to project itself as a pan-Indian party, representative of a variety of communities and regions. Although the expansion seems to defy Modi's promise of 'minimum government, maximum governance,’ it is likely that Modi will rely on approximately 18-20 Ministers with key portfolios to achieve his government’s objectives. 

Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Arun Jaitley, whose poor health has been a subject of much discussion, will hand over the Defense portfolio to former Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. He will, however, take over Information and Broadcasting from Prakash Javadekar, and will continue to hold the number two position in government. 

Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has been relieved of duties related to Rural Development. Those duties have been handed to Birender Singh, a popular Jat-community leader from Haryana. Suresh Prabhu, who held important portfolios under former Prime Minister Vajpayee, has quit Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena party to join this NDA-led government as the Railways Minister. Senior Himachal Pradesh BJP leader JP Nadda has replaced Harsh Vardhan as Health Minister, in what may be a move to bring Vardhan back as the face of the BJP’s Delhi Assembly election campaign early next year.

The cabinet expansion is likely part of the BJP’s larger objective of establishing itself as a credible force in states that are heading to polls in the next three years. Several factors have influenced ministerial appointments, including individual administrative capabilities and expertise, regional and caste identities, symbolic gestures and political messaging.

Among the new appointments made, there are several key Ministers who will be crucial to the government’s overall performance and carrying forward the Prime Minister’s agenda:

New Cabinet Ministers

Minister of Defense: Manohar Parrikar

Manohar Parrikar was a two-term Chief Minister from the western state of Goa before being appointed to his new role. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Parrikar is said to be an efficient and experienced administrator as well as a technocrat of high integrity. Parrikar is considered a confidant of Modi and may be his number three at the center. From his meeting with senior officials after taking over the portfolio, sources indicate that his priorities are likely to be greater and faster procurement and indigenous development of weapons systems. 

Minister of Health & Family Welfare: JP Nadda

A veteran politician and a member of India’s Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) since 2012, JP Nadda has been a three-time state legislator, a minister in his native Himachal Pradesh and the BJP’s National Secretary. Nadda was previously a strong contender for president of the BJP, but lost to Amit Shah earlier this year (he supported Shah after losing the race). Although he has never been a central government minister, he is believed to understand the workings of the administration. 

Minister of Railways: Suresh Prabhu

Suresh Prabhu was previously minister for chemicals and fertilizers, as well as minister for environment under the Vajpayee-led government National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Prabhu is credited with stimulating the Indian generics industry and is also seen as the first right-wing politician to speak openly about sustainable development. A lawyer and chartered accountant, he has also spearheaded important electricity and power reforms.

Minister of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water & Sanitation: Chaudhary Birender Singh

The grandson of a great peasant leader and the son of a politician, Chaudhary Birender Singh was associated with the Indian National Congress for over 42 years before joining the BJP in August 2014. A two-time member of parliament (MP), he has served in multiple Haryana state governments as a legislator and minister, and played a major role in BJP’s recent poll victory in Haryana. His elevation to the union cabinet is being attributed to his strong presence among the Jat community in north India.

New Ministers of State

Minister of State of Finance: Jayant Sinha

Jayant Sinha’s appointment completes Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s new team at the finance ministry. A first-time MP, Sinha is the son of former NDA finance minister Yashwant Sinha. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Harvard University, Sinha worked for nearly 20 years in management consulting and private equity in the United States. He is a member of two important parliamentary committees, public accounts and finance, and is credited for being a savvy, intelligent and talented policy expert. 

Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, Minister of State of Parliamentary Affairs: Rajiv Pratap Rudy

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a three-time Lok Sabha MP and one-time Rajya Sabha MP, has been entrusted with skill development, one of Modi’s key programs. In the previous NDA government, he served as the Minister of State for Commerce, Trade and Industry and subsequently became Civil Aviation Minister with independent charge. Known to be an efficient administrator, his exclusion in the first Modi cabinet was a surprise to many. A former Vice President of the BJP youth wing, he is currently a party General Secretary. As a member of the BJP National Executive, Rudy was instrumental in the BJP’s recent victory in the Maharashtra state elections. Rudy is one of the prominent faces of the party in television debates. 

Minister of State of Urban Development: Babul Supriyo

A singer who quit his banking career, Babul Supriyo is a new entrant to politics and a rising star of the BJP in West Bengal (East India) where the party has just begun to make its presence felt. Although his inexperience has been highlighted, he is believed to be a good communicator and accessible to the public. Modi has previously commended his “fighting spirit.”

Minister of State of Drinking Water & Sanitation: Ram Kripal Yadav

A former deputy mayor of Patna and a law graduate who has risen from the grassroots, Ram Kripal Yadav is known for his rhetoric in both houses of Parliament, where he has previously represented Bihar’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. An aggressive campaigner with a strong vote base in Bihar, his induction will strengthen the BJP’s efforts to form the next government in the state’s 2015 assembly elections.

Minister of State of Chemicals & Fertilisers: Hansraj Ahir

A four-time Lok Sabha member, Hansraj Ahir was instrumental in exposing the coal mining scam during the previous United Progressive Alliance regime. An active Parliamentarian who was credited as a “role model” for MPs, Ahir has introduced a large number of private member bills in over fifteen years as an MP.