Sitharaman gets defence, Goyal railways in major cabinet rejig

With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has handed key portfolios to ministers with “proven” track record.

He surprised everyone by elevating Nirmala Sitharaman as the first full-time woman Defence Minister. Modi has also promoted three other junior ministers — Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi — to cabinet rank and inducted nine new faces, including four former government officers, as Ministers of State.

The exercise raised the strength of the Union Council of Ministers from 73 to 76.

Goyal, who has been praised for his work in the power sector, was given the Railways Ministry, which has been facing criticism over a spate of accidents, prompting Modi to shift Suresh Prabhu to Commerce and Industry Ministry. Goyal will continue to head the Coal Ministry.

In an overhaul of infrastructure ministries, Modi handed important portfolios to two former IAS officers and one former diplomat, giving them independent charge and brought Nitin Gadkari in place of Uma Bharti in the water resources and Ganga rejuvenation ministry.

Gadkari retained the charge of Road Transport and Highways, where his work has earned him praise. Bharti’s performance was under scrutiny due to lack of visible progress in Modi’s pet Clean Ganga programme. Bharti will take care of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Government sources said the Prime Minister carried out the reshuffle considering performance and rewarding those with proven track record.

Sitharaman, who was the Minister of State with an independent charge of the Commerce Ministry, emerged the biggest gainer.

She became the first full-time woman defence minister and the second woman to take charge of the key portfolio. Indira Gandhi, as then Prime Minister, had also held the portfolio in the seventies.

As the Defence Minister, Sitharaman will be a member of the crucial Cabinet Committee on Security whose members include the Prime Minister, Home Minister, External Affairs Minister and the Finance Minister.

Pradhan and Naqvi retained their portfolios of Oil and Gas and Minority Affairs respectively. Pradhan was given the additional charge of the Skill Development Ministry, which was earlier held by Rajiv Pratap Rudy who quit the post a few days ago.

Former diplomat Hardeep Puri and former IAS officer Alphons Kannanthanam were made MoS (Independent charge) of Housing and Urban Development and Tourism respectively.

R K Singh, former Home Secretary, was given charge of Power and New and Renewable Energy portfolios. Former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh has been made minister of state in HRD, Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvination.

Six ministers — Rudy, Kalraj Mishra, Bandaru Dattatreya, Sanjiv Kumar Balyan, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahendra Nath Pandey — had resigned ahead of the reshuffle, in which nine ministers were inducted.

While Modi has focussed on governance, he has also taken care of the BJP’s political considerations.

Pradhan, now a cabinet minister, has emerged as the BJP’s face in Odisha and become one of its prominent leaders as the party has highlighted the “success” of his ministry’s scheme of giving free LPG connections to the poor in its political campaigns.

Odisha is among the states high on the priority list of party chief Amit Shah for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Alphons is a Christian from Kerala, a state where the BJP has been trying hard to emerge as a potent force. The saffron party has also been wooing Christians and his induction is likely to help this cause.

Cabinet Minister Harsh Vardhan, who was given the additional charge of Environment MInistry following the demise of Anil Dave in May, continues to hold the portfolio.

Similarly, Smriti Irani, who was given the additional charge of Information and Broadcasting Ministry in July after M Venkaiah Nadu was made vice presidential nominee of the NDA, too retained the ministry.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore replaced Vijay Goel in the Sports Ministry, while also remaining the MoS in the I&B Ministry.

Goel, who earlier held independent charge, has been shunted as the Minister of State for Parliamentary Afairs and Statistics and Programme Implementation.

New inductee Shiv Pratap Shukla has been made MoS in the Finance Ministry, replacing Arjun Ram Meghwal, while Ashwini Kumar Choubey has been appointed MoS in Health and Virendra Kumar MoS in Women and Child Development. Meghwal now has been shifted to Parliamentary Affairs.

Another new face Anant Kumar Hegde has been made MoS in the Skill Development Ministry, while Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was made MoS in the Agriculture Ministry.

If Modi opted for former government officers who had joined a party ahead of 2014 polls on account of their perceived administrative abilities, he has also humoured saffron loyalists by picking likes of Shukla, Choubey and Kumar, all of whom enjoy good rapoort with the RSS.

Two ministers Santosh Gangwar and Giriraj Singh have also seen a promotion as they are now MoS with independent charge of Labour and Employment and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises respectively.

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