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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Modi’s Big fat Cabinet


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Narendra Modi has just carried out perhaps what is the largest cabinet reshuffle in India’s history. More than a reshuffle, it was a massive expansion. Cabinet ministers went up from 21 to 30, ministers of state with independent charge (“MoS I/C”) came down from nine to two, and ministers of state (“MoS”) went up from 23 to 45. The overall second Modi ministry (“Modi 2.0”) grew from 53 to 77.

I have already written three articles on the cabinet reshuffle. The first article was an analysis of the 12 ministers who were dropped. The second article was an analysis of the new inductees and their portfolios. The third article was an analysis of the ministers who have been promoted, as well as the changes in the portfolios of several ministers.

In this final article (Part-4), I will analyse the overall new cabinet. The Modi 2.0 ministry now has 7 Ph.Ds, 7 former civil servants, 1 retired Army General, 6 doctors, 13 lawyers, 5 engineers, and 3 MBAs. As many as 11 women (the highest number as well as percentage in history) are part of the ministry.

This Table lists all the ministries and ministers.

Modi’s Big fat Cabinet - Modi’s Big fat Cabinet

Modi has not made any changes in the cabinet ministers at the four top ministries—Home, External Affairs, Defence, and Finance.

However, Modi’s No.2 Home Minister Amit Shah has got the newly created Ministry of Cooperation (earlier part of the Ministry of Agriculture), which will be involved with cooperative societies, especially in the banking, sugar, housing, dairies, fruits & vegetables, jute, and cotton sectors. To give an idea of how big the cooperative movement is in India, almost 45% of sugar is produced by mills owned by cooperative societies, Amul is a cooperative society jointly owned by 36 lakh milk producers in Gujarat, and there are about 97,500 cooperative banks (most of them are controlled by politicians). Corruption plagues the cooperative sector and this move to create a separate ministry is seen by many as a way to plug that. Naturally, the move has been opposed by Congress, Left parties, and others.

The number of MoS in the Ministry of Home Affairs have gone up from two to three, which to me is a sign that the Modi government is going to become even more strict on matters relating to internal security. It also indicates that we many have a Uniform Civil Code soon.

The number of MoS in External Affairs have gone up from one to three. V Muraleedharan from Kerala continues due to the huge NRI population from the state. Dr RK Ranjan Singh from Manipur has probably been brought in because of Modi’s ‘Look East’ policy. Meenakshi Lekhi has probably been included due to her communication skills as well as negotiation skills as a lawyer. Lekhi has also been made MoS Culture, so part of her job will be to ‘sell’ Indian culture to potential tourists worldwide.

Although Defence continues to have only one MoS, Shripad Yesso Naik from Goa has been replaced by Ajay Bhatt from Uttarakhand. This is a good move as Uttarakhand contributes a high number of officers to the armed forces.

The number of MoS in Finance have doubled from one to two, giving more weight to this important ministry. However, neither the cabinet minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) nor the two MoS (Pankaj Choudhary and Dr Bhagwat Karad) are economics/finance specialists. I wrote in my No.1 bestseller Congress-Mukt Bharat that heads of government at most other major world economies appoint finance ‘specialists’ as the finance minister (FM), rather than pure politicians. Look at the bios of the last four U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury (their FM)—Janet Yellen, Steve Mnuchin, Jack Lew, and Tim Geithner—and you will realise what I mean. The same is the case with China’s last two FMs; the UK’s last three Chancellors of the Exchequer; and Italy’s and Brazil’s last three FMs. PV Narasimha Rao had the vision to appoint a ‘specialist’—Dr Manmohan Singh—as FM, and Singh was a successful FM. Unfortunately, no PM after Rao did this. In my view, the composition of this all-important ministry leaves much to desire. Prior to the expansion, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs shared the cabinet minister as well as the sole MoS with the finance ministry. Now, Corporate Affairs has a separate MoS. The Department of Public Enterprises was earlier part of the Ministry of Heavy Enterprises & Public Enterprises. To make it easier to privatise public enterprises, it has now been moved to the finance ministry.

Piyush Goyal was earlier the cabinet minister for Commerce & Industry as well as Railways, with temporary charge of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution since October 2020, due to the death of incumbent Ram Vilas Paswan. His temporary status has been removed from the latter, where he now has two MoS as opposed to one earlier. The Railways portfolio has been taken away from him and he has been given Textiles. As Textiles will require far lesser time than Railways, the PM has paved the way for Goyal to concentrate more on the important Commerce & Industry Ministry. However, this ministry will feel the loss of Hardeep Singh Puri who has been replaced by Anupriya Patel as one of the two MoS.

Narendra Singh Tomar was the cabinet minister for Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare (including cooperatives); Rural Development; and Panchayati Raj. He will now handle only Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare. The ministries of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj will now be handled by a separate cabinet minister—Giriraj Singh. While the former now has two MoS compared with one earlier, the latter has got one compared to none earlier.

Bureaucrat-technocrat Ashwini Vaishnaw comes in as the cabinet minister for Railways; Electronics & IT; and Communications. He graduated with a gold medal in electronic and communications engineering and did M.Tech from IIT Kanpur, before getting an all-India 27th rank in the IAS exam. He then did an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA, one of the top three ‘B-schools’ in the world. He was deputy secretary in the PMO of Vajpayee, where he contributed to creating the public-private-partnership framework for infrastructure projects. In 2004, after the NDA lost the election, Vaishnav was appointed as Vajpayee’s private secretary. From 2006 to 2008, he was deputy chairman of Mormugao Port Trust, Goa. Apart from being an entrepreneur, he was also the Managing Director at GE Transportation and the Vice President (Locomotives) & Head (Urban Infrastructure Strategy) at Siemens. Vaishnaw has been given two MoS in Railways, which had one earlier. In Electronics & IT, he has Rajeev Chandrasekhar as the MoS. Chandrasekhar studied electrical engineering at Manipal and did MS in Computer Science from Illinois Institute of Technology, USA. He was handpicked to work at Intel and was part of architectural team that designed i486 processor. In 1994, Chandrasekhar founded BPL Mobile and sold his 64% stake to Essar Group for $1.1 billion. He then founded Jupiter Capital which currently has estimated investments and managed assets of about ₹8,000 crores in technology, media, hospitality, and entertainment businesses, including Suvarna News, Asianet, Indigo 91.9 FM and Republic TV; technology firm Axiscades and defence firm Indian Aero Ventures.

Modi has made no change in the Road Transport & Highways ministry, which has performed well under Nitin Gadkari since the day Modi became PM in May 1.0. General VK Singh continues as the only MoS.

Dharmendra Pradhan was the cabinet minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas and did well on most fronts, but was not so successful in negotiating crude oil import prices. He has now been given two ministries—Education; and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship—both of which have synergies. The number of MoS in Education have been trebled from one to three. Rajeev Chandrasekhar as the new MoS in Skill Development & Entrepreneurship is an excellent move.

As someone who has studied law but not really practiced it, Kiren Rijiju as the cabinet minister for Law & Justice may prove to be a master move. India badly needs several judicial reforms, which I have detailed in Congress-Mukt Bharat but nothing was done on this front by successive law ministers since 1996, who were all (barring one or two) practising lawyers. Perhaps Rijiju will bring a fresh perspective to this and will be able to convince the Milords who have been the biggest hinderance in bringing such reforms. They may also feel less threatened by him. In addition, this ministry now has a MoS.

Mansukh Lal Mandaviya had done well as the MoS I/C of the Ports, Shipping & Waterways ministry and deserves his promotion to full cabinet minister rank in charge of two ministries—Health and Family Welfare; and Chemicals & Fertilizers (in which he was the MoS earlier). I had given him 8/10 in a recent article. As the Anti-Modi Brigade can’t find any concrete stuff to criticise his performance, they are making fun of his English. How childish.

The Social Justice & Empowerment ministry continues to have a cabinet minister and three MoS, but all but one MoS have been changed. The work of this ministry will help Modi in the 2024 elections.

The important Labour & Employment ministry only had a MoS I/C earlier, which I had criticised in Congress-Mukt Bharat, as unemployment has been rated as Modi’s biggest failure in many polls. Now it has a cabinet minister in Bhupender Yadav as well as a MoS. Yadav has probably served as a chairman or member of more parliamentary committees in his nine years as an MP than anyone else. He also has excellent party organization and election management skills.

About 11 crore people (more than 25% of India’s working population) are employed in India’s MSME (Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises) sector. Nitin Gadkari earlier handled the MSME ministry along with the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways. The MoS in MSME was Pratap Chandra Sarangi, who spent most of his life as a college head clerk in a small town of Odisha. I had written in Congress-Mukt Bharat that only Modi knows how this agriculturist and social worker is a fit for the MSME ministry. The MSME ministry has now been given as a single portfolio to Narayan Rane who was a Maharashtra minister for almost 10 years, and the state’s CM for 8½ months. The new MoS Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, an MA and LL.B. who is a 5-term Lok Sabha MP, will probably also turn out to be a better choice than Sarangi.

Former civil servant Hardeep Singh Puri has been promoted from MoS to cabinet rank and given charge of Petroleum & Natural Gas, apart from continuing in Housing & Urban Affairs. Both ministries now have an MoS each, compared with none earlier. Having been the coordinator of the UNDP/UNCTAD project to help developing countries in multilateral trade negotiations, and India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Puri is expected to use his experience in international trade negotiations to help reduce India’s oil import bill. Fuel prices will play a big role in the BJP’s prospects in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

On August 15, 2019, Modi announced a ₹3.6 lakh crore Jal Jeevan Mission (water is life mission) to provide 55 litres of piped drinking water per person per day to all 19.02 crore rural households by 2024. Only 17.08% of households had functional household tap connections (FHTCs). In less than 23 months, this has been increased by 138% and 40.64% of rural households now have FHTCs. In February 2021, the government extended the mission to 4,378 towns where safe water will be provided to over 2.86 crore households. Modi has therefore continued with Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the cabinet minister of Jal Shakti but has changed the MoS.

Retired IAS officer and former Home Secretary of India Raj Kumar Singh, who has also done BA (Hons), LL.B. and Dip. in Management, was the MoS (I/C) in the ministries of Power as well as New & Renewable Energy and both ministries did not have any other ministers. You can read here why I had given him 9/10 in a recent article. Because of Modi’s focus on further increasing the generation of clean energy, both ministries have now been given an MoS each, so that Singh can concentrate more on New & Renewable Energy.

India is the 25th most visited country by foreign tourists. Should the world’s 6th largest economy and 7th largest country by area be proud of these numbers? We have nice beaches, backwaters, wildlife sanctuaries, temples, world heritage sites, caves, other ancient monuments, but get only 1.26 foreign tourists per 100 residents, while Hong Kong gets 390, Austria 341, Greece 289, Spain 177, UAE 160, France 133, Italy 103, Malaysia 79, Thailand 55, UK 53, Mexico 32, Japan 25, USA 24, and even Russia, Vietnam, and China get 17, 16 and 4.4, respectively. At a level of 3 foreign tourists per 100 residents, India will get ~2.4 crore more foreign tourists per year. As a foreign tourist spends ~$1710, this will enhance our income by a whopping $41 billion or ~₹3 lakh crore per year, grow our GDP by 2% and create  about 67 lakh jobs. Prior to this reshuffle, the Tourism as well as the Culture ministries had Prahlad Singh Patel as the MoS I/C, and I had given him 0/10 in a recent article, as India under Modi has made very little progress in tourism compared to the potential. Patel was also MoS in the coal ministry. There were no other ministers in tourism or culture. Now, G Kishan Reddy from Hyderabad has been made the cabinet minister for tourism and for culture, and has been given two MoS in tourism (one each from the popular tourist states of Goa and Uttarakhand) as well as two MoS in culture. That is five ministers in the two ministries combined, compared to one earlier, and is an excellent move by the PM. Maybe he read my article 😀.

Although the Environment, Forest & Climate Change ministry continues to have one cabinet minister and one MoS, both posts have new incumbents.

Modi has continued with Dr Jitendra Singh as the MoS in the PMO, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, and the departments of Atomic Energy and Space, which all come under the PM. By making Singh MoS I/C in the ministries of Science & Technology as well as Earth Sciences, Modi has also indicated that he will personally supervise these ministries which are crucial in today’s technology-driven world.

The Ports, Shipping & Waterways ministry, the Youth Affairs & Sports ministry, the Development of North East Region ministry, and the Civil Aviation ministry earlier had only one MoS I/C each. All four ministries now have a cabinet minister. While the first now has two MoS, the other three now have one MoS each. This shows an increased focus on all the four ministries, though I fail to understand why Civil Aviation needs it.

Anurag Singh Thakur being given charge of Youth Affairs & Sports makes theoretical sense, as he is young (<47) and has been a cricket administrator for almost 17 years, rising up to the highest position as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in May 2016 until the Supreme Court sacked him in January 2017, in a controversial move that was not very popular.

I don’t know why the ministries of Heavy Industries, Textiles, Chemicals & Fertilizers, Steel, and Food Processing Industries cannot be merged with the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. Piyush Goyal could have been made charge of this all-encompassing ministry, instead of giving him all of Commerce and part of Industry (including Textiles), along with Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution. In my mind, the latter should be part of Agriculture.

The Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying continues to have once cabinet minister and two MoS, though all but one MoS have been changed.

Though Modi has continued with Smriti Irani as the cabinet minister of Women & Child Development, he has taken away the textiles ministry from her. He has also replaced the earlier woman MoS with a man.

Though Modi has continued with Prahlad Joshi as the cabinet minister for the Coal as well as the Mines ministries, he now has a MoS to assist him, as opposed to none earlier.

Modi has continued with Rao Inderjit Singh as the MoS I/C in Planning (he has been there since May 2014); and MoS I/C in Statistics & Programme Implementation (since May 2019), which shows that the PM is satisfied with Singh’s work.

The Information & Broadcasting ministry now has an MoS from Tamil Nadu (Dr L Murugan) probably to improve the Modi government’s communications in the South.

Changes in the other ministries are clear from the Table and I am not going to comment on them individually as I don’t believe the ministries are all that important.

It is clear that Modi has reduced the burden of almost all cabinet ministers who were handling multiple ministries. It is also clear that a 45.3% increase (53 to 77) in the size of the overall cabinet is aimed at improving the performance of all ministries.

In terms of the number and weightage of portfolios, in my view, Modi’s Top 10 ministers (in order) are Amit Shah, Dr S Jaishankar, Nirmala Sitharaman, Rajnath Singh, Piyush Goyal, Arvind Vaishnaw, Dharmendra Pradhan, Narendra Singh Tomar, Hardeep Singh Puri, and Nitin Gadkari, and it is interesting that three of them are former civil servants.

Modi’s Big fat Cabinet - Modi’s Big fat Cabinet

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