Sense behind the Modi top team reshuffle

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Facing economic and geopolitical headwinds of an unprecedented kind, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejigged his Council of Ministers with some high-profile exits and a slew of fresh people and perspectives. Infrastructure and jobs seem to be the underlying themes of the Cabinet reshuffle.

In one of the most significant job allocations, Home Minister Amit Shah takes on the charge of the newly minted Ministry of Cooperation, which aims to improve the ease of doing business for multi-state cooperatives.

Given the importance of public spending to boost the Covid-hit economy, there has been an emphasis on certain large scale projects. New Cabinet minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw gets a trifecta of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology.

High speed rail between Mumbai and Ahmedabad has been one of PM Modi’s flagship projects. And one of the state-owned companies under the Railways, RailTel holds the key to a fast ramp of an upgraded telecom and communications infrastructure across the country. The 5G infrastructure roll-out is both an opportunity and a threat.

Vaishnaw has an almost tailor-made background to execute on these high-impact projects. Originally from the civil services background, he has worked briefly with German company Siemens and has also set up automotive component companies in Gujarat.

Siemens incidentally is one of the joint venture partners for the Shanghai Maglev, the fastest train in the world in recent times.

Cybersecurity and data protection are some of the other top priorities in Vaishnaw’s basket of responsibilities.

Even as Road Transport and Highways continues with Nitin Gadkari, Jyotiraditya Scindia gets crisis-ridden Civil Aviation. Gen. V.K. Singh as junior minister will link these two transport infrastructure ministries. Scindia’s job also includes shoring up government revenues through a successful sale of the national carrier, Air India.

Another new hand, former Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal gets the Ports, Shipping and Waterways and he will get two junior ministers in the form of Shantanu Tahkur and Shirpad Yesso Naik.

Old and experienced hand R.K. Singh continues with Power and Renewables. Former diplomat, Hardeep Singh Puri is expected to bring sagacity to the changing oil market dynamics. As one of the largest crude oil importers in the world, India needs to skillfully negotiate the energy shift away from oil and the emerging geopolitics that it unleashes.

Puri retains Housing and Urban Affairs and responsibility for another large scale project – the Central Vista Project in the heart of Delhi.

Piyush Goyal combines responsibilities for Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution; and the mega employment generator in Textiles. After the Cabinet reshuffle, Dharmendra Pradhan now holds charge of Education and aligned ministries of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.

Anurag Thakur picks up Information and Broadcasting in addition to Sports at a time when the narrative put forth by the government is being questioned both domestically and globally.

Meanwhile, Kiren Rijiju takes over the Law Ministry from Ravi Shankar Prasad at a time when legal challenges abound for the Modi government both at home and abroad whether it is the likes of the Cairn Energy arbitration dispute or the wrangles with social media giants.

Dr Jitendra Singh regained the portfolios of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences in addition to continuing with the charge of the Departments of Space and Atomic Energy after the Cabinet reshuffle. 

Dr Harsh Vardhan, the outgoing Health Minister had taken these two ministries from Dr Singh, early in the first term of the Modi government and had continued with them when the government returned to power in 2019.

Relevant experience, execution ability coupled with bench strength, sensible articulation and political astuteness seem to be the traits high in demand in this deep and sharp reshuffle.

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