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India’s Modi govt inducts 43 new ministers in major cabinet rejig

Under fire for its poor handling of the Covid second wave and the economy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government carried out a mega Cabinet rejig Wednesday, inducting as many as 43 new Ministers and sacking 13 existing ones, including those handling the key portfolios of health, law and environment.

Prime Minister Modi’s Cabinet has now swelled to 77 ministers from the earlier 53. And of these 43 new Ministers, 36 are first-time entrants, while the remaining have been promoted to Cabinet rank from junior ministers.

This was the first Cabinet expansion since Modi’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept back to power in the 2019 general election.

Among the new faces, former Congress lawmaker Jyotiraditya Scindia, the immediate past Chief Minister of the northeastern state of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, and former chief minister of the western state of Maharashtra, Narayan Rane, were administered the oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind at a special ceremony in Delhi’s Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Scindia, an MBA who served as a minister in the previous Congress-led government, defected to the BJP last year and helped the party reclaim its bastion in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. Sonowal, on the other hand, made way for his deputy Himanta Biswa Sarma as Assam Chief Minister after the BJP swept to power for the second time in a row.

Among those elevated to the Cabinet are junior Finance Minister Anurag Thakur and junior Urban Development and Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.

However, six Cabinet ministers, one Minister of State (Independent charge) and six other Ministers of State were dropped from the new Council of Ministers — the notable among them being Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.

Sources in BJP attributed Harsh Vardhan’s exit to the poor handling of the second wave of the pandemic that exposed the country’s inadequate health infrastructure. His deputy in the Health Ministry, Ashwini Kumar Chaubey, has also quit.

Others who have been dropped from Modi’s Cabinet are junior Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar, junior Women and Child Development Minister Debasree Chaudhuri, junior Environment Minister Babul Supriyo, according to a communique from the Indian President’s office.