Modi boosts Cabinet with 21 ministers

Choice of loyalists, newcomers will let him maintain control: Analysts

This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet just got bigger.

In his first major Cabinet reshuffle since May, Mr Modi added 21 senior and junior ministers, among them party loyalists and newcomers.

The move to strengthen the Cabinet comes ahead of a tough parliamentary session that will see the government trying to push through important legislation.

Four full ministers and 17 ministers of state were sworn in yesterday at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, or presidential palace.

While their portfolios have not been announced, former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, 58, a Modi supporter known for his austere style of living and clean image, is expected to become defence minister. If confirmed, he will replace Mr Arun Jaitley, who is in charge of finance, another key portfolio. The expected change comes at a time when India is pushing to modernise its forces and acquire new weaponry.

Among the new ministers of state is Mr Giriraj Singh, 61, a controversial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician who, during election campaigning, told those who did not support Mr Modi to move to Pakistan. He has a "hate speech" case pending against him.

In May, Mr Modi unveiled a "lean" Cabinet of 23 Cabinet and 22 junior ministers, promising "minimum government and maximum governance".

But this meant that ministers such as Mr Jaitley, 61, had two portfolios and Mr Nitin Gadkari, 57, had to juggle five, including transport and sanitation.

In the expanded Cabinet, their load will be eased so they can focus on their key portfolios, with Mr Gadkari likely to retain infrastructure.

Political analysts noted the choice of loyalists and newcomers would allow Mr Modi to maintain a firm grip on his Cabinet.

"The three criteria for the Cabinet expansion were loyalty, a clean image... and adherence to the Hindu ideology. Those were clearly the considerations," said political analyst Sudhir Panwar.

In India, Cabinet expansions are also an exercise in giving representation to different castes and regions. The BJP has begun preparations for the 2017 state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by inducting politicians from those states, such as Mr Giriraj Singh, noted analysts.

The new ministers and junior ministers are from different parts of the country and from different fields. Three of the new junior ministers are a case in point.

Retired army colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, 44, is an ace shooter who won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. Mr Babul Supriyo, also 44, was a Bollywood playback singer before joining politics.

Mr Vijay Sampla, 53, underlining his humble roots, told reporters: "If a tea seller's son can become prime minister, why can't a plumber become a minister?"

The only woman among the new ministers is religious preacher Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, 47.

The Cabinet reshuffle comes ahead of the new parliamentary session starting on Nov 22.

Industry leaders reacted positively to the news.

Mr Ajay Shriram, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said in a statement: "The Cabinet expansion sends out a strong signal that the government under Prime Minister Modi is serious about accelerating the reform process."

gnirmala@sph.com.sg