Indian PM Modi expands Cabinet as party prepares for state polls

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi added 19 new junior ministers to his cabinet on July 5, 2016.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi added 19 new junior ministers to his cabinet on July 5, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI  (BLOOMBERG) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his cabinet on Tuesday (July 5) as his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gears up to face as many as seven state assembly elections next year.

Mr Modi added 19 new junior ministers, of which all but two belong to the BJP and seven are from states that will hold elections in 2017.

Junior minister Prakash Javadekar was promoted to the cabinet, sworn in by President Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony in the colonial-era president’s palace in New Delhi. Details on assignment of portfolios is expected later in the day.

This is the second major expansion since Mr Modi swept to office in 2014 with the biggest electoral mandate in three decades. The BJP, which has a majority in the lower house of parliament, now seeks to consolidate power in the states that are crucial to control the upper house.

“This is a superficial restructuring,” said Mr Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who has written a biography of Mr Modi and analyses Indian politics. "He just accommodated various interest groups within the party, keeping state elections in mind. This will not fulfill the lack of talent in the council of ministers and does not address the basic necessity to give greater momentum to the government.”

States due or likely to hold elections next year include Uttar Pradesh – the nation’s most populous – and Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

Lack of adequate support in the upper house has thwarted his attempts to ease land and labour laws, and a bill proposing a national sales tax is blocked by a political gridlock.

Even as Mr Modi’s personal approval rating remains high after completion of two years in office, job creation is seen as a major shortfall.

The BJP in May secured a lone election victory among five Indian states holding roughly a fifth of the population, following defeats in Delhi and Bihar state elections last year.