India's Prime Minister Modi reshuffles Cabinet with eye on 2019 polls

(From far left) Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and Minister of Railways a
(From left) Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and Minister of Railways and Coal Piyush Goyal.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

4 junior ministers promoted, 9 MPs added to ministerial council

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi elevated four junior ministers to Cabinet rank and inducted an additional nine Members of Parliament to his council of ministers yesterday as part of efforts to accelerate policy implementation before national polls in 2019.

Junior ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi were promoted to Cabinet ministers. Ms Sitharaman was made the country's new Defence Minister, while Mr Goyal, the former energy minister, was assigned the railways portfolio, overseeing 1.3 million employees.

Ms Sitharaman's appointment will ease the burden on Mr Arun Jaitley, who had been juggling the finance and defence portfolios throughout a months-long impasse with China over a strategic Himalayan plateau.

Mr Goyal's elevation came as Mr Modi dropped Mr Suresh Prabhu as Railways Minister, less than a week after he offered to resign following a train accident in August that killed 10. Mr Prabhu is now Commerce Minister, whereas Mr Goyal will also handle the Coal Ministry.

Mr Pradhan, who was the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, was given the dual role of Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Mr Naqvi got the Minister of Minority Affairs portfolio.

There was no change in the portfolios of the Home and External Affairs Ministries, which remain with Mr Rajnath Singh and Ms Sushma Swaraj respectively.

Meanwhile, former home secretary R.K. Singh, former diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri and former bureaucrats Alphons Kannanthanam and Satya Pal Singh were inducted as junior ministers.

Critics, however, said the Cabinet changes would make little difference since Mr Modi and his office were directly running the government, with little real power given to the ministers.

Mr Shiv Pratap Shukla, Mr Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Mr Virendra Kumar, Mr A. Hegde and Mr Gajendra Singh Shekhawat were also sworn in as junior ministers by President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony in the colonial-era President's palace in central New Delhi.

"I congratulate all those who have taken oath today. Their experience and wisdom will add immense value to the council of ministers," Mr Modi said before leaving for China to attend a summit of the Brics group of countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. He was due to arrive in Xiamen for the 9th summit of the Brics grouping yesterday evening.

Mr Modi is seeking to quicken policy implementation to create jobs, ease rural distress, boost trade and rejuvenate slowing growth to ensure victory in the next national election due in 2019. His ruling party also governs 18 of India's 29 states, either directly or in alliance with regional parties.

The economy recorded its slowest quarterly pace of growth in the April-to-June period since Mr Modi came to power in 2014, making it harder for the government to create enough jobs for farmers fleeing plunging agricultural prices. The failures are stoking existing caste-based tensions.

Before the Cabinet expansion, six ministers had tendered their resignations.

Critics, however, said the Cabinet changes would make little difference since Mr Modi and his office were directly running the government, with little real power given to the ministers.

"What's the fuss about a Cabinet reshuffle in a one-man Cabinet? (A) Prime Minister's Office reshuffle would have mattered more," said Mr Yogendra Yadav, who runs an independent political group.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Modi reshuffles Cabinet with eye on 2019 polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe