The reallocation of some portfolios in the Central cabinet by a sudden announcement on Monday may seem minor but there is a hidden message in the changes effected. The underlying message is that in the run-up to the general elections in 2019, the BJP is looking to shore up performance and to function with a greater sense of responsibility.
Smriti Irani, who was deemed to be a loose cannon with a tendency to take controversial actions and make bold statements has been divested of the key Information and Broadcasting portfolio which she was given barely a year ago. She, however, retains Textiles which is a relatively low-profile charge.
Smriti, though regarded as a powerful orator who would come in handy in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, had angered President Kovind by the national film awards mess when she did not inform the recipients beforehand that most of them would receive the awards at her hands and not from the President personally, which led about 50 of them to boycott the ceremony. Another issue was the guidelines issued by the I&B Ministry to blacklist any journalist found to have “created or propagated” fake news, which led to protests by several news organisations and the Opposition. The ‘guidelines’ had to be withdrawn by the government on the Prime Minister’s intervention.
Likewise, KJ Alphons who too was undiplomatic on a couple of occasions with a tendency to shoot off his mouth has been divested of his responsibilities as minister for state for Electronics and Information and Technology but will continue to be Tourism Minister. Electronics and IT will be handled by SS Ahluwalia who will assist Ravi Shankar Prasad in the ministry. For Alphons, it offers an opportunity to take tourism as a challenge.
It speaks of Piyush Goyal’s high standing in the eyes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he has been given the charge of Finance and Corporate Affairs in addition to his current portfolios of Railways and Coal. While Finance has been specifically stipulated to be a temporary charge until Arun Jaitley recovers from the kidney transplantation surgery and returns to office, it is a measure of Modi’s confidence in Goyal that the choice for such a key portfolio as Finance has fallen on him.
Jaitley has been facing flak over the poor implementation of demonetisation in the initial stages though there are doubts over whether he was kept in the loop except at the last stage of announcement. The blame for the failure in printing enough Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes to tide over the crunch following demonetisation has been heaped on Jaitley. The long queues at bank counters in the immediate aftermath of demonetisation showed lack of anticipation of the fallout of the move.
Jaitley’s dynamism in getting the states around in accepting Goods and Services Tax, is however, a feather in his cap though even that decision was characterised by tardiness in the early stages. The traders, who at one time were the backbone of the BJP, have felt cheated by the manner in which GST rollout was implemented with cumbersome paperwork and harassment.
While Jaitley is too precious to Modi to be jettisoned completely, Goyal’s performance in Finance and Corporate Affairs would be keenly watched to determine whether Jaitley must return to Finance after a couple of months or he would be rehabilitated in another important portfolio.
Another minister, who has been rewarded for good work, is Rajyavardhan Rathore who has been given charge of I&B of which he was Smriti’s junior minister. Rathore has been non-controversial and has handled Sports well as was borne out by India’s performance at Commonwealth Games recently.
All in all, there is an effort to reward performers but it is unlikely that this would be the last reshuffle before the Lok Sabha elections. More changes and some additions may well be in the offing.