New ministers rush to take charge amid media blitz
The new ministers and those promoted to cabinet rank rushed to take charge of their ministries on Thursday morning amid a media blitz, trying to project a picture of intent. Those sacked from the ministry sulked silently.
All the 36 new and seven promoted ministers had been directed to assume charge on Thursday itself and attend a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the evening, sources said.
The idea was to portray a hardworking government that meant business, and try to erase from public memory the early summer images of Modi and his ministers addressing large election rallies as a Covid surge overwhelmed hospitals and crematoria, the sources added.
Wednesday’s shuffle that inducted 36 new faces and bloated the ministry’s strength from 53 to 77 has largely been seen as an exercise to burnish Modi’s image and find scapegoats to sack amid domestic and global criticism of his handling of Covid and the economy.
As the 43 ministers sworn in on Wednesday began their new assignments in the morning, TV screens and social media echoed with the day’s catchphrases: “commitment and dedication”, “hard work”, “meeting expectations”....
“I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi, our party chief J.P. Nadda and home minister Amit Shah. I will carry out the responsibility given by them with hard work and determination. The effort will be to meet their expectations,” Jyotiraditya Scindia, the new civil aviation minister, told the media.
Jyotiraditya, who had defected from the Congress last year, had earlier in the day emphasised his new loyalties by visiting the BJP headquarters and paying his respects to party stalwarts Deendayal Upadhyay and Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
Sources said the Prime Minister’s Office had instructed the newly sworn-in ministers not to leave Delhi till Independence Day or conduct any celebrations.
Old hand Dharmendra Pradhan, shifted from petroleum to the important education portfolio, joined Modi’s online interaction with IIT directors. The party tom-tommed this as “getting to work without wasting time”.
Pradhan got his three new junior ministers to join him, following what the sources said was a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office.
A meeting of the new cabinet was followed by Modi’s virtual interaction with the entire council of ministers.
Many of the 12 ministers dropped in shock-and-awe style on Wednesday maintained a sullen silence.
As the bustling party corridors wondered why seven cabinet ministers had been sacked at one go, the conversations tended to centre on Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar.
Junior BJP politicians confessed to being “shocked” at the removal of the two heavyweights who functioned as spokespersons for party and government and frequently visited the party headquarters to address the media.
Prasad had been one of the very few articulate and experienced ministers left in the BJP after the passing of Arun Jaitley, and many thought him indispensable.
Prasad’s Twitter handle reflected a sense of hurt on Thursday, introducing him as a Lok Sabha MP from Patna Sahib and then adding “BJP worker”.
The former law and IT minister has posted not one tweet since Tuesday evening, when he had lauded Modi’s move to form a new cooperation ministry as a “historic decision”.
Javadekar’s last tweet had been to express condolences over Dilip Kumar’s death on Wednesday morning, hours before the ministerial heads had begun rolling.
Prasad and Javadekar, former I&B and environment minister, were not known for their reticence on Twitter.
A BJP insider dismissed the idea of performance having been the criteria behind the sackings, strengthening the impression that the shuffle was more about messaging than substance.
“The two of them (Prasad and Javadekar) were sacked to send out the message that no minister, however big, should think they are indispensable,” the source said.
He added that the current ministers were meant to keep in mind the treatment handed out to the duo.