Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed new federal health, IT and oil ministers as part of a reshuffle aimed at renewing his government’s image amid fierce criticism of his treatment of the coronavirus pandemic.
Modi appointed Mansukh Laxman Mandaviya as the country’s new health minister a few hours after Harsh Vardhan, who was the face of government efforts to combat COVID-19, was asked along with his deputy.
Official sources said Vardhan had to pay the political price for the government’s struggles to deal with a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections.
The Modi government has faced strong criticism for the chaotic deployment of a nationwide immunization campaign that experts say worsened the impact of the second wave and killed hundreds of thousands.
The official number of deaths after an increase in COVID-19 infections in April and May it passed 400,000 last week.
More than half of the reported deaths, the third in all countries, occurred in the past two months as the Delta variant of the virus swept across the nation and overwhelmed its already-tense health system.
Experts believe the actual number could be much higher and there are fears of a third wave soon. Millions remain unvaccinated.
Mandaviya, who belongs to the native state of Modi, Gujarat, was previously a junior minister with port portfolios, chemicals and fertilizers.
“Buck really stops with PM”
Opposition leader P Chidambaram said the removal of the health minister and his deputy was a recognition that the Modi government had failed to manage the pandemic, but the dollar should be stopped with Modi.
“There is a lesson for ministers in these resignations. If things go well, credit will go to the prime minister, if things go wrong, the minister will be the kind of fall, ”he said.
The reshuffle also came after the defeat of Modi’s Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata (BJP) in the April elections in the key state of West Bengal.
“If it was really the mismanagement of COVID-19, yes [Vardhan] the only one responsible? Definitely not, ”Rijo M John, a health economist and professor at Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi, said on Twitter.
“The dollar really stops with the prime minister himself,” John said.
I congratulate all the colleagues who have taken the oath today and I wish them all the best for their ministerial term. We will continue to work to fulfill the aspirations of the people and build a strong and prosperous India. # Govt4Growth pic.twitter.com/AVz9vL77bO
– Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 7, 2021
In all, 15 cabinet ministers and 28 junior ministers were inaugurated on Wednesday by President Ram Nath Kovind in a ceremony at the presidential palace.
They replace 12 ministers who were fired in the first cabinet reshuffle since Modi was re-elected in 2019 with a promise to transform India into a political and economic power.
Eight junior ministers were elevated to cabinet rank.
Modi detained Interior Minister Amit Shah, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
The IT minister fired him in the middle of Twitter
Modi appointed Ashwini Vaishnaw as the new Minister of Information and Technology after ousting Ravi Shankar Prasad at a time when he was leading the government efforts to persuade Giants of American social networks to comply with the laws of the country.
No reasons were given for Prasad’s dismissal, although an industry source familiar with the thinking of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter hoped they would welcome the change in the ministry.
“A recovery always helps,” the source said. “So far it seemed like there was a lack of conversation.”
Amid high fuel prices, Hardeep Singh Puri has been appointed oil minister, replacing Dharmendra Pradhan.
Modi also set aside Information and Dissemination Minister Prakash Javadekar, who was also the government spokesman.
It retained its core equipment in the foreign, finance, home and defense departments, although the economy is in a deep recession and there are widespread concerns that an increase in COVID-19 infections will stall the economic recovery.
“The biggest implication is that the Modi government’s confidence was shaken by the second wave of COVID-19,” said political commentator Rasheed Kidwai. “Modi is trying to introduce a new work culture through these changes.”
Modi will face another major test of his popularity in state elections in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand in February and March next year, which may prove to be a deciding factor for his party in the 2024 national elections.