PM Modi carries out major overhaul of Cabinet; Drops 12 ministers, gets Sonowal, Scindia, Rane in

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New Delhi, Jul 7 (PTI) In a major Union Cabinet makeover, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday dropped 12 ministers including Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar and brought Sarbananda Sonowal, Narayan Rane and Jyotiraditya Scindia and 33 other new members to his government.

Apart from 15 Cabinet ministers, 28 Ministers of State, comprising new faces and those elevated, were sworn in a ceremony which was held in the Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

After taking into account 12 resignations hours before the expansion has taken the total strength of the Council of Ministers to 78, including the Prime Minister.

This is the first reshuffle in the Council of Ministers by Prime Minister Modi since he assumed charge for a second term in May 2019.

An extensive and protracted review was carried out by Modi and the BJP top brass through a series of meetings with ministers ahead of Wednesday's big exercise. These meetings were also held in the wake of widespread criticism of the Central government's handling of the COVID crisis.

Most of the members took oath in Hindi, a few of them in English. Outgoing ministers Prasad, Javadekar and Vardhan were also present, while some had their family members watching their oath-taking.

The exit of Prasad comes amid a row between micro-blogging platform Twitter and the government over various issues, including compliance with the new IT rules.

Prasad and Javadekar had also recently announced sweeping regulations for social media firms like Facebook and Twitter, OTT players as well as digital media.

Health Minister Vardhan, whose handling of the COVID-19 crisis had drawn flak from the opposition parties, resigned from the Union Council of Ministers just hours before the expansion.

Vardhan, a doctor himself, had been in charge of the health ministry as well as the science and technology ministry as the COVID pandemic broke and then India worked to develop vaccines.

However, his various comments in the middle of the crisis were slammed by many as insensitive and ignorant of the ground reality, even as he strongly defended the government's handling of the situation.

The expansion-cum-reshuffle of the Cabinet is seen by many political observers as an image makeover exercise by Modi as he brought in young faces and gave representation to various social groups and regions in the government. While the average age of the Council of Ministers has come down to 58 years, the new entrants also include many with high educational and professional qualifications.

Scindia and Rane, who switched over from the Congress and the Shiv Sena respectively, bagged Cabinet berths while new entrants of West Bengal were seen as an attempt to bolster the BJP's prospects in the TMC-ruled state that recently saw a high-octane electoral battle.

Lok Sabha MP from Bihar's Hajipur Pashupati Kumar Paras, who is embroiled in a feud with nephew Chirag Paswan over the control of Ram Vilas Paswan-founded Lok Janshakti Party, was also sworn in as a Cabinet minister.

The reshuffle also saw JD(U) joining the government Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar R C P Singh being made a Cabinet minister.

Rane, 69, a Rajya Sabha MP and a former Maharashtra chief minister, was the first to take oath. After Rane, Sonowal, former Assam chief minister, took oath in English. The 58-year-old leader had earlier served as Union Minister of State (Independent charge) for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship; and Sports and Youth Affairs under Prime Minister Modi Congress-turned-BJP leader Scindia, a Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, also took oath as a Cabinet minister. The 50-year-old leader was Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power and Union Minister of State for Commerce & Communications in the earlier UPA government.

Lok Sabha MP from Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh Virendra Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha Ashwini Vaishnaw, Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar and JD(U) leader R C P Singh, Lok Sabha MP from Bihar's Hajipur Pashupati Kumar Paras, were also sworn-in as Cabinet ministers.

Kiren Rijiju, R K Singh, Hardeep Singh Puri, Mansukh Mandaviya, Parshottam Rupala, G Kishan Reddy and Anurag Thakur were elevated to the Cabinet level.

Bhupendra Yadav, who has been serving in the BJP organisation as a general secretary, was also sworn-in as a Cabinet minister.

Among the 28 Ministers of State, seven are from Uttar Pradesh which goes to polls next year with the BJP seeking a second term there.

Pankaj Choudhary, Anupriya Patel, Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, Kaushal Kishore, S P S Baghel and Ajay Kumar-- all are Lok Sabha MPs from Uttar Pradesh who took oath as Ministers of State. B L Verma, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, was also sworn-in as a Minister of State.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Shobha Karandlaje, MPs from Karnataka; Darshana Vikram Jardosh from Gujarat; New Delhi Lok Sabha MP Meenakashi Lekhi; Annpurna Devi (Jharkhand), A Narayanaswamy (Karnataka); Ajay Bhatt (Uttarakhand), Chauhan Devusinh (Gujarat), were also sworn in as MoS.

Others who were inducted as Ministers of State at the ceremony were Bhagwanth Khuba (Karnataka); Kapil Moreshwar Patil (Maharashtra); Pratima Bhoumik (Tripura); Subhas Sarkar (West Bengal); Bhagwat Kishanrao Karad (Maharashtra); Rajkumar Ranjan Singh (Manipur); MPs Bharati Pawar (Maharashtra), Bishweswar Tudu (Odisha) and Shantanu Thakur (West Bengal) Munjapara Mahendrabhai (Gujarat), John Barla and Nisith Pramanik (West Bengal); and BJP's Tamil Nadu state president L Murugan.

At least 16 entrants to the Council of Ministers are first time MPs.

Murugan and Sonowal are not MPs and would need to get elected to either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha within six months.

Seven women were among the 43 who took oath, taking the total number of women ministers in the government to 11.

Nisith Pramanik (35), the Lok Sabha MP from West Bengal's Cooch Behar, is the youngest minister to be sworn in, while the oldest member in the council of ministers is 72-year-old Som Parkash.

The other ministers who resigned were--Education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar, Minister of State for Education Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Debasree Chaudhuri, Minister of State for Jal Shakti Rattan Lal Kataria and Minister of State for Environment Babul Supriyo.

Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot had resigned after he was made Governor of Karnataka on Tuesday. PTI JTR PK ASK KR NAB BJ PYK PYK PYK

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