Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a hard-task master and this has reflected in the mega cabinet reshuffle affected on Wednesday. The rejig was a sort of report card of ministers' performance in the first years of Modi government 2.0. But the quartet of top commanders of the prime minister - Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, and S Jaishankar were left untouched.
In the reshuffle, which is seen as an attempt to re-brand the Modi cabinet to offset heavy criticism over the COVID pandemic, 36 new ministers joined the government. PM Modi now has 77 ministers. More than the inductions, the high-profile exits from the cabinet attracted a lot of attention- IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar resigned just before the oath-taking function.
Dr Harsh Vardhan's exit comes amid India being battered by the COVID pandemic and the government being panned over the alleged mishandling of the crisis. The health ministry was heavily criticised for not preparing for the second wave, which led to a major health crisis in India. India has so far reported 3,06,63,665 COVID cases and 404,211 deaths.
Most surprising were the exits of Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad, who are among the few ministers who were there in the previous NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
What did not change was the top layer, the Big Four -- Finance, Foreign Affairs, Home and Defence.
According to political experts, by shuffling the middle and lower layer of the ministry, PM Modi perhaps has tried to win over the perception game that the government will not tolerate under-performance, and simultaneously saved the day for his closest confidantes. And also to convey a message that all is well with the government when it comes to key ministries. The changing of the top 4 would have given a message of non-performance at the top, and in a way admission of failure.
"I guess because that would have been seen as admitting that something was seriously wrong with the government, this way he can pass it off as only individual ministers underperforming,” said a senior political expert Javed Ansari.
The reshuffle is seen as an attempt at image makeover of the Modi government, which has faced a lot of flak over COVID handling, economy and other issues. Like a true election-planner, PM Modi has probably started planning for the next big one - 2024.