Indian PM Narendra Modi has inducted 36 new ministers into his government in the biggest cabinet reshuffle since he came to power in 2014.
At least 12 cabinet members, including IT and health ministers, resigned ahead of the reshuffle to make way for their colleagues.
The new cabinet will have 77 ministers, up from the current figure of 52.
The move comes ahead of elections in important states, including the crucial battleground of Uttar Pradesh.
The new cabinet has been announced amid criticism of the government over its handing of the pandemic and a faltering economy. The second wave of Covid-19 killed thousands and ravaged even small towns and cities.
Among those who were sworn in on Wednesday are Jyotiraditya Scindia, 50, a former opposition MP who switched to Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year; Sarbananda Sonowal, the 58-year-old former chief minister of Assam state, and former Congress party leader Narayan Rane.
The new cabinet:
- Mansukh Mandaviya – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
- Jyotiraditya Scindia – Civil Aviation ministry.
- Kiren Rijiju – Law and Justice Ministry.
- Ashwini Vaishnaw – Railways and IT ministry.
- Anurag Thakur – Information and Broadcasting.
- Dharmendra Pradhan – Education ministry.
- Sarbananda Sonowal – Ports, Shipping and Waterways ministry.
- Union Home Minister Amit Shah – Ministry of Cooperation.
Prominent names dropped
Health minister Harsh Vardhan is the most prominent minister who resigned on Wednesday.
Mr Vardhan has been widely criticised for his handling of the pandemic. In early March, he declared the country was “in the endgame” of the pandemic – less than a month before the second wave ripped through India, overwhelming hospitals and even crematoriums.
India’s vaccination programme has also been criticised. Just over 5% of Indians have been fully vaccinated and 22% have received at least one dose. The pace of vaccination has picked up in recent weeks, but it’s not enough to meet the target of fully vaccinating all eligible Indians by the end of this year.
The country has been averaging around four million doses per day for the past two weeks, but it needs to reach 8.5-9 million doses every day to meet its target.
IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is another prominent name who has been dropped from the cabinet. His resignation comes amid growing tensions between the federal government and social media platforms over India’s controversial new IT laws.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar and education minister Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank have also resigned. Experts say state elections in 2022 in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Punjab appears to have influenced some reshuffle decisions.
From the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, at least six ministers have been inducted into the cabinet. The BJP wants to retain Uttar Pradesh next year as a defeat there could bring major embarrassment to Mr Modi, who is an elected MP from the state.
Mr Modi has also inducted more women ministers this time. There were four women ministers in the earlier cabinet, but now the number is 11 with seven new members.
The list includes Anupriya Patel, the leader of Uttar Pradesh-based Apna Dal (Sonelal) – an ally of the BJP. Ms Patel was also a minister during Mr Modi’s first term which began in 2014. Some of the other names are Meenakshi Lekhi, Annapurna Devi and Pratima Bhaumik.