New Delhi, Jul 7 (EFE).- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday changed the portfolios of around 20 ministers and accepted the resignations of 12 others, including the health minister, in a cabinet reshuffle that comes after the government came under fire for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Modi’s Hindu right-wing cabinet now has 77 members, including 43 new and promoted ministers who took oath on Wednesday in the presidential palace after a series of high-profile resignations.
The most notable departure was the erstwhile health minister Harsh Vardhan, who resigned hours before the new ministers were announced in a decision being seen as an acknowledgement of his poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the country registering the world’s highest daily caseload of over 400,000 in May.
India’s health system suffered a near complete collapse during the pandemic’s second wave in April and May, with hospitals and crematoriums running out of space, patients facing a severe shortage of medical oxygen that led to dozens of deaths, and people being forced to run from place to place for medical supplies.
Vardhan’s leadership was also questioned over the lack of transparency in the official figures on Covid-19 deaths and infections, which were estimated to be much higher by analysts and experts.
Apart from Vardhan, information technology and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and environment minister Prakash Javadekar also resigned from the cabinet.
However, other key portfolios such as defense, finance, foreign affairs and home (interior) remain unchanged, with Modi’s key allies in charge.
The reshuffle was also aimed at giving greater representation to different social castes and communities which have been neglected in the past.
The new face of the cabinet, presented as the youngest and most diverse in the country, also comes ahead of next year’s regional elections in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aims to consolidate its position.
Modi incorporated at least seven ministers from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous in the country, which sends the highest 80 lawmakers to the lower house of the parliament.