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Modi reshuffles cabinet ahead of crucial elections, sacks health minister

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his biggest cabinet reshuffle since he came to power in 2014.

He indicated 36 new ministers into his government.

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 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.

The move coincidentally comes ahead of elections in important states, including the crucial battleground of Uttar Pradesh.



HEALTH MINISTER SACKED

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.

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar and education minister Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank also resigned.

Experts say state elections in 2022 in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Punjab appear 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.