Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Jai Ram Thakur, who gave strong signals by ignoring claims of some senior leaders and former ministers in cabinet expansion two days ago, seemingly asserted his ‘authority’ by reshuffling cabinet for the first time in two and a half years of rule of BJP government on Friday evening.
While the choice of three new ministers, barring Rakesh Pathania from Kangra, whose induction was sure, has triggered resentment in party circles with four MLAs reportedly skipping the BJP Legislature Party meeting held immediately after the cabinet expansion, the cabinet reshuffle has also ruffled feathers.
The Chief Minister, who handled COVID-19 crisis, being the Health minister, after Vipin Singh Parmar had resigned from the cabinet in February month and was elected as Speaker of HP Assembly, has now allocated the Health and Family Welfare portfolio along with Ayurveda to Dr Rajeev Saizal. Dr Saizal was earlier Social Justice and Empowerment and Cooperation minister.
The CM now retains Finance, General Administration, Home, Planning, Public Works Department, Tourism, Excise and Taxation and all other departments not allotted to any minister.
On the face of it, the only woman minister, Sarveen Chaudhary (Kangra district) has been divested of her prime portfolios like Urban Development, Town and Country Planning and Housing, which have now been allocated to senior minister from Shimla, Suresh Bhardwaj. Sarveen has to now satisfy with Social Justice and Empowerment, the department she held when she was minister in the BJP government from 2007-2012.
Bhardwaj, a senior leader but first time minister, had been openly claiming from the public stage that Urban Development, TCP and Housing were relevant in his constituency Shimla (urban) that he represents.
He now walks away with a major share of portfolios—apart from these three, he has been allocated Cooperation, and he retains Parliamentary Affairs and Law and legal remembrance.
A young first time minister, Govind Singh Thakur, who was perceived to be very close to the Chief Minister previously and was holding Transport, Forest, Youth Services and Sports earlier, finds all his portfolios changed. He has been given Higher Education, Elementary Education, Language Art and Culture.
Transport portfolio has been given to Industries minister, Bikram Singh, while Forest, Youth Services and Sports are the portfolios of new minister, Rakesh Pathania. The other two new ministers Sukh Ram Chaudhary is now MPP and Power minister, while first time MLA and minister, Rajinder Garg has been allocated Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs department along with Printing and Stationary.
At number two in Jai Ram Thakur’s cabinet, Mahender Singh Thakur retains all his portfolios- Jal Shakti, Horticulture and Sainik Welfare along with the addition of an important Revenue department.
The lone minister from Una, Virender Kanwar seems to have got advantage in the exercise as he has got all line departments. He already had Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, and now gets Agriculture in addition. Agriculture was earlier with Tribal minister, Ram Lal Markanda. Markanda now has Technical Education, Vocational and Industrial Training, Tribal Development and Information Technology.
The Chief Minister has however tried to give representation to Sirmaur, Kangra and Bilaspur districts in the cabinet with the induction of three new ministers, while giving them reasonable portfolios. Hamirpur district, the home turf of former two times Chief Minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, has no representation in the cabinet in state so far, which, the party sources said, may not augur well for ruling BJP in the long run.