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India’s Modi enacts major cabinet reshuffle

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind (2-L) administers oaths during the swearing-in ceremony of new cabinet ministers, at the presidential house in New Delhi, India, on July 7, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reshuffled his cabinet, replacing 12 ministers, including those in charge of health and information technology, amid criticism over a range of issues, including the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The 12 cabinet ministers were sworn in by President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony in the presidential palace on Wednesday. Twenty eight junior ministers also took oaths as ministers of states in the same ceremony.

Modi’s cabinet reshuffle came at a time when the government has been facing criticism over its handling of COVID-19, economic turmoil, and feuds with foreign social media giants.

The Indian prime minister appointed Ashwini Vaishnaw as the new information technology minister after the resignation of Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was embroiled in a dispute with American technology firms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter to persuade them to comply with the South Asian country’s new IT rules and other domestic laws.

Mansukh Laxman Mandaviya was also appointed as the country’s new health minister, just hours after Harsh Vardhan and his deputy, Ashwani Chaube, resigned, which was viewed as an admission of the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis.

I congratulate all the colleagues who have taken oath today and wish them the very best for their ministerial tenure. We will continue working to fulfil aspirations of the people and build a strong and prosperous India. #Govt4Growth

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 7, 2021

Opposition leader P Chidambaram said the removal of the health minister and his deputy was a sign that the Modi government had failed in controlling the pandemic. “There is a lesson for ministers in these resignations. If things go right, the credit will go to the PM, if things go wrong, the minister will be the fall guy,” he said.

The Indian government is strongly criticized by domestic and international experts for the managing of India’s COVID-19 outbreak and its economic and social side effects.

As the country attempts to speed its vaccination program, India has logged more than 400,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began, the world’s third-highest death toll, behind the US and Brazil.

More than half of those deaths occurred during the past two months as the Delta variant of the virus spread around the world and as millions remained unvaccinated. Experts believe the actual number of the deaths in India may be much higher, and there are fears of another wave coming soon.

The Wednesday reshuffle was the first by Prime Minister Modi since he won a second term in elections in May 2019. And it was the biggest since he came to power in 2014.

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