High profile Smriti Irani was tonight shifted from the key HRD Ministry to less significant Textiles portfolio and replaced by the newly elevated Cabinet Minister Prakash Javadekar after an expansion of the Union Council of Ministers and reshuffle in which Finance Minister Arun Jaitley shed the additional I and B portfolio.
The shifting of Irani, whose two-year tenure in the Human Resources Development(HRD) Ministry was marked by controversies over dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide in Hyderabad and the JNU row, triggered speculation whether it was a tactical move to give a less important portfolio or to be left free to be the face of BJP campaign in UP Assembly polls due in 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted 19 new faces, including BJP leaders S S Ahluwalia, M J Akbar and Vijay Goel, while elevating Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in the second expansion of his government ahead of political battles in Uttar Pradesh and other states. Akbar will be the second Minister of state for External Affairs along with V K Singh.
Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu gets Information and Broadcasting portfolio but loses the Parliamentary Affairs which has been given to Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Ananthkumar. The reshuffle also saw D V Sadananda Gowda being relieved of the Law and Justice portfolio which goes to Information Technology(IT) Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Gowda has got Statistics and Programme implementation.
Jayant Sinha has been shifted from Finance to Civil Aviation in the minister of state rank, a post held by Mahesh Sharma, who will now look after only Culture and Tourism. Five ministers of state were dropped in the second exercise undertaken by Modi in a little more than two years since he took over in May, 2014 which saw a number of Dalit and OBC leaders being given ministerial positions apparently with an eye on assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand next year and Gujarat later.
After the dropping of five ministers, today's expansion took the total strength of the Council of Ministers to 78, just keeping it under the constitutionally allowed maximum.