Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dismissed 12 cabinet members including the health minister on Wednesday to try to reinvigorate his government after fierce criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Several members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were sworn in at the presidential palace to replace them in the first cabinet reshuffle since Modi was re-elected in 2019 on a promise to transform India into a political and economic power.
He is expected to retain his core team at the foreign, finance, home and defense departments even though the economy is in a deep recession and there are widespread concerns that a surge in COVID-19 infections will stall the recovery.
The official death toll after a surge in COVID-19 infections in April-May passed 400,000 last week. Experts believe the actual number may be much higher and there are fears of a third wave soon. Millions remain unvaccinated.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who was the face of the government’s efforts to fight COVID-19, was asked to step down along with his deputy. Vardhan’s successor was expected to be named later on Wednesday.
“The larger implication is that the confidence that the Modi government had was shaken by the COVID-19 second wave,” said political commentator Rasheed Kidwai. “Modi is trying to introduce a new work culture by these changes.”