Inside BJP

Last among equals: Why Smriti Irani is not on any of the powerful Cabinet committees

Hint: BJP chief Amit Shah is not a fan.

Despite landing the weighty information and broadcasting ministry in the Cabinet reshuffle on September 3, Smriti Irani has not been appointed to any of the six Cabinet committees reconstituted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The members constituting the Cabinet committees on security, appointments, accommodation, economic affairs, parliamentary affairs and political affairs were named in a circular issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on September 11, a week after the reshuffle.

Irani’s omission is unusual because the information and broadcasting minister, considered the face of the government, has always been a member of some of these committees, particularly the one on parliamentary affairs, in recent times. Both Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu, who preceded Irani in the ministry, were part of several Cabinet committees. One might argue it was for their other portfolios – finance and housing and urban development, respectively – that Jaitley and Naidu got berths on these committees, but that would run against convention.

In the previous Congress-led government, the information and broadcasting minister, Manish Tewari, was part of three Cabinet committees. Since only a Cabinet minister is appointed to these panels and Tewari was a minister of state with independent charge, he was made special invitee to the Cabinet committees on economic affairs, parliamentary affairs and investments. Tewari’s predecessor Ambika Soni, a Cabinet minister, was a member of the Cabinet committees on parliamentary affairs and prices.

A senior central minister claimed that Irani’s exclusion has to do with her strained ties with Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah. “Ask Amit bhai if you want to know the reason,” the minister, who asked not to be identified, said.

That Shah and Irani are not on good terms is hardly a secret in the ruling party. Reports of distrust between them have been appearing regularly since March 2015, when Shah, soon after taking over as the BJP chief, unceremoniously dropped Irani from the party’s national executive. Then, too, Irani’s exclusion had come as a surprise, not least because she was the party’s vice president and because most ministers had been included in the top decision-making body.

As Modi’s first human resource development minister, Irani was a special invitee to the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs. But after being shifted to the textile ministry in July 2016, none of the Cabinet committees had a place for her.

But after she was made information and broadcasting minister, succeeding Naidu, who had quit to contest the election for Vice President, last July, it appeared Irani was on course to regain her lost status. Her continued exclusion from the Cabinet committees suggests otherwise. And BJP leaders see Shah’s hand in this.

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