Twelve ministers, including many seniors, on Wednesday resigned ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet reshuffle. The rejig, which is the first since Modi assumed office for a second term in May 2019, came as the government is facing severe criticism for its handling of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and rising prices of essential items in the country.

The exits of Information Technology and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar stood out during the revamp.

Prasad has been involved in a row with social media giant Twitter for its failure to abide by the IT rules in recent weeks. The rules came into effect in May. Four cases have been filed against Twitter in less than a month, marking an escalation in the row between the United States company and authorities in India.

Vardhan, who retained his position even in the second term of the BJP government, was among the first to step down from his post along with his deputy Ashwini Choubey.

Opposition leaders said Vardhan’s exit was as an admission of the government’s “monumental failure” in managing the pandemic. “There is a lesson for ministers in these resignations,” Congress leader P Chidambaram said. “If things go right, the credit will go to the PM, if things go wrong, the minister will be the fall guy. That is the price a minister pays for implicit obedience and unquestioning subservience.”

Another Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said Vardhan was made a scapegoat for “monumental failures” at the highest level.

Echoing this, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the National Disaster Management Authority, which is headed by the prime minister, was responsible for the “criminal mismanagement” of Covid-19 crisis. “Will PM take responsibility for his failures?” he said. “Or will PM only make Dr Harsh Vardhan the scapegoat for PM’s failures?”

Javadekar’s exit was also a surprise for political observers as he was a senior spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Apart from the I&B ministry, he held portfolios for Forest and Climate Change as well as Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises.

Prasad, Vardhan and Javadekar were seen at the oath ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday evening.

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank”, under whose leadership the National Education Policy was released, also quit citing health reasons. “What does it say about the New Education Policy that was unveiled with great fanfare?” Chidambaram asked. “The NEP has been criticised by states, political parties, educationists, teachers, academics and scholars. The NEP too should be shown the exit door.”

Besides these, others who had to exit the government ahead of Wednesday’s reshuffle included DV Sadananda Gowda, Thawarchand Gehlot who was appointed Karnataka governor, Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Babul Supriyo, Dhotre Sanjay Shamrao, Rattan Lal Kataria, Pratap Chandra Sarangi and Debasree Chaudhuri.

BJP leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sarbananda Sonowal and Narayan Rane were among 43 ministers who joined the Modi government after the expansion.