Kolkata, India: Following a disastrous increase of Covid-19 cases earlier this year, twelve Indian ministers, including the health minister, resigned on Wednesday.
They include Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Thaawarchand Gehlot, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Prakash Javadekar, and Santosh Kumar Gangwar.
President Ram Nath Kovind has accepted the resignations, News on Air reported.
The resignations are part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s significant cabinet reorganization and expansion ahead of seven state elections in 2022.
During the surge in illnesses attributed to new virus varieties and loose regulations in April and May, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, 66, came in for severe criticism.
Hospitals were running out of beds, medical oxygen, and drugs in several places, putting a strain on the health sector.
Vardhan had previously stated that India was “in the final stages” of the pandemic.
The official death toll in India has risen from 160,000 at the end of March to over 400,000 currently. Many experts believe the true death toll is much higher.
The new Modi government has welcomed three dozen new faces, bringing the total number of ministers to 77, up from 52 previously.
More than a dozen ministers come from election-bound states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, representing various castes and regional communities, which is a major factor in Indian political politics.
Members from southern Karnataka, including millionaire media magnate Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Shobha Karandlaje, were also recruited.
Several police reports have been filed against Karandlaje for allegedly anti-Muslim statements.
Six other female ministers were also appointed to the new cabinet.
However, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister of law and justice and information technology, and Prakash Javadekar, the minister of information and broadcasting, environment, and climate change, both abruptly resigned as a result of the expansion.
Both Prasad, 66, and Javadekar, 70, were considered as faces of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government, with some news reports claiming they would be in charge of party activity ahead of important state elections.
Next year, elections will be held in seven Indian states, six of which are now dominated by the BJP. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populated state, Gujarat, and Punjab are among them.
The BJP suffered a severe setback earlier this year when it failed to seize power from a high-profile Modi critic in the vital eastern state of West Bengal.
Some observers speculated that this reflected Modi’s waning popularity as a result of his handling of the pandemic. However, the BJP was able to keep Assam in the northeast.
A Twitter feud
Prasad’s departure from the government came as a shock because he was embroiled in a fierce legal battle with international social media corporations over a new rule.
He introduced legislation requiring social media companies to remove posts judged to jeopardize India’s sovereignty, state security, or public order and to identify the “first creator” of those posts.
Social media corporations and privacy advocates are concerned that the rules’ ambiguity may force them to identify the writers of anti-government posts.
WhatsApp is taking the rules to court over a breach of user privacy.
The war of words has been particularly fierce with Twitter, which has yet to designate a permanent compliance officer located in India.
Prasad has publicly chastised Twitter for failing to follow the new restrictions and undermining Indian laws on multiple occasions.
His government recently informed a court that the social media network had lost its intermediary status in India, rendering it criminally accountable for the information posted on the platform.
After the firm labeled tweets by the BJP’s national spokesman as “manipulated media,” authorities visited Twitter’s India office in May.
The government was accused of deploying “intimidation methods” by Twitter.